What is Lofi Music and Who is Lofi Girl?

Lofi Girl and her hip-hop beats spread across the internet, jumpstarting a new era for the lofi genre with a unique aesthetic combining pop culture nostalgia and cozy vibes.

What is Lofi Music and Who is Lofi Girl?
Nicki Camberg
Nicki Camberg
March 14, 20247 min read
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After over two years of continuous streaming, the mega-popular livestream “lofi hip hop radio - beats to relax/study to” hosted on the Lofi Girl (formally called ChilledCow) YouTube channel was stopped on July 10, 2022, due to a DMCA takedown. The stream and accompanying image of an anime girl studying with her cat received 668 million views during its 20,843-hour run, became ubiquitous on the internet, and powered the lofi hip-hop genre to virality.

Within a few days, a replacement stream was started and the channel’s subscribers, who currently stand at 14 million strong and hail from all over the world, flocked back to watch and participate in the active live chat. Currently ranking among the top thousand most-subscribed YouTube channels, Lofi Girl has racked up nearly 2 billion views from their 143 videos, with a majority of that viewership coming from their livestreams. Right now, there are five active livestreams: lofi hip hop radio 📚 - beats to relax/study to, synthwave radio 🌌 - beats to chill/game to, dark ambient radio 🌃 - music to escape/dream to, peaceful piano radio 🎹 - music to focus/study to, and lofi hip hop radio 💤 - beats to sleep/chill to. In the past few months, they’ve released their first music video, partnered with Lego, and signed a deal with Warner Chappell France.  

It’s become a global phenomenon, complete with a merch store, avatar generator, countless memes, and community with a Subreddit and Discord server where fans create art and discuss lore surrounding lofi girl and the recently introduced synthwave boy.

Lofi avatar of the author made in the official Lofi Girl generator.
Lofi avatar of the author made in the official Lofi Girl generator

Lofi Music and Aesthetics

However, the genre is less defined by artists and more so by its listeners and curators. It is music that is most commonly played in the background and not paid close attention to, and fans rarely have favorite artists but instead favorite playlists. There’s no shortage of artists, often in their teens, producing lofi music in their bedrooms and posting it to SoundCloud or YouTube, remixing and distorting audio bites from various media sources and piecing them together with simple backing tracks to create chilled-out beats with intentionally lower sound quality and a raw edge. Those who are successful can find genuine profits, and it can be less laborious than more traditional music genres — a member of lofi duo Bonsai Beats told CNBC that the pair were able to generate nearly $60k in a year from 85 songs. What's even more remarkable is that the artist claimed that it only took a combined three hours to create those tracks. There is a bit of a formula to the music, which has a tendency to blend together, though the community is self-aware of this: as the most upvoted post on the r/LofiHipHop subreddit jokes, the only difference between lofi and smooth jazz is the addition of “rain sounds and anime samples.” 

I love both genres but I'm pretty sure this is the only thing separating them
byu/sdlwdr inLofiHipHop

Instead of waiting for album drops, fans wait for playlist updates, which happen frequently. According to Chartmetric data, basically none of the 237k songs that have been added to Lofi Girl’s most popular Spotify playlist, Lofi Girl - beats to relax/study to, have lasted over a week and it seems that songs are changed on a daily basis.

Though the most well-known, Lofi Girl isn’t the only curator of these low-fidelity beats. Searches on YouTube and Spotify for this music result in pages and pages of hyperspecific streams and playlists with distinct visual aesthetics defined by a lack of capital letters, imagery derived from a variety of anime, video games, and old-school cartoons, moody color gradients, and general nostalgic cozy bedroom and/or nature vibes. Spotify also maintains an official lofi genre page and their most popular lofi editorial playlist, lofi beats, has over 5 million followers.

