Shawn Mendes performing on BBC Radio 1 Live LoungeInstagram/@dearestshawnmx

Looking back, I used to love collecting the annual Live Lounge compilation CDs when I was younger and would diligently transfer them onto my MP3 player, which, like a Nokia, was forged of the kind of sturdy plastic that rendered it almost indestructible. The kind of MP3 player that says ‘I can be dropped from a great height, baked at a high temperature, run over by a cement mixer or gobbled by an alligator and I will still emerge unscathed playing ‘Party in The USA’.  This interest in live music broadcasts and recordings is something that has continued into my adult life, with listening to my MP3 player on the school bus now exchanged for my car radio and listening via BBC Sounds on the way to the library. Perhaps, when it comes to my image, a decision that was for the best. I feel the Live Lounge albums were a really important early musical experience for me, as they exposed me to a wide range of artists and taught me to appreciate the musicianship that went into producing songs.

At university, my involvement with student radio has given me a new respect and understanding for the work that goes into producing something as technical as a live music performance, a process which has now been made even harder by the various roadblocks created by the pandemic. Having spent a lot of summer grappling with various Covid safe studio reopening plans, I was therefore really excited to see that Radio 1 would be going ahead with Live Lounge Month despite the numerous difficulties added to the production process. Suddenly my monotonous banana bread-fuelled pandemic existence of trying to do anything but tackle my reading list was broken up by plenty of performances and interviews to look forward to. 

With performances scheduled for every Tuesday and Thursday of September, the line up featured a mix of seasoned stars and new faces.  Anne-Marie, Arlo Parks, Biffy Clyro, Declan McKenna, Jorja Smith, Little Mix, London Grammar, Miley Cyrus and YUNGBLUD were all billed to perform. At this point, I must admit that I was slightly disappointed that there would be no appearance from Lady Gaga or Ariana Grande given the popularity of ‘Rain on Me’, and I was also a little surprised to see that Ava Max and Mabel had not made the cut this time round given their recent popularity. Nevertheless, overall, it seemed to be a strong selection. It would be easy to give a full rundown of each performance, however, I primarily want to discuss why I feel spaces such as the Live Lounge are important and what they offer us in light of the challenges posed by Covid-19. 

Miley Cyrus on Radio 1 Live LoungeInstagram/@mileycyusa

Firstly, one of the main reasons why I believe the Live Lounge is an exciting place, is that it enables artists to experiment with their sound. I feel this is largely due to the hotly anticipated cover that artists are expected to perform alongside their own work. This is personally why I always enjoy tuning in; covers are a staple of my playlists as I love seeing how different artists are able to completely change the mood or meaning of a song by putting their own spin on it. For example, during this Live Lounge Month, Miley Cyrus and Arlo Parks presented us with two very different covers of Billie Eilish’s ‘my future’. Cyrus’s version struck a punchier melancholy note with powerful belts and jazz piano, meanwhile Park’s version seemed more mellow and reflective, putting the focus on her angelic vocals. 

I think the Live Lounge as a performance space encourages risks, as it gives artists and bands the opportunity to perform a song that might not fit within their genre. This certainly paid off in the case of Yungblud, who demonstrated his versatility by parking his usual alternative rock to perform a pared back and moving cover of Taylor Swift’s ‘cardigan’. Moreover, I feel covers such as this also encourage risks on the part of listeners, by allowing them to listen outside their usual taste. For example, artists might be drawn to an artist they wouldn’t usually listen to on the grounds that they have performed a cover of a song they know and like. This is largely helped by the stamp of quality assurance that comes with the Radio 1 brand, which I think is especially valuable to artists at the start of their career, as it further boosts their profile by giving listeners the confidence to listen to music from an artist they may not have heard of before. Another benefit of these covers is that they initiate dialogue between artists, with performers often playing a song as an homage to another artist. For example, Biffy Clyro spoke about how much they loved ‘WAP’ by Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion, which inspired them to perform their own tongue in cheek version in which they replaced every expletive with "Biffy". 

"I feel spaces such as the Lounge are really important in allowing creative processes to continue despite the pandemic"

Digital spaces such as NPR tiny desk concerts and radio spaces such as the Live Lounge play an integral part of maintaining a sense of community in this extremely challenging time. Great music is often the product of artists being inspired by other great songs; the social commentary popular in Declan Mckenna’s music borrows heavily from David Bowie, to name but one example. I feel that spaces such as the Lounge are really important in allowing creative processes to continue despite the pandemic, by providing a space for musicians to interact with one another, whether it’s playing their own music or music by other artists. Furthermore, I also think it is important to note that, given the astronomical cost of tour tickets, the availability of high quality performances online or via Netflix are small steps on the road to making music more accessible. 


Mountain View

John Lennon and the Strength of Simplicity

Not only do online initiatives such as these connect professionals who work in the industry, they can also be a source of comfort for fans. For many people, live gigs are not only a means of connecting with an artist they love but also an opportunity to connect with people who share their passion for such music. While digital performances and live, socially distanced broadcasts cannot replace the feeling of attending a live tour or show, I feel they enable fans to continue to connect with artists they love. Lockdown can be and has been an extremely isolating experience and it seems that a lot of people have been seeking comfort in collective identities such as fandoms. After a long period of digital silence regarding live music it was really exciting to see Twitter buzzing with fans sharing their thoughts or support for each artist that entered the Lounge. 

On balance, while these initiatives might not serve as a long term replacement for live concerts, they remind us of the joy that can be found in collaboration - whether it’s coming together to make music, or simply just to listen. I believe this has a particular value in these difficult times and while the pandemic has placed many constraints on production processes, I am excited by the innovation that has come about as a result. Now I think it’s about time I go on a hunt for that plastic MP3 player, I’ve been wondering where it’s got to…