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A group of musicians from across the globe who were living in China during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic in February 2020 got together to produce a video to show their support for the families impacted by the pandemic as well as for those working on the frontlines in the fight against the disease.
For the video, they recorded a Michael Jackson song “You are not alone.” The video concentrated on overcoming major obstacles and on countering the effects of isolation. It was aimed at offering encouragement to the citizens of Wuhan in China by sending a message of hope and optimism.
The musicians uploaded the video on a social network with 1.2 billion active users each month. Within a short while the video went viral.
When she saw the video she felt deeply moved, says Dr. Lydia Geménez-Llort, professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Forensic Medicine and a researcher at the Institut de Neurociénces at the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona in Spain.
She identified with the suffering of the Chinese people as well as the musicians as a result of the striking images of the ambulances, empty streets, and hospitals, she says.
The impact of the song prompted Geménez-Llort and other researchers at the department to analyze why the video and the song had such an profound impact. They set out to analyze how the lyrics, music, and images in the video combined to send a message of support and to show empathy to the citizens of Wuhan in such a way that it moved those who viewed it.
Essentially, the purpose of the study was to understand how the elements in the video version of the song enabled people to cope with a collective traumatic event.
The study found that music and other art forms, through our social and emotional feelings, can enable us to cope collectively and individually with dramatic and sudden situations. In that way music can alleviate human suffering and the effects of physical distance. Music also can reach across cultural barriers, the team says.
The study also analyzed other musical events that have taken place around the world as well as songs created during the pandemic that played a significant role in creating social bonding during times of bereavement and self-isolation.
Songwriting and music combined with positive psychology are strategies that are unrelated to drugs that can help greatly to regulate thoughts and emotions, particularly when we are faced with times of difficulties and sorrow, the research team members explain.
The musicians in China produced a cover video of a type of romantic ballad that asks a question in a verse and answers it in the next verse, the researchers add. Out of many ballads, the musicians in China selected “You are not alone,” which outlines the difficulty people who have lost a loved one face in trying to understand it. As the days pass, they feel the unbearable weight of being alone, even when they are surrounded by people.
The original song is similar to the situation facing the people at the time in Wuhan who stood alone as the pandemic exploded around them, the study says. They faced this situation as the rest of the world closed its borders with China and could do little else from a distance.
The main value of the video is that the version of the song links society’s emotional suffering with answers that point to a number of elements of resilience and social strength, the researchers note. This effect is achieved through the voices of foreign people who regard China as their adoptive country. It includes Chinese children as a hope for the future and an element of purity.
A person who listens to the song feels the understanding of others. They realize that they have external support. At the same time they understand that they are jointly and in themselves really strong—they are not alone, explains Geménez-Llort.
The video also combines changes in rhythm, a variety of shots and angles in the video, and non-verbal communication that strengthens the empathy with which the situation is described and the message of support that it sends.
The researchers also identified elements of typical mourning processes in the lyrics of the song.
The study appears in the journal Behavioral Sciences.