The past year in music brought with it a plethora of new faces and milestones, some of them more applause-worthy and conspicuous than others. Given that we’re still very much in the early transformative stages of the streaming era, understanding the shifts that are happening now will provide a window into the future. With all that said, let’s take a look at how the music industry is evolving as we head into the new decade.


Going Global

Beyond hip hop’s success in the U.S., where it’s now the biggest music genre in terms of total consumption, it has rapidly grown into a worldwide mainstream commodity. The unlimited connectivity of the internet has exponentially sped up this globalization and has amounted to substantial revenue opportunities. Expanded operations and an influx of capital on the African continent, as well as in Asia and the Middle East, are beginning to transform once dormant markets into legitimate players in the music economy, with the potential to not only reach billions of new users, but also expose more localized talent to a wider audience. Democratization and collaboration are the cornerstones of modernity, and hip hop’s forging of international bonds has the power to crack all manner of charts. The past year alone delighted fans with the mainstream arrival of acts ranging from Billie Eilish to BTS to Burna Boy, as well as increased visibility surrounding the UK’s effervescent grime scene and Asia’s experimental music fireworks.


A Post-Genre Era

Lil Nas X and 6lack attend the 2019 GQ Men of the Year After Party - Randy Shropshire/Getty Images 

Music journalists and industry gatekeepers have long had an unhealthy obsession with pigeonholing artists into categories. Yet thanks to the unfettered expansion of hip hop’s cultural footprint, diversification and hybridization were in full bloom in 2019, a year in which the stars aligned for several of music’s boldest and brightest trailblazers. None were more distinguished than Lil Nas X, who marched (spurred cowboy boots in tow) to the gates of Billboard to take on the charts giant, where he ultimately emerged unscathed with the longest running No. 1 song in U.S. chart history. The inescapable rise of “Old Town Road” would not have been possible without forward-thinking curatorial outlets like TikTok and Triller that allow users everywhere to repurpose and share their music. Such platforms have facilitated in breaking down barriers between genres through their capacity for virality and fueling of “music as memes” via all manner of remixes, edits, and mashups. Prejudices and preconceived notions continue to crumble beneath the blossoming conception of music as a fluid frontier, capable of supporting the lush sonic smoothies of Koffee, the stylized he-loves-me-not musings of Tyler, The Creator, and the drill-based provocations of Pop Smoke.


More Breakout Success For Female Emcees

Kehlani & Megan Thee Stallion attend Rihanna's Diamond Ball, 2019 - Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

One female emcee after another grabbed the public’s attention in 2019, whether it was Lizzo with her triumphant theatrics on “Truth Hurts,” Saweetie and City Girls with their call-and-response anthems, or Megan Thee Stallion and her devoted Hot Girl Summer “hotties.” Others like Noname, Rapsody, Rico Nasty, and Tierra Whack further contributed to the astounding resurgence of women in hip hop. In fact, 2019 “yielded the highest total of (female) rappers making their mark on the Billboard Hot 100 this decade,” a statistic that speaks to just how electrifying the conversation has become in recent years. While there’s no denying the outsized impact of women in hip hop over the course of the genre’s history, it finally feels as if the narrative is beginning to shift to appropriately honor and celebrate both the veterans who paved the way and the new faces who are preserving and building upon their legacy. 


Social Media’s Cult Of Personality

If Tekashi 6ix9ine’s dramatic rise and fall taught us anything, it’s that self-made stars and precocious personalities are hoisted by the masses of the social media age. Universal access to smartphones, and by association social media, is empowering artists to keep pace with their audiences at a previously unprecedented rate. Now more than ever, artists are encouraged to develop bold branding strategies and imagery that sticks, and they’re choosing to connect with listeners directly rather than through the squeaky clean lens of their handlers. All of this has produced a completely new and refurbished pop landscape in which music makers are firmly in the driver’s seat when it comes to nurturing media presence, while labels in the traditional sense of the word have resigned themselves to a more hands-off role as financial overseers and talent investors.


The Intersection Of Videos Games, Online Entertainment, & Live Music

Blueface performing at Rolling Loud LA edition 2019 - Photo by Evie Hoffman for HNHH exclusively

Virtual reality and live streaming are tech spaces with endless possibilities, and they’re aiding artists in orchestrating massive cultural moments that unfold in real time. In February, Marshmello’s historic Fortnite concert brought in upwards of 10.7 million live “attendees” in what could very well prove to be the tip of the iceberg for virtual viewership. Meanwhile, 800,000 users tuned in to the YouTube premiere of Ariana Grande’s “thank u, next” while over 600,000 scampered to Twitch to watch Ninja and Drake take a crack at duos in the aforementioned battle royale. Rolling Loud, “the largest hip-hop festival in the world,” boasted a throng 60,000 strong at its inaugural New York set this past fall, and with plans to take the show overseas, there’s no telling what the ceiling might be for high-end livestreaming experiences. Who knows: VR capabilities that enable Adam Levine and Jonah Hill to share courtside seats at a live Lakers game could translate into groundbreaking new avenues of engagement for those looking to snag virtual concert tickets and take in the action up close while still in their pajamas.


Riding The “Content” Tidal Wave

Content diversification on streaming services was never a matter of if but a matter of when. Investment in exclusive and original content is well underway: we’ve already seen Spotify take ambitious steps to monopolize the realm of podcasts with their purchase of Gimlet & Anchor, and Pandora established a Podcast Genome similar to the one that powers its internet radio service. Given how scalable technology has become, it’s no surprise that multi-format creative agencies are thriving. The crossover between music and gaming has taken video outlets YouTube and Twitch by storm, while music-based platforms such as COLORS and Lyrical Lemonade are creating compelling blueprints for the future and re-envisioning their role in the space along the way. This entrepreneurial spirit has resulted in the convergence of different areas of media, whether that be music, fashion, film, etc. Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty, Action Bronson’s “Fuck That’s Delicious,” Offset’s partnership with esports organization FaZe Clan, and Drake’s involvement in the revival of Top Boy are but a few example of artists re-envisioning themselves as entertainers and content creators.


No End In Sight For Album Tug Of War

Augmented by the boon of major platform playlists, the discussion surrounding the fluctuation of the album format has been defined by two distinct schools of thought. On one hand, homogenized and inoffensive music devoid of creative merit has engendered passive consumption on a massive scale, as vastly popular algorithms continue to dictate the prosperity of bloated releases. It’s a trend that isn’t going anywhere: lengthy tracklists do numbers, and artists will likely continue to submit desperate, long-winded bids as a means of gaming the system. Elsewhere, more succinct and palatable releases, most notably those comprising Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music rollout of summer 2018, have garnered equal attention if for different reasons. All of this is to say that both ends of the spectrum are finding success in the pursuit of replayability, further bolstering the eternal struggle between quality and quantity.


An Appetite For Conceptually-Conceived Music

The Trump-born melange of crisis and confusion has opened the door for artists to explore ideas of identity and rich, politically-tinged narratives. It’s an environment ripe for socially-literate creatives looking to voice their anger and frustrations with the state of the world. Ambitious vessels such as Janelle Monae’s Dirty Computer and Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly are the audio equivalent of an escape from modernity’s fractured state, and their success in blurring the lines of fiction and reality underlines a demand for forging deeper connections with artists and the environments they weave.

What do you predict for 2020? Let us know in the comments.

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