NEW GEN Z 101: Unlock & Outlast Microtrends
Nov 03 2021
There’s an abundance of emerging talent and established powerhouses out there—but which music artists are Gen Z and Millennials favorites?
YPulse’s recent music behavioral survey found that the way that young consumers are listening to music is changing. More traditional methods of music listening are starting to fade, and social media and YouTube are the top two ways that Gen Z and Millennials are listening to music today. Social media (hello, TikTok) has made it easier for both young consumers to discover new music—and for young artists to skyrocket into super stardom. Just look at Olivia Rodrigo, whose track “drivers license” at the beginning of this year birthed countless trends on TikTok, helping make her one of today’s biggest and most-streamed artists globally.
The landscape of music has been changed drastically, all thanks to the fragmentation and fluidity of fame. So who do Gen Z and Millennials count as their favorite music artists these days? We asked in our recent music behavioral survey, and these were their most common responses:
Their Favorite Music Artists
Before we get to the artists on the list, we should point out that “None” was actually one of Gen Z and Millennials’ top responses, which might have to do with the fact that many young consumers don’t have just one favorite artist. For some of the respondents who put down “none,” they told us “They like variety” or “Because there are too many to choose from.” But many did name a favorite musician, and starting from the very top, Drake was the top mentioned music artist among Gen Z and Millennials. The rapper was named artist of the decade at this year’s Billboard Music Awards—and he has done a lot to stay relevant with young fans. Last year, his “Toosie Slide” song (and accompanying dance) became a viral hit on TikTok. In September, he released Certified Lover Boy, whose album cover inspired thousands of memes, and quickly rose to the top of the charts. According to one respondent, Drake “is an icon and makes music for every type of vibe and is still making music for over 10 years.” The two artists at the top of their list are hip-hop / rap artists, and our research found that it is the top music genre among young consumers, with more than half of 13-39-year-olds saying they enjoy listening to it.
The artists most frequently mentioned after Drake, Eminem, Justin Bieber, and Taylor Swift are all music powerhouses who have consistently made young people’s favorite musicians lists in previous years. In the last two years, Bieber has launched two albums—Changes (which features the viral “Yummy” song as heard on TikTok) and Justice—but he’s also found ways to connect with his young fans in other ways, like dropping limited-edition Crocs or debuting a cannabis line of pre-rolled joints. Then, of course, there’s Swift. In 2019, she ranked as the top artist that Gen Z and Millennials say represent their generations, and she’s been at the top of the ranking of their favorite artists in years past. While she dropped down a few spots on this year’s list, she’s been able to maintain remaining in the top 5—and there’s a lot of evidence that shows why. There’s the fact that she dropped not one, but two surprise albums in one year, basically pushed cottagecore further into the mainstream, announced that she would be re-recording some of her older albums, and she finally made her debut on TikTok—or should we say #SwiftTok, proving her position as a mainstay musician for these generations of young consumers.
BTS took the sixth spot on the list for Gen Z and Millennials and also made our 2019 ranking of the musicians they feel represent their generations. YPulse’s 2018 Borderless Culture trend report explored the growing interest in K-pop, and it certainly has taken off in the last few years, with BTS being one of the most popular bands to come out of the genre. They’re constantly breaking streaming records—and the internet. The band has become such a huge influence in their young fans’ lives that the United Nations enlisted them to speak on the importance of COVID vaccines where they generated millions of views for their presentation and musical performance at the UN headquarters. One thing that seems to resonate with respondents is the band’s ability to be relatable and authentic—and their efforts to make an “emotional connection with millions of fans.” One respondent told us: “They are my favourite because they are humble, caring and kind and they seem like genuinely nice people. They don’t flaunt their wealth, looks or achievements and remain down to earth no matter what.”
Mega music stars like Ariana Grande, Rihanna, Kanye West, Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, and Cardi B dominate the rest of the list. But when we compare the favorite musicians named by Gen Z and Millennials, there are some key differences:
Millennials are more likely to say no one music artist is their favorite, but are also more likely to list Eminem, Justin Bieber, and Taylor Swift as their favorite music artists. If you’ve been paying any attention to Gen Z and Millennials’ beef in the last year, you might remember that on top of (jokingly) arguing about side parts and skinny jeans, they also fought about Eminem with loyal Millennial fans defending the rapper after some Gen Zers “cancelled” him, so it shouldn’t come as a total surprise that he ranks higher among Millennials than Gen Z.
Meanwhile, Gen Z is more likely to list newer names like Juice Wrld, Doja Cat, NBA YoungBoy, and Machine Gun Kelly (who started his career in the mid-2000s as a rapper, but has recently pivoted into the pop punk and emo scene that has seen a revival on TikTok in the last year). Though he passed away in 2019, Juice Wrld’s music is clearly still resonating with his young fans, and he ranks as one of Gen Z’s top five musicians. His 2018 single “Lucid Dreams” has been played on Spotify over a billion times and peaked at the number two spot on the Billboard Hot 100 chart—and after his death, his posthumous album featured collabs with artists like The Weeknd. One respondent told us that Juice Wrld is his favorite artist because his music “has meaning behind it and it makes [them] feel good.” Meanwhile, NBA YoungBoy made our top list for the first time, and his popularity is clearly being driven by Gen Z, with the younger group more likely to name him as a favorite compared to Millennials. Last year, the Wall Street Journal referred to him as “the biggest music star you’ve never heard of”—and it’s true. He regularly and exclusively releases his music on YouTube and has previously made the video sharing platform’s Top Music Artists list in the U.S. for 101 weeks straight and has consistently been a top artist on Billboard’s music charts. One respondent tells us he is “just unique and different,” while another says he is the “greatest artist in the world.”
It should also be noted that Billie Eilish appears in the top 15 for Gen Z and not Millennials—but given her age, it makes sense that teens would gravitate and relate to her. One 17-year-old respondent even told us that she likes Eilish because they “relate to her songs and lyrics,” and young fans have constantly been vocal about looking up to her as a fashion role model. Between a new album, a new concert special on Disney+, and going viral for, well, pretty much everything in the last few years, she certainly knows how to stay in the limelight with this generation.
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