Introducing Chartmetric's 6MO:
Music Industry Trends From H1 2020

Welcome to the third edition of 6MO, our semi-annual report on music industry trends. In our first-ever web-based edition, we take a look back at H1 2020 (Jan. 1-June 30) to try to get a sense of the future of the music business, uncovering the world’s breakthrough artists and tracks on music streaming platforms, social media, and our own standard of overall popularity, Chartmetric Artist Rank. We also take a market-level view of one of 2020’s most viral (and hotly debated) platforms, TikTok. Finally, we end with a case study look at how Netflix music synchronizations have helped artists break new (and sometimes old) music. As you’re making your way through our report, don’t forget to click through the animated infographics, and enjoy this year’s important music industry trends and statistics!


Breakthrough: Music Platforms

In the digital era, music platforms aren’t necessarily all about the pure consumption of audio. Generally speaking, today’s music platforms are augmented with some auxiliary element, whether it be social, visual, discovery, or commercial. So, in addition to highlighting the Top 10 rising artists and tracks from each platform in H1 2020, this section also highlights four different platforms and four different ways that consumers interact with music: Spotify, YouTube, Shazam, and movies or TV.

What's this?

The Backdrop

Spotify is arguably the go-to DSP for American listeners, but in H1 2020, the Top 10 gainers in Monthly Listeners (MLs) were decidedly international. Only four out of the Top 10 this time were from the contiguous United States, with the remaining six ranging from Puerto Rico to Europe and Kazakhstan to Australia.

The Top 3

At No. 1, with more than 1.9K percent growth is 20-year-old Filipino-born British Indie rocker Beatrice Kristi Laus, aka beabadoobee. Though she has had an impressive couple of years, 2020 is arguably her breakout year, thanks to a now-postponed tour with The 1975 and Powfu’s Feb. 8 TikTok hit “Death Bed (Coffee for Your Head),” which samples beabadoobee’s “Coffee.” In early January, beabadoobee had around 1.4M MLs, but once her MLs incline started a month later, it only accelerated, further fueled by a Rising Star Award nomination at the 2020 Brit Awards. By June, she had hit a peak of 30M.

German DJ and producer Topic, whose 2015 hit “Home” went Platinum in Australia and Germany, comes in at No. 2 with more than 1.6K percent growth. Topic ended 2019 with a full head of steam, releasing his chart-topping EDM hit “Breaking Me,” featuring Swedish singer Alexander Tidebrink, aka A7S, on Dec. 19, 2019. That momentum carried him into the Top 10 of many European charts, not to mention the US Billboard charts. By late June, his MLs had reached almost 21M, up from just 1.2M at the start of the year.

He may only be 22, but Louisville, Kentucky, rapper Jack Harlow (No. 3) has been at it since he was 12. 2020, however, appears to be his year. On Jan. 21, Harlow dropped “What’s Poppin,” along with a Cole Bennett-directed music video. The track went viral on TikTok, peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100, and by the end of June, it got a remix featuring DaBaby, Tory Lanez, and Lil Wayne. With that kind of success, Harlow’s growth from 1.3M to almost 18M MLs seems like it was inevitable.

The Music Trend

From beabadoobee to Ñengo Flow, Topic to Imanbek, what seems to be true with many of these Top 10 Spotify MLs gainers in H1 2020 is the benefit of collaborations with other artists — whether through remix, features, or otherwise. TikTok virality translates significantly as well.

What's this?

The Backdrop

We recently covered the growth power of YouTube sessions for artist careers and H1 2020 only exemplifies how this global video platform has helped artists worldwide expand their fanbases. While half of the Top 10 gains in YouTube channel views were made by American artists, the other five represented New Zealand, Egypt, Brazil, and Italy.

