Creating sped up versions of songs isn’t a new phenomenon. For decades, fans have been changing up the tempo to feel their favorite songs in a different way or circumvent YouTube’s content identification system when using tracks without licensing. What’s new is the ease with which these alternative song versions are becoming popular across frontiers, driving up artists’ streaming numbers in turn.
With 2.4M videos on TikTok, it’s fair to say that TikTok users loved “Cool for the Summer - Sped Up (Nightcore),” a new release that renewed the relevance of Lovato’s 2015 track. Lovato created this new version in collaboration with Speed Radio, an anonymous artist known for uploading sped up tracks to Spotify. Lovato’s Nightcore track came out in response to DJ Kuya Magik's unofficial mashup of “Cool for the Summer” and Ginuwine’s “Pony”, which has racked up 1.3M likes and 2.3M posts since its release in March 2022.
“Cool for the Summer - Sped Up (Nightcore)” has quickly become a favorite of Spotify curators. In eight months, the sped up track has been added to 7.7K playlists—a milestone that took its original counterpart three years to achieve.
Speed Radio, the co-creator of the sped up version, has seen an exponential rise in popularity this year, going from 225K monthly listeners in March 2022 to 7.6M in November. The anonymous artist has also seen a rise in Spotify followers, garnering more than 13K followers in the past six months. Their top three songs are “Say It Right - Sped Up Remix” by Nelly Furtado, “Lights (Sped Up Version)” by Ellie Goulding, and “Cool for the Summer - Sped Up (Nightcore).”
What Is Nightcore?
Sped up songs are often called Nightcore, a style born out of increasing a track's tempo and pitch. The style is named after Norwegian DJ duo Nightcore who are considered pioneers of this production technique thanks to their 2002 high-pitched album. While the DJs worked with Dance tracks, the speed up technique soon took over other music genres like Pop and Rock.
Increasing the pitch and tempo often makes vocals sound cartoonish, similar to the voices of Alvin and the Chipmunks. As a result, the “Chipmunk” moniker has also been used to describe sped up songs. Back in the early and mid-2000s, Chipmunk Soul became extremely popular among producers who wanted to experiment with “the voice as an instrument.” The trend later expanded beyond Soul to sampling from other genres including Reggae and Middle Eastern music. Wu-Tang Clan, especially frontman RZA, is considered one of the foundational references of high-pitched, sped up vocals and an inspiration for the following generation of Hip-Hop artists.
Whether you want to call the new TikTok viral hits Nightcore, Chipmunk, or sped up, it's clear that up-tempo remixes are making an impact. While most sped up song variations on social media are made by DJs and anonymous content creators today, artists are moving toward releasing alternative versions themselves.
Panic! At The Disco announced in late October that they would release the official sped up and slowed down versions of their 2016 track “House of Memories” after alternative versions of the song created by anonymous accounts went viral on TikTok. In September 2022, the song reached its highest Chartmetric track score ever, correlating with its TikTok popularity. “Weird to live in a world where bands are posting official Nightcore versions of songs,” a comment on the YouTube video of the official sped up version reads. The slowed down version also got its good share of attention. “This slowed downed version makes it so evil i love it,” a comment reads.
Taking It Slow
While increasing a track's tempo can clearly make an impact, slowing it down—and spacing it out—seems to be able to produce a similar effect. The hashtag #slowedandreverb currently has 735M views on TikTok, indicating the strong popularity of slow tempo tunes.
Ruth B's “Dandelions'' didn't get much attention when it was released in 2017 but became a sensation once the slowed down version went viral on Tiktok. The slowed down sound is the soundtrack of 711.4K TikTok videos while the original has been used in 30.1K videos. The new version feels heartfelt and melancholic, as the lower pitch and slower pace emphasize the romantic lyrics, which makes it the perfect backdrop for love and wedding videos.
Since the slowed version was released in August 2021, the Canadian artist has increased her Spotify monthly listeners from 9M to 19M in November 2022. The popularity of the slowed down track actually contributed to the rise of the original version, which is now Ruth B’s most streamed track on Spotify.
What Is Slowed and Reverb?
The recent popularity of slowed down tunes has been attributed to Houston producer Jarylun Moore, known online as Slater, whose Slowed and Reverb version of Lil Uzi Vert’s “20 Minutes” went viral on YouTube back in 2017, inspiring other creators to edit music similarly. But the slow tempo sound dates further back to Houston-based DJ Screw, who was known for his chopped and screwed technique.
Back in the '90s, DJ Screw would create his famous “Screwtapes'' by using two turntables, one with a record at a specific speed and another one with a slower tempo, and then crossfading them. His sound became an influence for modern Hip-Hop and now, a derivative of his technique is used in a wider range of genres to create slowed down tunes.
Slater is open about the influence that DJ Screw has had on his music creation process and wants to make sure the late DJ’s legacy stays alive. “I don’t want people to forget the roots of where this really comes from. I’ll see YouTube comments like, ‘Nice to see chopped and screwed is living on through this art form.’ And a bunch of kids will start attacking that person like, ‘That’s not where this comes from.’ Seeing that hurts my heart,” Slater told Pitchfork.
From Organic to Strategic
As often happens in the music industry, any trend that starts off as organic soon gets incorporated into music marketing strategy. While Panic! At the Disco serves as a great example for how labels are using the strategy to breathe new life into older tracks, there are also labels using the strategy to help promote brand new tracks.
Take Virgin Music artist mazie, for example. In July 2021, she released the track "dumb dumb," which barely broke 1M Spotify streams by July 2022. Once she released the sped up version, "dumb dumb - sped up," in September 2022, the original version gained 29M streams in just two months. The sped up version itself already has more than 10M streams. In other words, capitalizing on the TikTok-fueled Nightcore trend helped mazie's song go from 1.6M streams to more than 40M streams in less than 60 days.
While the Nightcore and Slowed and Reverb TikTok remixing trend seems to be playing a big part in giving a second wind to otherwise forgotten tracks from the 2010s, it's also spurring record labels to adopt the strategy for their frontline releases. Whether it's playing into the nostalgia factor that we examined with 2000s tracks going viral on TikTok or giving listeners a way to reimagine their experience with a particular track, this trend is breathing life into tracks that didn't take off the first time, helping artists reach new audiences to which they might not otherwise have been exposed. Our suspicion is that we'll be seeing many more forgotten tracks—and brand new ones—topping charts after their sped up or slowed reverb versions go viral.