We Ranked the Songs That Have Been Dominating the Pandemic - OZY | A Modern Media Company
Cotton farming in Bukhara, Uzbekistan, circa 1960. (Photo by Harvey Meston/Archive Photos/Getty Images)

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Because tragedy with a beat is better than tragedy without one.

By Joshua Eferighe

The coronavirus has changed everything. The historic pandemic has affected more than 8.9 million lives, killed 400,000 people and single-handedly depressed economies worldwide. COVID-19 has had such an impact, that even those of us not infected have been caught in the riptide. With more than a third of the global population under some kind of stay-at-home order, we’re starting our days later, severing romantic ties and even consuming music differently.

Monthly users at Pandora were down to 60.9 million from 66 million in the first quarter of 2020, suggesting the expected quarantine bump did not exactly happen. Italy, which has been one of the hardest-hit countries, saw total streams for the 200 most popular songs on Spotify drop 23 percent in the same period. And in the U.S., analytics company Alpha Data reports that Spotify’s Top 200 dipped in the first quarter as well.

If popular music isn’t popping, then, what is and why? Here are five songs that have performed well during the pandemic and our explanations of why.

“Shape of You” | Ed Sheeran | 2017 

Who doesn’t like Ed Sheeran? I mean, I’m sure there’s someone out there who could find a reason to hate the guy, but the Grammy Award-winning English singer-songwriter has arguably the greatest wedding song of all time (“Thinking Out Loud”). When the world is at stake, why not him?

As U.K. music streaming consumption dipped from 20 percent to 15 percent during the first months of lockdown, according to Futuresource Consulting, it only makes sense that the kindhearted songbird from the countryside would come to the rescue. Released in 2017, his single “Shape of You” climbed to No. 136 on Spotify’s global chart toward the end of the first quarter.

The lead lyric goes “The club is not the best place to find a woman, so the bar is where I go.” As we’re pinned up with little to no physical contact, hearing “I’m in love with your body” might be an attractive listen.

“We Are the World” | U.S.A. for Africa | 1985
Everything was big in the ’80s: the hair, the shoulder pads and the collaborations. Such was the case in 1985, when Lionel Richie, Michael Jackson, Cyndi Lauper, Kenny Rogers, Diana Ross and more than 40 other A-list recording artists came together to sing “We Are the World.” The cause: African famine. 

It’s fitting, then, that on the 35th anniversary of the release this past March, streams for the iconic tune doubled in the United States, Italy and Spain from March 20 through April 2, according to Alpha Data. 

While famine is not the primary enemy most of the world is facing now, the unification the song speaks of remains inspirational. So much so that Gal Gadot and her pals thought a collaborative effort of their own would cheer people up. And, well, we know how that went (read: not well). 

“You’ll Never Walk Alone” | Gerry and the Pacemakers | 1963

The pandemic has depressed spirits and increased feelings of hopelessness, which is why radio stations across Europe, including the BBC, joined forces to simultaneously play Gerry and the Pacemakers’ “You’ll Never Walk Alone” in a mid-March show of defiance in the face of the coronavirus.

The emotional 1963 song was played at 7:45 a.m. GMT, March 20, on BBC Radio 1’s weekend breakfast show with Matt Edmondson and Mollie King, Zoe Ball’s Radio 2 show and Lauren Laverne’s BBC Radio 6 Music show. It was also played at the same time on hundreds of radio stations, including in Luxembourg, Germany, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Finland, Latvia, Slovakia, Romania and Spain.

“Down With the Sickness” | Disturbed | 2000
Although, yes, people are sick, the message that Disturbed’s nu-metal single “Down With the Sickness” delivers is not off-putting. The smash-hit from the band’s debut studio album, The Sickness, made its way onto Billboard charts after seeing a 31 percent increase in digital sales in the middle of March.

Released in 2000, the Chicago-based quartet’s record saw sales accompanied by a 3 percent increase in streams, bringing its numbers to 2.6 million in the U.S. alone.

I don’t know about you, but belting, “Get up, come on, get down with the sickness” four times in a row at the top of your lungs gives a certain edge not likely to be found if your listening is usually just … easy.

“It’s the End of the World as We Know It (and I Feel Fine)” | R.E.M. |1987 

“That’s great, it starts with an earthquake, birds, and snakes, an airplane,” R.E.M.’s 1987 smash-hit single starts off. It makes sense that the almost-accurate tune — subtract the snakes, add a virus — has spiked tremendously in numbers. 

“It’s the End of the World as We Know It (and I Feel Fine)” feels relevant to music fans across the world, not only because of a baffling virus that’s rocking the world but also because of all the trickle-down effects, including lost jobs and general uncertainty. 

According to Billboard, in the tracking week ending March 12, the tune shot up 184 percent to 1,000 downloads sold, and 48 percent in on-demand U.S. streams to 746,000, according to Nielsen Music/MRC Data. The song peaked at No. 16 on Mainstream Rock Songs in 1987 and No. 69 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1988.

If the metaphorical Titanic is sinking, R.E.M. wouldn’t be such a bad band to go down with. 

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