The Top 3

25-year-old American Pop/R&B breakout star Trevor Daniel scores the No. 1 spot with a stunning growth percentage of more than 2.8K. Though his debut EP Homesick was only released in late 2018, 2019 saw Daniel’s lead track “Falling” quickly go viral thanks to TikTok. The track ended up charting in more than 20 countries by the end of the year. In a strategic move, the TikTok hit’s official music video was then released on YouTube on Jan. 15, 2020, which is also when Daniel’s channel views started inclining steeply. By late June, his channel had gained almost 200M views, a significant increase from the 30M he had pre-upload.

Taking the No. 2 spot with more than 2K percent growth is 20-year-old Stella Rose Bennett, aka BENEE, another major young rising sensation. Hailing from New Zealand, this Indie Pop singer-songwriter first turned heads with her 2018 single “Soaked,” which also saw her win four New Zealand Music Awards in 2019. “Glitter” was her first song to go viral on TikTok thanks to the #IKnowItsGettingLate dance challenge, but it was really her 2019 single “Supalonely,” featuring Gus Dapperton, that brought her international fame in March 2020. The catchy song’s lyrics appear to have resonated with the thousands of teens in lockdown worldwide, as the Supalonely dance soon spawned a viral TikTok challenge that saw even top influencer Charli D’Amelio participating. Though BENEE only had around 7M views at the start of 2020 and her first headlining North American tour was canceled due to COVID-19, March was the turning point that saw her channel views accelerate from 13M to more than 150M by the end of June.

Egyptian singer Ramy Sabry steals the No.3 spot thanks to his nearly 1.6K percent growth. Sabry only released one official single in 2020, but the same day Feb. 13 upload of his “Hayati Mesh Tamam'' lyric video kickstarted an incline for his previously flatlining views. His recording of “Ghareeb El Hob” for the Egyptian TV series Forsa Tanya (or “Second Chance,” in Arabic), which premiered during the Ramadan 2020 drama marathon, also carried him through the Muslim month of fasting, prayer, and reflection. Sabry may have started 2020 with 1.6M channel views, but he gained 26.4M in just six months to round off June with more than 28M.

The Music Trend

TikTok may be the primary platform directing music fans to the artists’ YouTube channels, but talent shows like Eurovision Song Contest, Netflix’s Rhythm and Flow, and popular Italian series Amici di Maria De Filippi, as well as worldwide events from Ramadan to COVID-19, appear to be just as effective.

What's this?

The Backdrop

In 6MO H2 2019, we focused on Shazams localized to Mexico City, the “world’s music-streaming mecca” and home to the very first Spotify Awards in early March 2020. For H1 2020, we shifted our approach to look at what tracks accrued the most Shazam growth worldwide. While artists likely still have to have success on other platforms before seeing significant Shazam counts, the nature of Shazam as a music discovery platform makes it especially important for converting new, spontaneous listeners into potential fans — and that ultimately translates to more consumption across many different platforms.

The Top 3

At No. 1 is “Some Say,” a song by Swedish singer Linnea Södahl, aka Nea, which was remixed by German Tropical House producer Felix Jaehn. The original track was released on Sept. 6, 2019, and the remix was released on Jan. 10, 2020, blowing up in Europe and going either Gold or Platinum in five European countries. The source of Shazams was likely the extensive radio airplay the track received in Europe.

Topic’s “Breaking Me,” which also appeared at No. 2 for Spotify MLs growth, seems to have generated Shazam count growth from European airplay as well. Topic’s 52.4K percent growth on Shazam dwarfs his 1.6K percent growth on Spotify, and considering that Shazam counts happen at the track-level while Spotify MLs happen at the artist-level, this could indicate the power of the track over the particular artist performing the track. In other words, with a little help from radio, Topic’s chart-topping EDM hit, featuring Swedish singer Alexander Tidebrink, aka A7S, was enough to generate that more than 500x increase all on its own.

