Ten years ago Ty Cullen uploaded the original “Hey You! What Song are you Listening to? NEW YORK” video to YouTube. Today we are once again asking, what are you listening to?
When Cullen’s video was first posted, it inspired filmmakers all over the world to take to the streets to ask strangers what they are listening to.
With more people back on the street, it’s only fitting that what are you listening to videos are more popular than ever before.
Three months ago Cullen’s video popped up in 22-year-old YouTuber Shan Rizman’s YouTube recommendations. Inspired by Cullen, Rizman filmed his own “what song are you listening to video” and posted it to YouTube. In mid-September he sliced up his YouTube video and repurposed the content on his TikTok where it went viral. His what song are you listening to New York edition TikTok now has over 10 million views and almost two million likes.
The tag #whatsongareyoulisteningto has roughly 96 million views as of Wednesday and #whatareyoulisteningto has 67 million.
Every what are you listening to videos follow the same structure. The interviewer approaches an unassuming stranger and asks them what they are listening to. Then there is an awkward moment where the stranger registers what the interviewer has asked and takes out their headphone to answer. After they answer, a snippet of the song they’re listening to plays for the viewer, so you get an idea of the song’s vibe.
Different creators make these videos in different cities. Rizman has made what are you listening videos in NYC and at college campuses like Harvard and UC Berkeley.
The most popular location for these videos is overwhelmingly NYC. Creator @harry.carlisle has made 12 videos walking around NYC asking what people are listening to.
“It’s sort of a guessing game. You look at them and before they answer you have a preconceived notion of what they are listening to and once you hear what they say, it’s interesting to compare. This guy was wearing this and I didn’t expect him to listen to this genre,” said Rizman.
In the 10 years since Cullen posted his YouTube video, the way we consume and share music has changed in big ways. Long gone are the days of loading up tunes to an iPod. Five months after Cullen posted his video, Spotify became available in the US. It now has 365 million active users.
Because Spotify is both a streaming and social media platform, what people are listening to is more accessible than ever before. Not only can you follow your friends on Spotify and see what they are listening to in real time, but speaking from experience you can easily find most people you meet on Spotify and see their public playlists.
You might think the social media side of Spotify would scratch the same itch as what are you listening to videos, but alas these videos are as popular as ever.
“I think everyone wonders what other people are listening to, but it’s a bold question to ask. Most people don’t go up to strangers and ask what they are listening to,” said Rizman on these videos’ popularity.
People love to share and talk about the music they listen to, so these videos are also incredibly joyful and leave you with a smile on your face.
“For the most part people take me asking what they are listening to as a compliment. It’s a good way to make someone’s day,” concluded Rizman.
These videos are also a way to discover new music that is more personal than the algorithm fueled playlists on Spotify.
“I get a comments saying things like you put me onto this song,” said Rizman.
After so much time inside isolated from strangers, maybe what are you listening to videos are exactly what are stranger deprived brains need.