“You’ve got to hear this,” the host of the party proclaimed, jolting over to the iPod plugged into a speaker. “I heard it yesterday at SoulCycle and it’s incredible!”
What we heard next was a heart-pumping techno remix of "Video Killed The Radio Star," The Buggles’ 1980 song. While several of us knew the song to be a remix of an '80s synth pop classic, our host had never heard the song any other way than the revamped recording she’d heard at a recent spin class. This was the only way the song existed in her mind, because how would she know any other way? And yet, she loved it all the same.
Across the nation, people flock to fitness classes with a churchlike attitude and devotion. For SoulCycle, the cult following has become a point of not just emphasis, but celebration, with locations even depicting the word “cult” with bright neon lights in the lobby. The likeness extends beyond the riders’ devotion, though, to the whole experience. The robes get swapped out for spandex. The nostalgic pop music gets swapped out for a beat-driven remix of the classics. The candles get swapped with, well, nothing. They kept the candles.
SoulCycle and its contemporaries have created a lasting impact on more than just getting people off the couch and onto the bike. The trend has garnered influence over the new accessibility of pop music, both how we remember older songs, how we discover new music, even influencing the musicians creating and debuting work.
SoulCycle’s fan base happens to align with the listeners of today’s mainstream pop charts almost exactly, which leads to SoulCycle riders hearing a certain remix in class, downloading it to their devices for later, personal use, and they playing it outside class — a process where the beat-pumping remix is often listened to more than the original track.
The movement doesn’t necessarily mean a dip in quality or appreciation of the music though. With tons of fans and exercise junkies across the nation, the new development and access to music has regular riders enjoying each new discovery. “I left the class and was like, ‘I need to go get that [song]’,” says Lindsey Tannebaum, an avid rider. “Everything in the class is such a positive experience, so when I relisten to a song, it brings back those good feelings.” Lindsey isn’t the first to take the songs she’s heard in class out of the studio. According to instructors, riders come up to them after class all the time to ask the name of a song or where they can download the playlist from class. In a way, SoulCycle has become a sort of brick-and-mortar Spotify for the exercise-minded. Riders may go to John Doe Instructor’s class because they know he plays early 2000s pop, and leave with a few new remixes that they fall in love with along the way.
Even the iTunes charts’ Top 100 reflect the trend. Of all the songs released to be listed on the Top Songs chart, “Ready For It” by Taylor Swift is on the list twice, once for the studio recording at #38, and again for the “blood pop remix,” a beat-heavy rendition used for many of these classes, at #70. The wave of influence that fitness classes wield over pop music listeners has enough impact to list the same song twice on an exclusive report.
It’s grown to a point at which musicians are even catering and building their new albums and singles around the spinning sensation. Nicole Scherzinger’s album Big Fat Lie was promoted with a planned listening party for a SoulCycle ride to debut the album in New York. The tracks are a fast-paced, adrenaline-pumping sequence of songs that match perfectly to the rhythm and pace of a course — making it a great venue to help the new release flourish and take off with Scherzinger’s proposed fan base. Quality of the album aside, the idea of building a new body of work around a fitness classes suggests a new trend in reverse engineering music to fit listeners rather than the traditional model or listeners finding new bands organically.
Next time you’re clipping in for your next class or walking through your local grocery store, listen for the techno version of "Piano Man."
top photo via Soul Cycle
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Tim Latterner is a writer and editor living in New York. He is the leading expert on pizza folding strategies, expert on all things Home Alone 2: Lost In New York, and runner-up of the 2013 Jonathan Safran Foer Lookalike Contest. He's a nice guy, you should get to know him. See what he's up to on Instagram at @timlatterner.