Ashe’s “Moral of the Story” (No. 3) presents a particularly unique example in that we can confidently trace the track’s Shazam growth to a synchronization on the Netflix movie To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You, which was released on Feb. 12. Interestingly, this track was released on Valentine’s Day a year earlier, but the Netflix sync gave the track a second wind. It’s safe to say people who watched the movie were likely Shazam-ing the track like crazy, making Netflix instrumental in buoying this emerging artist’s otherwise fading track — increasing Ashe's daily Spotify followers 10x, daily Instagram followers 100x, and arguably catapulting her to a new level in her career.

The Music Trend

Radio, Netflix, and TikTok all seem to drive music discovery on Shazam, which in turn translates to increased success across other music and social media platforms.

What's this?

The Backdrop

With the coronavirus pandemic grinding the live sector of the music industry to a halt, other sectors, including TV and film synchronization, have been picking up the pace. For this 6MO report, we pivoted accordingly from Bandsintown data, which tracks an artist’s live music fans, to Tunefind data, which monitors what TV and film synchronizations a track gets.

The Top 3

The No. 1 spot goes to “Who Are You,” one of renowned English Rock band The Who’s biggest hits of all time. Originally released in 1978, the Classic Rock track has now reappeared as the opening theme on all 16 main episodes of the secret face-off singing competition The Masked Singer. This TV series is the first American adaptation of the international Masked Singer franchise and is part of the Korean Wave, also known as Hallyu. The reality show features celebrities hidden in mascot costumes singing covers of famous songs as panelists and audience members try to guess who is behind the mask. The Who’s famously catchy chorus line, “Who are you, who, who, who, who?” is a perfect fit for the guessing game nature of this hit series.

American singer Melissa Viviane Jefferson, aka Lizzo, takes No. 2 with her popular funky throwback track “Juice,” which was featured on eight different TV series in H1 2020. This groovy song about self-love and self-esteem played during the empowerment and relationship bonding scenes of the reality TV series Siesta Key, Making the Cut, World of Dance, and The Titan Games, as well as superhero and supernatural shows DC’s Stargirl and NOS4A2. Lizzo also made a new music video for “Juice” in 2019 featuring some of RuPaul’s Drag Race queens, which lines up with the other two syncs of her self-acceptance track on American reality drag show We’re Here and the All Stars spin-off of the original drag queen competition RuPaul’s Drag Race.

Stanley Kirk Burrell, aka American rapper MC Hammer, snagged No. 3 thanks to his signature Grammy Award-winning song “U Can’t Touch This.” Just like The Who’s classic “Who Are You,” the iconic Rap song made its comeback on hit reality singing competition The Masked Singer. Aside from being sung by Frog, who (spoiler alert!) came in third place and turned out to be American rapper and actor Bow Wow, the track also made a fitting appearance on popular animated sitcom series American Dad.

The Music Trend

The Masked Singer is one of the highest rated entertainment programs for a number of key demographics, drawing an average of 11M viewers each season. This popular secretive singing show has also proven itself to be a go-to destination for sync licensing, as seven out of the Top 10 songs were featured on the popular TV series. Importantly five of those seven are catalog hits that also appeal to The Masked Singer’s audience of all ages.

Breakthrough: Social Platforms

Social media has always been inextricably linked to music, from the early days of Myspace to the uncertain future of TikTok. Increasingly, the line between social and music platforms is blurring, and that’s likely to continue. For now, however, social media remains a key digital marketing and audience engagement driver for music consumption on other platforms and not necessarily a medium for consumption in itself. Like the music platforms covered above, TikTok, Instagram, and Twitter all represent different ways that music fans interact not only with the artists that they love, but with each particular track that resonates with them.

What's this?

The Backdrop

TikTok was responsible for helping to break many of the rising artists we saw in 6MO H2 2019, including Tones and I, Arizona Zervas, DJ Regard, and Ashnikko. It appears, however, that Western apprehension surrounding Beijing-based tech company ByteDance has turned into the potential for an all-out ban, which leaves everything in limbo for American artists and users alike.

