Generation Z knows how to own the pop charts
Billie Eilish and Lil Nas X. Photos: Jonas Walzberg/picture alliance via Getty Images; Johnny Nunez/Getty Images
Generation Z artists have figured out how their peers consume music in the streaming era, and they're tailoring their release strategies to give their songs an otherworldly longevity on the charts.
Why it matters: A traditional single launch with a big-budget music video isn't enough to create a mega-hit in 2019. True staying power requires a savvy use of memes, remixes and videos to sustain buzz — and the recent war for #1 between Billie Eilish and Lil Nas X utilized all 3, previewing the music industry of the future.
- Eilish's "Bad Guy" ended the record 19-week reign of Lil Nas X's "Old Town Road" at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 this week, making her the first artist born in the 2000s to hit #1 on the chart.
- If Eilish hadn't succeeded, "Bad Guy" would have spent a record-tying 10 weeks at #2 without ascending to the top spot.
The big picture: Streaming is already the biggest factor for Billboard's charts. Last year, Billboard changed how streams count toward the Hot 100, granting the most weight to songs played under paid subscriptions with services like Spotify and Apple Music.
And on-demand songs from ad-supported services (think YouTube and streaming services' free tiers) have more weight than songs played on programmed services, like Pandora.
- 84% of Gen Zers use their smartphones to consume audio content daily, according to a Consumer Technology Association survey. It also found that their 2 most popular sources of audio content were streaming services and online video.
- A Music Business Association survey found that 15- to 19-year-olds are far more likely to opt for paid streaming than other age groups because of their preference for mobile streaming — even though 24% said they weren't the ones paying for it.
Eilish and Lil Nas X fought a months-long battle for #1, targeting their peers across their preferred platforms the whole time.
- "Old Town Road" first entered the chart at #83 in March, thanks to its plays in memes on TikTok, Gen Z's social platform du jour.
- Lil Nas X released a slew of remixes — adding artists like Billy Ray Cyrus, Diplo, Young Thug and RM of BTS — to keep his song safe at the top with continued buzz. Eilish tried to deny his record stay at #1 by enlisting Justin Bieber for a "Bad Guy" remix last month, but that effort failed.
- Both used delayed music video releases to pique interest. "Old Town Road" saw its cameo-filled video drop in May — months after the song's initial release to guarantee tens of millions of new streams. And a mobile-centric alternate vertical video for "Bad Guy" came out just last week, a move that likely helped propel the song to #1.
The bottom line: The world's biggest record labels have already caught on — and soon, these promotional strategies won't be limited strictly to the young.