culture

From TikTok To '80s Rock: Teens Walk Us Through What They’re Listening To

By Crystal Ligori (OPB), Jenn Chavez (OPB) and Donald Orr (OPB)
June 13, 2020 1 p.m.

For the past two months, we have been using our newfound, socially distanced, time at home to dig deeper into the world of music.

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We spoke with experts on different music genres from country to classical, and even heard about the challenges local bands are facing amid the pandemic.

But there was one part of the music zeitgeist we were still feeling disconnected from: what teenagers are listening to.

OPB "All Things Considered" host Crystal Ligori spoke with 15-year-old Maddie DeWeese and 14-year-old Elliot Silva. The two Oregon teens talked about discovering new bands, how they shaped their musical listening habits, and even created playlists to share their favorite songs with OPB. [Editor's Note: Elliot Silva is the son of OPB audio engineer Nalin Silva.]

On first getting into music: 

Maddie DeWeese: When I was growing up, my dad has always been super into music, and he's always had a ton of records and CDs. They're always playing in the background. My mom made specific CDs or playlists for car rides with the kids. My parents influence, I think, a lot of what I listen to.

Elliot Silva: When I was younger I'd have to go to all [of my dad's] shows, and I met a lot of musicians that I now listen to. And because of his musical connection, I was able to go to a lot of concerts and get backstage with bands that are now some of my favorites, including, Death Cab for Cutie. I listen to them a lot, and because of my dad's connection to them, I've been able to go to a couple of their concerts.

On developing their own musical taste: 

DeWeese: A lot of my friends have Spotify accounts, or like Apple Music accounts, and we can follow each other and see each other's playlists to see what each other are listening to. Also just through social media, because when people find music they like, they usually post on their Instagram stories or Snapchat stories.

I found a lot of music through TikTok, and then later it blows up on the radio. Like Jack Harlow. I don't know if you know that artist — he has a song that was a TikTok sound, and now he's gotten a lot of his music discovered.

Silva: I've noticed that a lot of my music choices come from ... I'd watch a movie and hear a song. I'd figure out what that song is called and then I had to start listening to it. Or I text a friend and ask them, what's their favorite song right now?

It was probably in middle school, when I started hearing kids talk about music and actually discuss it and talk about what the popular songs are right now. And I started to listen to what the popular songs were, like rap and hip hop, and stuff like that, and I didn't really like it. That's when I started to realize that maybe older music that has more to say is my favorite.

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What music would you recommend?

14-year-old Elliot Silva says while his music choices have not changed during the pandemic, the way he connects to the lyrics has.

14-year-old Elliot Silva says while his music choices have not changed during the pandemic, the way he connects to the lyrics has.

Courtesy of Elliot Silva

Silva: The first song would probably be "We Didn't Start the Fire" by Billy Joel. Because that song — I feel like it says a lot, and it's that it's like a baseline of the type of music I like to listen to. Music that says a lot, but also doesn't say much at the same time.

"I Will Follow You Into The Dark" by Death Cab for Cutie is another song that I recommend a lot. It's probably my favorite song right now. It's kind of slow and methodical, and it says a lot as well. It's a little bit more dark inside, but I think it has a really good emotional base to it.

I think that music tells a story about the person that wrote it and about the audience it’s targeting. Like how in an Elton John song it kind of tells the story of his life, and it tells the story of his experiences and the experiences of those around him.

Maddie DeWeese is 15 and says she finds a lot of new music online via apps like TikTok or Snapchat, or through streaming services like Spotify.

Maddie DeWeese is 15 and says she finds a lot of new music online via apps like TikTok or Snapchat, or through streaming services like Spotify.

Courtesy of Maddie DeWeese 

DeWeese: I feel like there's so many different genres that kids are listening to like there's like rap and R&B, then there's also like kids are still listening to songs from the '80s and '90s too.

I'd [recommend] anything by Frank Ocean. I really like all of his songs. I really like this song called "Coax & Botany" by Gus Dapperton. It's really good. And then I like a lot of Trippy Redd songs too.

I'd say for throwback music, as far as the stuff me and my friends listen to, is stuff like the Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Pink Floyd … I have always listened to David Bowie. I really like David Bowie.

On how the pandemic has shaped their music listening:

Silva: Sometimes when I'm listening to a song, I'll notice that some of the dialogue can kind of relate to the feelings I'm having now with all the extra time, and all that loneliness that comes with a stay-at-home order like this. But it hasn't really shaped what music I listened to, more how it has affected me and how it connects with me.

DeWeese: I think my relationship to music has definitely changed because… I have nothing else to do. And if I don't have my brain distracted by music, I'm just gonna spiral into thinking about something. It's just something there to relax me and make me feel better.


You can listen to Maddie and Elliot's curated playlists on Spotify and hear the full conversation by clicking play on the audio player at the top of this story.

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