Serotonin, confidence and sadness: Here are some of the most popular playlist themes of 2021 so far

Starting a new year changes everything — including the music we listen to.

For many people, the first few months of the year are a time for change and reflection. That’s not to mention the 100 million (just a rough estimate) reasons that many of us were probably ready to leave 2020 in the rearview.

Resolutions, as it turns out, often come with their own soundtrack. At least, that’s the takeaway from a new study by Spotify, which found that users had significantly changed their listening habits at the start of 2021.

“Spotify really is a cultural mirror,” Shanon Cook, Spotify’s head of global culture and trends communication, told In The Know. “When major moments happen in the world around us, we see that reflected in the streaming choices Spotify listeners make.”

Cook’s point was proven throughout 2020, when the weight of a chaotic year showed up constantly on the music streaming app.

First, the early months of quarantine led users toward more nostalgic and family-friendly music. Then, an eruption of racial justice protests brought new popularity to old hits.

The start of 2021 was no different. In the first weeks of January, Spotify users used certain moods — from excited to downtrodden and everything in between — to define their playlists and their song choices.


One word that showed up throughout early 2021 playlists? Serotonin. Maybe unsurprisingly, music fans were looking for a pick-me-up as they started the new year.

Through the first 11 days of the new year, Spotify users made a whopping 7,500 playlists with the word serotonin in the title. That seemed like more of an ongoing trend than a new decision: In 2020, serotonin-themed playlists saw a 180 percent increase compared to the year prior.

It’s possible that, in a rougher, lonelier year, music fans were turning to music that made them feel the opposite. This writer, whose most-used playlist is literally titled “Good Vibes Only,” can certainly relate.

For each playlist topic, Spotify shared some of its most-added songs. Here are some of the most popular songs added to “serotonin” playlists.

Credit: Spotify
Credit: Spotify


Similarly, music fans seemed to be seeking out self-assurance in the new year. According to Spotify, playlists containing the word “confidence” increased by 2019 to 2020.

For many listeners, that confidence came from female voices. Cook said that in 2021, female singers “overwhelmingly” dominated these playlists. She pointed to artists like Billie Eilish, Lizzo, Demi Lovato and Nicki Minaj as examples.

The trend makes sense, especially given the sheer number of female-led songs that have dominated the charts this year. Artists like Dua Lipa, Ariana Grande and SZA have stayed atop the Billboard Hot 100 for most of 2021, while “Driver’s License” has earned Olivia Rodrigo several weeks at No. 1.

Credit: Spotify
Credit: Spotify


Of course, it can’t all be “good vibes” and confidence. The word “sad” was, perhaps expectedly, a mainstay on playlists throughout 2020.

Spotify playlists with the word “sad” in the title saw a whopping 616 billion streams last year, a 40 percent increase from 2019. It’s unclear how those numbers have changed in 2021, but, as Cook noted, music fans seem to always find a way to reflect their current mood.

“We see listeners creating mood-based playlists and streaming our Spotify-curated mood playlists frequently, and they really cover a whole range of sentiments,” she said,

Cook’s point is two-fold. Not only are playlists a way to express how we feel, but they’re also not exclusive to a single mood. Playlists, just like the people who make them, can cover a huge spectrum of feelings. One minute, you might be crying to “Driver’s License,” and, the next, you could be trying the “Blinding Lights” dance for the 100,000th time.

Credit: Spotify
Credit: Spotify

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The post New year, new playlist: How 2021 has changed our music listening habits appeared first on In The Know.