In our previous report, nine of the Top 10 TikTok count gainers were from the US (the other was Indian). When it comes to the top TikTok counts at the end of June 2020, only three artists with the top TikTok tracks turned out to be American: Texas duo Surfaces, Los Angeles DJ Valentino Khan, and Texas Alternative R&B singer-songwriter Kaash Paige. The rest were spread far and wide: Jamaica’s Conkarah (“Banana”), UK’s Shaun Reynolds (who remixed Anne-Marie’s 2018 track “2002”), Canada’s bbno$, UK’s Sneakbo, New Zealand’s BENEE, The Netherlands’ Ir Sais, and Dominican Republic’s Nfasis.

The Top 3

‍At No. 1 is Conkarah’s “Banana,” featuring Shaggy and remixed by DJ FLe. The track, which, according to Broadway World, “is a tongue-in-cheek play on the 1956 hit Jamaican folk song ‘Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)’ from the legendary Jamaican singer/songwriter/activist/actor Harry Belafonte,” was released in August 2019, and it’s been dominating TikTok ever since. Both Conkarah and Shaggy are also Jamaican, and considering Belafonte’s “Jump in the Line” went viral on TikTok in H2 2019, it looks like TikTok is the perfect platform for a Jamaican music revival on the international stage.

Despite Surfaces’ (No. 2) Texan roots, they seem to know how to capitalize on the breezy beach vibe you might expect from a Southern Californian band. It’s paid off for them in a big way, too. In June 2020, they collaborated with Elton John for the COVID-19 quarantine song “Learn to Fly.” Around the same time, "Sunday Best,” the track that racked up some 23.2M posts on TikTok on June 30 hit the Billboard Hot 100.

Shaun Reynolds’ (No. 3) remix of Anne-Marie’s 2018 track “2002” was also released in 2018, and is likely one of many remixes of the British Pop singer-songwriter’s track. TikTok users have managed to recontextualize the track, particularly the line, “And it went like this, say,” which acts as a sort of cliffhanger before the TikToker’s filtered selfie changes unexpectedly to an unfiltered selfie once the chorus drops. Viral fuel was added to the fire — or perhaps even ignited — in South Korea, where fans connected with the nostalgia encapsulated in “2002,” arguably because of South Korea’s miraculous No. 1 World Cup finish at home during the same year.

The Music Trend

While we’ve selected artists associated with each track according to their Spotify follower count, collaboration and multi-artist tracks are the rule and not the exception, with seven out of the Top 10 tracks according to June 30 post count having multiple artists featured on the same track. For many tracks, this takes the form of remixes, which are immensely popular on TikTok and have the ability to give older, or “catalog” tracks (released 18+ months ago) a second wind, as is the case for Shaun Reynolds’ remix of Anne-Marie’s 2018 track “2002”; Puri, Jhorrmountain, and Adje’s 2017 track “Coño,” now featuring Jason Derulo; and Nfasis’ 2017 track “Tra Tra,” which spawned a number of remixes and led to the #AhiChallenge on TikTok. Incredibly, the range of post counts for the Top 10 tracks on June 30 was 9.5M to 25.2M, a testament to the sheer volume of TikToks happening every day.

What's this?

The Backdrop

As we’ve noted before, Instagram tends to be strong in the Latin American region; however, only three of the Top 10 hail from Latin American markets in the first half of 2020. The rest are scattered globally throughout South Korea, Japan, Australia, Egypt, France, and the US.

The Top 3

At No. 1, 23-year-old Gabi Martins is one of two Brazilian singers (the other being Manu Gavassi) who benefited from an appearance on Big Brother Brasil 20, which aired late January to late April. She ended 2019 with around 1.1M followers; by early February, that number had doubled; and by mid February, that number had tripled. By the end of June, she had almost 8M followers.

