Here’s an odd one for you: Nissan has released another lofi mix in advance of the 2023 Japan Mobility Show. Featuring a braid-rocking virtual avatar rolling through an animated city at night, it’s a relaxed mix for simmering down to. But wait, why is Nissan releasing music? Doesn’t it have more pressing matters, like the GT-R dating back to the Bush administration?
Alright, maybe that was a bit mean, but it does seem bizarre at first glance for an automaker to be dabbling in music. However, Nissan isn’t the only brand pumping out mixtapes, and another major automaker has done so in a rather different genre. Hyundai has recently released its third Eurobeat mix set to Nordschleife lap footage, and while I can’t embed it here due to the video’s settings, you should totally check it out.
So, what’s going on here? Did a couple of interns get bored or something? Not exactly, nor is this in the same vein as old ad jingles. Songs like “See The U.S.A. In Your Chevrolet” had lyrics explicitly formulated to sell a product, while these new, experience-focused automaker mixes aren’t shilling new car smell quite as blatantly. However, mixtapes put out by automakers are far from a new concept. In fact, the car brand that went the absolute hardest for music kicked things off more than 20 years ago.
Remember Scion, that automotive label imprint of Toyota that initially attempted to hock federalized JDM economy cars to millennials? In 2002, it put out a bunch of quick CDs in collaboration with URB magazine, including one called “URB Next 100 — The CD Sampler V.1 — Scion — Welcome To The Brave New World.” Yeah, that’s an absolute mouthful, but these were early days when Scion felt like a make-work project for Toyota execs’ college-aged kids. Things would be refined later on. Featuring artists like Soul Hooligan and The Rurals, this was a properly out there seven-track sampler meant to create a vibe. Was it weird? Sure, but these early efforts were successful enough to spawn a run of more than 30 CD samplers, some featuring up-and-coming heavy-hitters like Chromeo, Flosstradamus, and the Bloody Beetroots. Oh, and that’s before we even get into Scion’s record label and music festivals.
So why would automakers release music for cars? Well, for most Americans, the car is a third space. It’s not home, it’s not work, and it’s reasonably private. Sure, the person next to you at the red light can totally see you pick your nose, but it’s a place to blast music, make love, or just have a little peace. Coincidentally, for many people, their car audio system is the best audio system they own. That sounds preposterous, but how many people do you see out and about with AirPods lodged in their ears? The car and music have been bonded like glue ever since you could get a Motorola in a Ford Model A, and automaker-curated mixes are all about creating an experience.
Everyone knows the jokes about how music can change how you drive. How stuff like the “Free Bird” solo will turn even the mildest-mannered motorists into Chuck Yeager emerging from the clouds at Mach Chicken, or How Bright Eyes will make you want to cruise in the right lane at the speed limit, contemplating life. These automaker mixes work exactly like that. Hyundai’s Eurobeat mixes tap into terminally-online automotive culture and memes, a version of “How do you do, fellow kids?” Likewise, Nissan’s lofi mixes tap into a broader part of internet culture, background music to ease life’s mundane moments.
Over the past few years, lofi YouTube radio stations have gained massive popularity, with one of the biggest, Lofi Girl, sitting at 13.3 million subscribers (Nissan was, at least for a while, the exclusive advertiser of LoFi Girl). Vice described this phenomenon as “Endless, non-perishable YouTube streams that run 24/7, delivering the chillest, most amicable vibes to a legion of traumatized university students—like the perfect holistic alternative when the Xanax isn’t cutting it anymore,” which fits. This isn’t music for life’s Polaroid moments, but for laundry, late-night airport runs, and long periods of deskwork. Maybe that’s why it has such appeal — life isn’t all bungee jumps and tequila.
This Nissan playlist is part of a broader subset of alternative social media strategy. From Wendy’s’ roasts to Hankook Tire’s Instagram memes, brands desire to interact with consumers in weirder, more personal, less corporate ways. As we exit the excessively formal social media messaging of the 2010s, don’t be surprised to see more automaker-released music mixes in the future. We’re in another transition phase, so why not try something new, right?
(Photo credits: Nissan, Scion, Lofi Girl/YouTube)
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