The sounds of lockdown

Virtual connection, online listening, and the emotional weight of COVID-19


  • Meredith C. Ward, Dr. The Johns Hopkins University



YouTube, listening, nostalgia, online community, music subculture, urban noise, sound simulation, loneliness, COVID-19, quarantine.


Modes of listening tell us a great deal about how Americans are coping with the feelings of the COVID-19 pandemic. Taking online listening culture in which amateur music remixers repurpose known pop songs to produce an effect of loneliness in virtual public spaces, this essay traces the movement of online sound subcultures from late 2010s YouTube into the modes of listening, employed by a much larger viewership on lockdown during the COVID-19 outbreak of 2020. Analyzing the act of listening to empty public spaces online since the inception of a particular family of memes that ran from 2017-2018, the essay showcases how that music subculture prefi gured a wider response to the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns. Covering the psychological response to pandemic, its manifestations in phenomena, such as grief over the loss of public space as mediated by EarthCam, #StayHomeSounds, and the quieting of neighborhoods and cities, this essay shows how the range of modes in our listening network is evolving at this time. It also responds to how the social and emotional needs that arise during lockdown are met in forms of virtuality we have crafted to connect us to the wider world. Moreover, it emphasizes that virtuality crept into our connection with public space earlier than the pandemic – and that playing with the notion of nostalgia recreationally through online media before the pandemic made us better equipped to handle the pandemic’s isolation, when it came. Showcasing how alienation is at the root of both experiences, it also hypothesizes that mediated communion permits us both to engage with the inevitable loneliness and an ability to deal with it as time goes on.

Author Biography

Meredith C. Ward, Dr., The Johns Hopkins University

Senior Lecturer, Director of the Film and Media Studies Program

The Johns Hopkins University




How to Cite

Ward, M. C. (2021). The sounds of lockdown: Virtual connection, online listening, and the emotional weight of COVID-19. SoundEffects - An Interdisciplinary Journal of Sound and Sound Experience, 10(1), 7–26.