The kinds of songs that Gen Z and Millennials listen to are changing—and making a single Song of Summer an impossibility…
Using YPulse’s real-time data tool PULSE, we asked 16-34-year-olds to tell us about their current music listening—including what they think the song of summer is, and there was no consensus. Taylor Swift’s massively popular new album got some mentions, as did some throwbacks, with one respondent joking (maybe) that the song of summer is probably “It’s The End Of The World As We Know It.”
But many young consumers agreed there just isn’t a single song of summer this year. One told us, “I think it’s still up in the area with this COvId thing,” and another explained “I think the song of the summer isn’t as clear this year.” The reality is that many young consumers have been pulled out of the routines—parties, long drives with friends, etc.—that might solidify a single summer hit. At the same time, they’re discovering their music from increasingly diverse sources, and leaving radio—the past decider of summer’s song—behind. When we asked 16-34-year-olds where they discover new songs with PULSE, only 30% said radio, compared to 47% who said Spotify, and 49% who said YouTube. But there’s another rising new music source that has made identifying a single song of summer even more difficult for young consumers today: TikTok.
A quarter of 16-34-year-olds told us they discover new songs on the app—outpacing many more longstanding social platforms, including Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter. In fact, some respondents told us that TikTok songs are the songs of summer, with one quipping, “I dont know i dont rly listen to popular music. It’s probably one of the viral songs on tiktok,” and another simply responding “Tik tok songs.” Among those respondents who did name specific songs, many mentioned tracks that have been going viral on the app. With the focus on short audio clips, it’s possible for many, many songs to be going viral on the platform simultaneously, flooding the market with potential summer songs. Here are just some of the tracks taking over Gen Z and Millennials’ summer listening thanks to TikTok—and what they say about what young consumers want out of music today:
In our PULSE survey, several respondents mentioned “hot girl bummer” by musician Matthew Tyler Musto (better known as blackbear). The track was originally released in 2019, following the #HotGirlSummer trend (which of course also spawned 2019’s song of summer contender Megan Thee Stallion’s “Hot Girl Summer”). Last October, according to Genius “Hot Girl Bummer” sat at No. 66 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart after its August release. Earlier this month, the platinum-certified song peaked at number two on Top 40 radio and eleventh on the Billboard Hot 100. So, what happened? It’s safe to say that TikTok gave “Hot Girl Bummer” its slow burn success. On TikTok, the track has been used for 282.2K videos, with some of the most watched using the song as a backdrop to show how they’re seeking revenge on a cheating ex. Since its release, it has surpassed over 1 billion global streams, and it’s YouTube video has been viewed over 15 million times since being posted in November. (Don’t forget that half of young consumers tell us they discover new songs on YouTube, and the site often acts as magnifier of the songs that are going viral on TikTok as young listeners look for the full track elsewhere.) The slower trajectory of the rise of “Hot Girl Bummer” is a great example of the fact that for young listeners today release date does not determine popularity.
Not all the songs of summer are actual, well, official songs. In June, TikTok user @rynnstar went viral for a jingle she created that called out people for using skewed “statistics” to justify their racism and police brutality. “Black neighborhoods are over policed so of course they have higher rates of crime,” Erynn sings at the beginning of the video. “White perpetrators are undercharged so of course, they have lower rates of crime.” Erynn ends the song by singing “shut up” over and over again. The impromptu “ditty” has garnered more than 1.7 million views. She told BuzzFeed News—who called her track “the official song of summer— that she was inspired by another TikTok user @Onlinekyne who made a video breaking down the “mathematical elements” of the statistics people use to justify racism. But her song was also recreated by many other TikTokers who duetted with her video to pay musical tribute to the jingle. User @alexengelberg created a “barbershop quartet” cover of the song that has 2.1 million views, and the remix of that track by @charlicurtisb has been watched half a million times. Since her song went viral, @rynnstar has accrued 402K followers and has used her newfound viral attention to share content to raise awareness around Black Lives Matter and racial justice. Amid the Black Lives Matter protests, several young activists have dubbed viral songs on the internet as “anthems of the protests” including “You About to Lose Yo’ Job.” On TikTok, anything can be turned into a song, which means that produced tracks are not the only contenders for musical dominance any longer. But the popularity of Erynn’s song also shows that politically motivated music has a place in Gen Z’s world: 40% of 16-34-year-olds told us that they like to listen to “meaningful” music these days.
In our PULSE survey several respondents said that the synthwave-inspired “Blinding Lights” by the Weeknd was the song of the summer—and of course, this track also has Tiktok to thank for its popularity. Though it has become a radio hit, it was first a viral dance challenge on the app. The track has 1 million videos on TikTok, and quickly became a hit at the start of the pandemic thanks to the upbeat challenge that many adorable quarantined families participated in—with one of the most popular, featuring the McFarlands racking up 15.6 million views. The hashtag #blindinglightschallenge has racked up 412.7 million views. The track, and its challenge, showed how much young consumers wanted dose of positivity during the pandemic—and over half tell us they like to listen to happy songs these days, compared to 30% who like to listen to sad songs. Since the song’s official release, it has racked up more than 1 billion plays on Spotify, making it the most-streamed track on the platform. and has been considered a “huge moment” for synthwave, an electronic music subgenre inspired from ‘80s pop culture. But it’s also been a huge example of how social media challenges (specifically those on TikTok) are fueling the popularity of music today, and changing music marketing in the process.
Avenue Beat’s “F2020” went viral for resonating with many young users who are already over 2020. When Nashville-based music trio Avenue got together, they wanted to make a song and video on TikTok with a “simple” but “efficient message”: “Lowkey f*ck 2020.”The original video, which has has 12.4 million views, starts off optimistically with the young women singing about how they rang in 2020 on New Year’s Eve in high hopes that it would be “[their] year,” but the lyrics quickly take a turn as they flash a montage of current events from the year (so far) that include COVID-19, the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics, “murder hornets,” the deaths of Kobe and Gianna Bryant, the wildfires in Australia, and photos calling for the justice of Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, and many more amid the Black Lives Matter protests. The video went viral overnight: according to the trio, they woke up to 4.5 million views. However, after it got taken down by TikTok allegedly due to language, they reshared the video and track on different TikTok accounts and social platforms like Instagram and YouTube, which propelled the song’s popularity even further. Thousands of users have used the track as their background music and in “fan-made” videos, while the hashtag #F2020 has 12.4 million views. The song has been released to music streaming platforms Amazon, Apple Music, and Spotify, which has already been streamed more than 2 million times. While young consumers might like to listen to happy music (see: “Blinding Lights” above, the success of “F2020” shows that they’re fueling music that reflects their current struggles as well.
While the song dropped pre-pandemic at the end of January, newcomer Jack Harlow’s “What’s Poppin” has quickly risen to the top of the Billboard charts, thanks to a remix featuring DaBaby, Tony Lanez, and Lil Wayne—and has even been dubbed the “song of the (no) summer” has 407K videos on TikTok. His original track has 407K videos on the app and even came with a “Glo-Up” challenge where users would share a series of photos of their younger selves and “glo’d up” when the beat drops while lip syncing “What’s poppin’?” like their “flirting at a bar.” Since then, other trends for the track have popped up such as “If You Like,” where guys on the app list their attributes and “qualifications” and ask “What’s poppin’?” Influencer David Dobrik got in on the trend with a video that got 8.2 million views, and the single has even birthed a variety of dances and skits.