Formats Unpacked: Lofi Girl
How a beautifully crafted animated loop built a fanbase of 12 million subscribers on YouTube
How are you doing?
We all love a nice animation, right? We make a lot of them for clients. Like podcasts, they require a lot more work than people would think. But when done well, with the necessary attention to detail applied, they’re worth all the effort.
Today’s format gets that right. The format comes with a huge creative restriction so the effort naturally goes into the detail. How much information can you squeeze into a loop?
This week I’m doing the unpacking. If you’d like to unpack a favourite format, get in touch.
What is it?
Lofi Girl is a YouTube channel that features live video streams that students work along to.
What’s the format?
Lofi Girl forms part of a student internet phenomenon known as Study With Me. Study With Me videos feature students filming or live-streaming their study sessions. No chat. No “Hey guys”. Just heads down students, reading books, taking notes, hard at work. These videos are hugely popular and students have reached influencer-level followings thanks to factors such as the layout of their desks, the view from their window, the stationary they use, or the ambiance of their setting.
One such star of the trend is Lofi Girl who has over 12 million subscribers and 1.6 billion streams. Formerly known as Chilled Cow, the YouTube channel rebranded as Lofi Girl and features continuous animated live streams. The animation shows an anime-style girl wearing headphones and studying at her desk next to her cat and a window. She’s also listening to music, which is what differentiates the three live streams. You can choose from “Lofi hip hop radio - beats to relax/study to” or “Lofi hip hop radio - beats to chill/sleep to”.
On April 11th, 2023 fans of Lofi Girl were left wondering what had happened to their study partner when her image was replaced by a question mark. The answer, much to their delight, was that there was a new boy in town. When the image returned it revealed Synthwave Boy, an anime-style boy who lives in the apartment visible through Lofi Girl’s window. He listens to ‘synthwave radio - beats to chill/game to.’
What’s the magic that makes it special?
Humans are inherently social beings, and we have a natural desire for social interaction and connection. Going to the cinema or the theatre is a completely different experience from watching alone. But even when we can’t be in the same room, the presence of others still makes us feel better. It’s why laughter tracks were added to TV comedy shows. Bruce Daisley’s book Fortitude is full of fascinating examples of how human performance improves when people work or train with others, even if they are doing it in silence.
Connecting with people who share a similar identity is a natural and common human tendency. When we connect with others who share a similar identity, we experience a sense of belonging and acceptance. It allows us to feel understood, validated, and supported.
The magic in Lofi Girl is all about identity and she really knows her audience. As mentioned earlier, the choice of stationary is enough to give some channels an edge over others. What Lofi Girl does so brilliantly is it takes the limitations of what is a simple animated loop and packs it with imagery and sounds that fans pin their identity to. It makes the connection stronger. The style of the animation is an instant hook for anime fans and the more keen-eyed amongst them will recognise the influence of Studio Studio Ghibli. Lofi Girl was based on a character from Whisper of the Heart. The inclusion of the cat is a smart move too.
Then there’s the music which is a big hook for people who might want more than the ASMR vibe or some of the other Study With Me videos. The choice of lofi hip hop or synthwave makes it the perfect study radio station for people with a similar musical preference.
I worked in digital at BBC Radio 1 in the mid-90s. Before iPlayer came along we experimented a lot with ‘visual radio’. The results of those experiments have become established as many radio studios now have cameras as standard - particularly for talk radio. However, some of those experiments fell by the wayside. Particularly something that we referred to as ‘glanceable radio’ such as video loops mixed by club VJs accompanying DJ mixes. No DJ chat, only a continuous stream of beats to work to with just enough visual distraction for those moments when your brain needs a rest. Lofi Girl has nailed this. It’s passive content consumption that looks beautiful and sounds cool - if lofi hip hop or synthwave is your sort of thing.
I’m a child of the 80s so Synthwave Radio is definitely my chosen stream.
Study With Me is a close relative to Slow TV, a genre of television programming that features long, uninterrupted shots of mundane or calming activities. Glanceable or ambient TV is also how others might describe it.
A trend picked up in our Scrollstoppers report highlights that when people began working from home during and after lockdown they missed the ambience of the office or the classroom. Many people replaced this by having episodes of Friends or The Office playing on their TV sets, often with the sound turned down or on low. The Netflix show Emily In Paris has also been cited in this excellent New Yorker piece on the rise of Ambient TV.
At this point, I should say:
a. Get in touch if you’re a super-talented animator. We’re always on the lookout.
b. Let’s chat if you need a beautiful award-winning animation making. It’s what we do.
Speaking of animators. If you’re a freelance creative in need of inspiration we have something for you. It’s called Proper Fancy. It’s like a team Show and Tell but for people without a team. Or even for people with a team that doesn’t do this sort of thing. If you run a company and are on the lookout for new creative freelancers then feel free to join us too. It’s happening on Thursday 25th May, 13.00 (BST).
Thanks for reading.
See you all next week.
Been a fan of lofi hip hop mixes for years. Started with Lofi girl, but moved on to Chillhop and other channels. I didn’t know about synthwave boy and I’m as hyped as a teenager to try him out!
Interesting piece. I never connected the success of Lo-Fi girl to the phenomenon of Study with me and the search for companionship. I always thought it was a good mix of smartly crafted animation and the cozy atmosphere that setting conveyed helped by the lo-fi music.
I would also add that the clever way how that setting is conceived is not shown only by the girl's room and the cat, but also the landscape: the city view has a European feeling without revealing too much, and that creates a sense of comfort that can be applied in most areas of the world. The guessing game is also a fun thing to do and says a lot about ourselves: which city is that? (I don't know why, buy I always thought of Porto 😄)