Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Culture
  2. TV & Radio
25 August 2021updated 26 Aug 2021 4:48pm

BBC Radio 6 Music’s The Happiness Map is pure escapism disguised as a chat show

Listening to musicians discuss their best travel experiences is both magical and otherworldly. 

By Rachel Cunliffe

Travel and live music – two victims of the pandemic that has consumed the last year and a half. It therefore seems a bit on the nose for BBC Radio 6 Music to have envisioned a whole series in which musicians share their favourite travel destinations. Yet this is what The Happiness Map is all about, with the travel journalist Rob Crossan (one imagines his usual work has been in short supply for him during 18 months of lockdowns) quizzing artists from Elvis Costello (New Orleans) to Emmy the Great (Hong Kong) on their faraway adventures and the music they associate with those places.

In one episode (15 August, 1pm), the DJ The Blessed Madonna (real name Marea Stamper) waxes lyrical about Iceland – a land where the sun never fully sets in summer, which boasts the oldest parliament in Europe and which has more authors per head of population than anywhere on Earth. Iceland is currently on the UK green list and accepting fully vaxxed visitors, and listening made me seriously consider booking a flight. “It’s everything that you have in your mind from your Björk fantasies,” Stamper gushes, before introducing a track from the Icelandic singer’s 1980s alternative rock band, the Sugarcubes. (Listening while stuck in traffic on the M40, I find I’m dancing in my seat.)

[See also: BBC Radio 4’s My Teenage Diary is as delightful – and embarrassing – as ever]

Over 60 minutes of reminiscence and Icelandic electro pop, Crossan and Stamper chart their way from the geothermal waters of the Blue Lagoon, across “a landscape that bubbles and spits at you”, to Iceland’s uniquely “hedonistic” festival scene. The Happiness Map, and its tantalising exploration of distant places, is pure escapism disguised as a chat show. Iceland is “almost a naturally psychedelic location”, Stamper says. “It feels magical, it feels otherworldly.” That’s sort of what listening feels like too.

Perhaps there isn’t much of a point to this programme other than to remind us that life exists beyond the living room walls that formed the boundaries of our lockdown existence. Stamper says she is soon off to Iceland herself – proof that the world is finally starting to open up again. It made me hopeful and anxious in equal measure. But the music was a refreshing departure from the chart favourites that plague commercial radio. And it got me through my traffic jam.

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. A handy, three-minute glance at the week ahead in companies, markets, regulation and investment, landing in your inbox every Monday morning. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.

The Happiness Map 
BBC Radio 6 Music

Content from our partners
How automation can help insurers keep pace with customer demand
How telecoms companies can unlock their growth potential through automation
The pandemic has had a scarring effect on loneliness, but we can do better

This article appears in the 25 Aug 2021 issue of the New Statesman, The Retreat