Puerto Rican Reggaeton star KEVVO (No. 2) jumped six spots since his 6MO H2 2019 appearance, which is largely thanks to his Instagram Live streaming during quarantine. He enjoyed linear growth that brought him to 716K followers by the end of March, up healthily from his 488K count on Jan. 1. However, on March 30, he gained a whopping 230K followers in a single day, likely as a result of his raunchy, NSFW live stream series, Cuarentena TV. That exponential growth continued, and by the end of June he had some 2.6M followers.

TV also seemed to benefit South Korean singer-turned-actress Nara (No. 3), formerly of girl group HELLOVENUS, who disbanded in 2019. Nara, born Kwon Nara, co-starred as Oh Soo-ah in Itaewon Class, which was released on Netflix at the end of January. The series aired on South Korea’s JTBC broadcasting network from Jan. 31 to March 21, and Nara posted on Instagram about it on March 22 — the day before she hit her daily change peak of 22K followers gained. That brought her to 682K total followers in late March, after starting the year at around 226K followers. By late June, she had crossed the 1M follower threshold.

The Music Trend

Visual appearances, whether through television or video streaming, are especially important for Instagram growth, with most of the Top 10 having benefited from a visual media appearance in some form or another.

What's this?

The Backdrop

Similar to previous 6MO reports, in H1 2020, the Top 10 artists with the largest growth in Twitter followers were from all across the globe. From the Philippines to Turkey, and Nigeria to South America, eight artists and internet personalities showed up for five different continents. Only two were from the United States.

The Top 3

25-year-old American Trap superstar Dominique Armani Jones, aka Lil Baby, clinches the No. 1 spot thanks to the 1.7M followers he gained between Jan. 1 and June 30. Lil Baby only emerged as an artist on the Rap scene a few years ago, yet his 2018 debut studio album Harder Than Ever was certified RIAA Platinum in Feb. 2020. His second album, My Turn, was released hot on the heels of that success, and it’s already the most streamed in the US this year with Rolling Stone covering his “remarkable rise” in July. Lil Baby has become one of today’s most popular rappers, and, when coupled with his frank tweets that give followers honest insight into the realities of being a rapper, the fact that his Twitter growth was on a steady incline in H1 2020 makes sense.

Scoring the No. 2 spot is YouTube sensation JaMill, the portmanteau couple name of 21-year-old Jayzam Lloyd Manabat and 22-year-old Camille Trinidad. Arguably one of the hottest couples in the Philippines, the loving pair are well known for their challenges, funny pranks, and relationship-related videos that they share with their 10.7M strong mandirigma (or “warrior” in Filipino) YouTube fanbase. The loved-up partners first joined Twitter in 2015 and are highly active in posting cute photos and tweeting in Tagalog several times a day about their relationship. JaMill gained 1.3M followers in the first six months of 2020, so their consistent vlogging appears to translate well to other social media platforms and fans show no signs of getting tired of them yet.

Despite her 2M follower increase, 22-year-old Mexican YouTuber and aspiring Latin Pop singer Kimberly Loaiza comes in at No. 3, as she also started H1 2020 with twice as many followers as Lil Baby or JaMill. Loaiza calls her fanbase linduras (“darlings” or “cuties” in Spanish) and is the third most-subscribed vlogger from Mexico with 24.5M subscribers on her YouTube channel. Like JaMill, Loaiza vlogs about her relationship and her life in general via reaction videos, challenges, and anything else she thinks her followers will find entertaining. Her Twitter shows much of the same content, and she frequently posts photos or videos and tweets in Spanish. Loaiza’s following did see a sudden 370K spike on April 19, compared to her average gain of 5K, which coincided with Mexican actress and fellow YouTuber Lizbeth Rodriguez using Twitter to publicly expose Loaiza’s then-boyfriend and popular former YouTuber Jd Pantoja’s (No. 8) infidelity. Despite the fact that they’ve now broken up, Loaiza appears to be doing well, landing at nearly 4.7M followers by the end of June — a solid starting point as she looks to launch her career in music.

