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Spotify Might Soon Be Flooded with Nightcore. But What Do We Know About the Genre?

Nightcore = sped up. Vaporwave = slowed down. Nightcore + Vaporwave = normal music.

Photo by Ryan Yao / Unsplash

You’re probably thinking, “Why on earth would Nightcore overflow Spotify all of a sudden?” The reason to assume that stems from the latest move by Spotify which is reportedly going to let users remix songs right on the platform. Allegedly, this is how Spotify intends to combat loads of manipulated tracks that dilute the royalty pool and deprive original creators and rightsholders of a portion of their money.

How might creating a sped-up version of a song help with that? Well, the streamer says that when these manipulated tracks (made right in Spotify) are streamed, rightsholders will be compensated. This functionality isn’t yet rolled out and generally, not much is known about the feature, but we can at least assume that when it’s released, a new wave of Nightcore tracks can be expected.

What do we know about this genre, though? Is it even a genre or..?

Science behind Nightcore

According to Google Trends, the popularity of Nightcore has gradually decreased over the years.

Source: Google Trends

But it had its peaks. According to Soundfeed, "The introduction of nightcore to the mainstream channels happenned in 2011, when Rockefeller Street, a song performed at Eurovision, received the nightcore treatment. The Golden Age of nightcore started, with pop, K-pop and hip hop songs appearing everywhere on the internet in nightcore versions."

Nightcore was created in 2002 by two Norwegian guys, Thomas S. Nilsen and Steffen Ojala Soderholm, who recorded their first track in this genre as a school project.

Inspired by the German group Scooter's song "Nessaja" and their affection for happy hardcore, the teenagers crafted an original track utilising the software eJay Dance 3. The resulting song features high-pitched vocals and a BPM of 170, delivering an energetic and fast-paced composition.

Then they made a whole album of 13 Nightcore remixes and even gave their group the name Nightcore. Which kind of carried the message, "We are the core of the night, so you'll dance all night long." They produced CDs of their music and shared them among friends and family.

“In 2011, we searched Limewire for Nightcore just for our amusement,” they told The New York Times. “We were shocked to find several of our tracks online.”

Since 2011, Google searches have increased. Nightcore radically changed its concept, or rather expanded its boundaries; even back in the days of YouTube's early Nightcore noobs, they started experimenting. They stopped at electronic music from the 90s and started mixing everything indiscriminately, with just one preset, faster than it was.

When searching for Nightcore on YouTube, the duo found not just their own music along with thousands of similar tracks but discovered that all those videos had the same visuals—they all used anime images as thumbnails.

And anime was chosen for a reason. Even though EDM isn't exactly popular in Japan, the Japanese have always been drawn to intense electronic dance music. Lots of songs for Nightcore are taken from anime soundtracks, Japanese music, and, most importantly, music from rhythm games, 90% of the audience of which is Japanese. The Japanese make Nightcore remixes of the music from the rhythm games, and then insert Nightcore remixes into the rhythm games, creating a closed loop, so it seems like one simply cannot exist without the other.

The style then became particularly popular in the anime and manga community, with channels like Sinnon Nightcore, which has 2.18 million subscribers, featuring manga characters on top of sped-up pop songs with cheesy lyrics. Talking to Soundfeed, Sinnon dissects the secret of Nightcore popularity: "It’s hard to pinpoint which songs have potential, but from my perspective, it seems to be either already popular songs, EDM, or emotional music. A popular Nightcore video often has at least one of these three features."

Sped-up tracks were once a distinctive feature of TikTok's music scene, with #spedupsounds amassing 8.8 billion views. Even two years ago, in November 2022, when the sped-up songs' popularity was far from its better days, #spedup and #speedsongs had 12.2B and 18.2 B views on TikTok.

Now Nightcore songs garner millions of views on TikTok, too. The underlying algorithmic rationale of TikTok is simple: the platform favours sped-up songs because they convey a heightened amount of emotional and lyrical content within a condensed timeframe, so conveniently catering to shorter attention spans.

Source: Google Trends

Around 2.5 million videos on TikTok have utilised sped-up remixes of The Neighborhood's "Sweater Weather" and Demi Lovato's "Cool for the Summer." Even older tracks like Nelly Furtado's "Say It Right" and Tears for Fears' "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" have undergone a similar treatment and surged in popularity on the platform.

Credit: Chartmetric

Scientifically (sort of) speaking, Nightcore is the opposite of Vaporwave. If Vaporwave slows down a track or just changes its key, cutting it into several parts and looping them, Nightcore essentially follows two rules. Firstly, the original material must be an EDM track from the 90s or early 2000s, trance, hardcore techno, Eurodance, drum and bass, and all related genres. Although over time, this rule has become obsolete. The second rule speeds up the track by 10-30% and raises the pitch by the same percentage. So basically, this is yet another subgenre that is entirely based on changing the speed of a track.

Well, and shifting up vocals' pitch to chipmunk-ish timbre.

When both the pitch and tempo are increased, the vocals sound cartoonish, reminiscent of the voices of Alvin and the Chipmunks. Consequently, the term "Chipmunk" has also been adopted to characterise sped-up songs.

During the early and mid-2000s, the phenomenon of Chipmunk Soul gained traction among producers who wanted to explore the voice as a musical instrument. This trend eventually evolved beyond Soul music, with producers incorporating samples from diverse genres such as Reggae and Middle Eastern music.

Now Nightcore isn't just a duo of school kids. It's a genre that might face its revival in the years to come.