If you’ve ever heard the term ‘NPC’ before, the first time was probably in the context of video games. NPC stands for ‘non-playable character’ and describes those one-dimensional, almost robotic characters you interact with.
But increasingly, this term is crossing over from the virtual to the real world, not to describe game characters, but to define a particular breed of music in our hyperdigitised society.
But what exactly is NPC music, and why has it become such a buzzword? It’s not rigidly definable, and the finer boundaries of what constitutes an NPC song are debatable, but it’s essentially a label thrown at modern, soulless pop music – the kind you might hear in a commercial or playing in the background at a supermarket. This label isn’t just about a specific type of song. It’s more about a certain sound, an ethos.
Take, for instance, Oliver Tree’s collaboration with KSI, which you can watch and listen to below if melody and memorable lyrics aren’t really your thing.
Many describe ‘Voices’ as typical NPC music. It checks all the boxes for a pop hit but lacks a certain spirit, a unique essence. It’s catchy, or at least tries to be, and energetic, yet it feels generic and, most importantly, soulless.
Even hugely successful bands like Maroon 5, who have no shortage of hits and commercial success, often get tagged with the NPC music label. Their songs, while known to almost everyone, lack a fervent fanbase passionately waiting for their next concert or merchandise drop. It’s this omnipresence, coupled with a certain emotional disconnect, that marks the essence of NPC music.
This phenomenon isn’t limited to big artists. The rise of TikTok and other digital platforms has seen an influx of bedroom musicians creating tunes that fit this NPC mold. These tracks often mimic the sound of top-charting pop hits, aiming for viral success rather than genuine emotional connection.
So, what makes a song NPC? It’s not just about being overly produced or fitting a specific genre. It’s about lacking an authentic human touch. As mentioned already, these songs often prioritise catchiness and sound over meaningful lyrics, and this leads to tracks that are relatable but ultimately forgettable – a musical paradox of sorts.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. This trend also highlights the subjectivity of music. Those who are able to identify and shun the bland uniformity of the NPC song, the homogeneity of its lyrical subject matter and artificial structure, have a newfound power to explore their own tastes more and develop a much more individualistic palette. The rise of NPC music pushes listeners to seek out songs that resonate more deeply with them, to find music that speaks to their souls and not just their ears.
And so while NPC music might dominate certain corners of our lives, especially in public places such as shopping centres and high street burger chains, it also plays a crucial role in our musical exploration, pushing us to seek out authenticity and depth. It’s a reminder that in a world of endless choices, finding music that truly connects with us is more important than ever.