The Music Trend

Being open, frank, and honest about both the highs and lows of life appears to be the main driver of fan engagement on Twitter, and the limited 280-character nature of Twitter makes sure that both artists and internet personalities take a second to think about how best to convey their thoughts and feelings to their followers. Almost all of the Top 10 tweet largely in their native language, again pointing toward genuine representation and relatability as the prime way to connect and build lasting relationships with fans on this platform.

Breakthrough: Overall Popularity

Chartmetric Artist Rank reflects an artist's overall performance across eight music and social platforms relative to the performance of every artist in our database. The platforms included are: Spotify, YouTube, Apple Music, Deezer, Soundcloud, Instagram, Facebook, Wikipedia, and Twitter. Artists are first scored on two primary aspects. First, stage, which measures an artist's overall audience reach. Every time a user views, listens, or consumes an artist's creations it contributes to that artist's overall stage or reach. Second, followers, which measures an artist's total fanbase. When users follow, like, or subscribe to an artist, then that user is easier for that artist to connect with in the future. Followers are the number of users that have opted in to following an artist, even if those users are not actively engaging with the artist at this very moment.

Each day, we calculate a weighted average of stage and follower scores. That average heavily prioritizes stage in order to arrive at an initial Chartmetric Artist Score. To the initial Chartmetric Artist Score, we include a number of small bonuses and penalties. For example, having a presence on numerous streaming and/or social media platforms will give an artist a small bonus, regardless of their success on each platform. After accounting for potential bonuses and penalties, we arrive at a final “Chartmetric Artist Score” for each artist in our database. Every day, we order artists by this score and record the scores and ranks for the top 100K artists. You can read more about Chartmetric Artist Rank on the Chartmetric blog.

The Backdrop

These Top 10 artists found their Chartmetric Artist Ranks improving dramatically, meaning they got closer and closer to No. 1 out of the 2.4M artists in our database. In other words, the lower the Artist Rank for an artist, the better. Unlike last year’s Top 10 cohort, the majority here is from the contiguous United States. Only two of H1 2020’s Top 10 artists are from Europe, though Asia and South America are represented as well.

The Top 3

Chicago-based producer, vocalist, and multi-instrumentalist Phoelix scores the No. 1 spot this period. Phoelix’s Spotify MLs started a sharp ascent on Jan. 13, and his smooth vocals on Feb. 13 track “Skyfall,” by internationally renowned Chicagoan trumpeter and composer Marquis Hill, carried him to a peak of 102K MLs on Mar. 12. Phoelix’s next feature on June 25 single “Freeze Tag,” by jazz supergroup Dinner Party, helped him secure his new and improved Artist Rank at the end of June.

20-year-old Lo-Fi rapper Anthony Tubbs, aka Rxseboy, secured his place at No. 2 after seeing a fairly steady increase across all streaming and social media platforms in H1 2020, possibly thanks to his constant flow of features and releases. Known for collaborating with Canadian lo-fi act Powfu, Rxseboy’s fanbase really started to grow following his May 11 single “ill come back to you,” featuring Powfu and fellow Emo rapper Sarcastic Sounds.

Israeli singer-songwriter and producer Noga Erez, who is arguably most well-known for her song “Dance While You Shoot,” which was used in a 2017 Apple Music ad, claims the No. 3 spot. Erez’s Feb. 24 release of single “VIEWS” saw her Twitter and Soundcloud followings begin to rise, and her Spotify MLs started a sharp incline from 88K to 364K on April 14. Her subsequent April 6 drop of the acoustic live version of “VIEWS” led to spikes of interest on her Twitter, Soundcloud, Wikipedia, and, most notably, her Facebook page, which gained 740 likes between April 9 and 10. Despite the cancelation of her showcase at Delaware’s Firefly Music Festival as a result of COVID-19, the electronic artist finished June off with a bang thanks to the release of her cleverly-named new single, “NO news on TV.”