Pop Culture Elements

Lofi artists often incorporate audio samples or reimagine songs from movies, TV shows, anime, and other forms of media. As a genre born and cultivated online by an audience generally in their teens and 20s, it is highly referential and nostalgic, invoking memories within listeners of better times back in their childhood. It’s no coincidence, then, that lofi playlists often feature cover images with distorted or moody screenshots from animated content like The Simpsons or anime. It’s built into the sound’s history — Japanese producer Nujabes has been called the godfather of lofi hip-hop, largely due to his work on the soundtrack for the 2004 anime, Samurai Champloo, which became foundational in the genre.

Closed on Sunday is one of the more well-known artists in this space. Pulling inspiration from beloved properties like Star Wars, Animal Crossing, and Pokémon (among others), the 30-year-old video game designer has been able to build a global fanbase of over 770k monthly listeners on Spotify. He’s not the only one, nor is he the first. Beowülf’s melancholic synth-y tune, “Today Is a Gift,” for example, utilizes a sound bite from the animated Kung Fu Panda movie. It was released in 2018, a year before Closing on Sunday even discovered lofi music. Disney has also gotten in on the craze, releasing two albums — Lofi Minnie: Focus in 2022 and Lofi Minnie: Chill in 2023 — that turn some of their most well-known songs from their IPs into lofi hip-hop beats, with branding clearly inspired by Lofi Girl. 

Use as a Study and Work Tool

There are countless livestreams, playlists, and YouTube videos entitled with some combination of the words lofi, study, focus, and work. Walk through any collegiate library, and you’re likely to see students with their heads down, typing away, while a Lofi Girl live stream is playing in the corner of their laptop screen. There is even a website that enables users to create their very own personalized lofi study environment.

Lofi music has also been adopted as a tool by those who identify as neurodivergent, especially people with ADHD. Proponents claim it helps them focus, and there’s something to that — According to Dr. Concetta Tomaino, the executive director and co-founder of the Institute for Music and Neurologic Function, the slow beats of lofi music are at the perfect speed to be relaxing, “engaging the brain in such a way that helps regulate then how the brain is functioning.” 

The genre’s visuals also tie into this mentality.  On social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram, it fits right alongside content promoting a specific form of aesthetic productivity, typified in posts showing off beautiful workspaces and meticulously taken notes. It’s an idea of an achievable coziness — the looping videos in the livestreams depict young adults in relatable settings like bedrooms, cafes, and idyllic nature scenes. These are all environments that listeners are personally familiar with, and associate with the exact kind of calm stability needed to be productive

Lofi Beats to Experience a Pandemic/Socially Distance to

Lofi music experienced a huge surge in popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic. Working from the quiet of their own homes, people needed background noise, and lofi music, besides being branded for this very purpose, is widely and freely available. Isolated during lockdowns, people were looking for community, in whatever form it may take. The fairly active live chats and comment sections of the 24/7 lofi livestreams became a place for people to gather and commiserate in the early days of the pandemic, when times were unprecedented more than ever. One article even went so far as to call Lofi Girl “our social distancing role model,” as just like Lofi Girl herself, we were all trapped by ourselves in our rooms.

Future of the Genre

What happens when the curator becomes the creator? Lofi Girl now has their own record label, Lofi Records, that sells vinyl (fitting into that whole cozy bedroom aesthetic), releases compilation albums, and signs artists. Lofi Records also creates and releases music that is free for creators to use in their online content, most commonly things like Twitch streams, that enable users to avoid copyright claims. It’s an interesting idea, and one that is worth keeping an eye on. Will this be a sustainable model, and what connotations does it have for the future of the industry? 

There’s also been a recent wave of AI generated lofi adjacent tracks taking over Spotify, which is worrisome for lofi artists themselves. Beyond that, the past few years have seen the growth of hyperspecific lofi genres beyond lofi hip-hop, including alternative, house, rap, sad, indie, folk, and more. As the sounds become more niche, it will be interesting to see how new aesthetics, artists, and trends will develop in the lofi space. Who knows what the next few years will bring for lofi music, but for now, we’ll always have Lofi Girl and her beats to relax/study to.

Graphics by Nicki Camberg and cover image by Crasianne Tirado; data as of March 13, 2024.