The Music Trend

Chartmetric Artist Rank provides a standardized index of artists’ digital success, incorporating growth from eight different streaming and social media platforms. Because our ranking takes both fandom and listenership into account, Chartmetric Artist Rank growth can give an indication of what artists were the most successful on both accounts. In other words, these 10 artists didn’t just get playlisted a lot — they also managed to turn listeners into fans. It’s worth noting that the power of collaboration continues to play an important part in this regard.

TikTok Artist Demographics

TikTok might be the most hotly debated social media and music-related platform of 2020, but apprehension about the Chinese-owned short-form video app has existed since parent company Bytedance spun off its Douyin (or 抖音, which is roughly translated to “shaking sound” or “vibrating sound” in English) app for the international market in 2017.

During the spring and summer months of 2020, that apprehension reached a fever pitch as complex geopolitical relationships escalated ostensible data security concerns to all-out bans in India and the US (barring an acquisition by Microsoft, at least).

It’s worth noting that TikTok now has an estimated 800 million active users worldwide and around 30 million of those are in the United States, where the app was downloaded roughly 120 million times — about a tenth of global downloads for the app. Remarkably, according to some statistics, 66 percent of global users are under 30, and American users have spent more than $23.1 million on TikTok’s virtual currency.

Part of what has made the TikTok app so engaging for users around the world, beyond its AI-powered personalizations, are advanced music integrations. Users can easily choose background tracks to soundtrack their brief video creations, making TikTok an impressive marketing platform for artists, songwriters, and their teams and an increasingly important discovery platform for music consumers.

While the app’s existence in the No. 1 recorded music market in the world hangs in the balance, the music industry is just beginning to grapple with how to leverage its capabilities. At 15 or 60 seconds a clip, TikTok is far from a music consumption platform, at least until the “sub-singles” business takes off, but the virality that it generates for some tracks can be an undeniable growth driver for consumption on other platforms.

TikTok’s importance for breaking tracks, raising an artist’s market visibility, and driving consumption is a running theme in H1 2020, just like it was in H2 2019. By breaking down the Top TikTok Tracks chart according to each artist’s country of origin, the month the tracks appeared on the chart this year, and by the most commonly shared genre between tracks and their primary artists, we hope to provide a market-level view of the kinds of tracks and the kinds of artists that tended to dominate the Trending page on the TikTok platform from Jan. 1 to June 30, 2020.

What's this?

United States artists, including unincorporated territory Puerto Rico, accounted for more than 60 percent of the tracks on the Top TikTok Tracks chart during the first six months of 2020 (though not taking into account levels of consumption). Puerto Rican artists alone had the fifth highest percentage of tracks on this chart.

Artists from the United Kingdom accounted for the second most significant share of tracks at almost 9 percent, while Canadian artists represented the third most at almost 6 percent. Not far behind were Indian artists, comprising just a bit more than 4 percent of the tracks — or the fourth most — on this TikTok chart, indicating the growing importance of TikTok for Indian artists just before the government banned the app at the end of June. It doesn’t take much to imagine the implications for American artists, who had a share 15x greater than Indian artists, if the Microsoft acquisition were to fall through and TikTok was banned in the US as well.

Australian, Colombian, and South Korean artists remained somewhere in the 1-2 percent range, with Norwegian and Russian artists staying below 1 percent, and the remaining 10 or so percent of artists scattered throughout the world.

While many of the same countries appear in the IFPI Global Music Report’s list of the Top 10 recorded music markets in 2019, noticeably absent are Germany, Japan, Brazil, and China. Considering TikTok runs on a different server — and goes by a different name — in China, China’s exclusion on this Western TikTok chart is no surprise.

However, it’s worth noting that the German and Japanese markets are still heavily reliant on the physical consumption of music (35.6 and 53.3 percent of each country’s recorded music revenue share in 2019, respectively). Though to a lesser extent, the Brazilian market is also more reliant on physical consumption (about a quarter of the total recorded music revenue share).

The underrepresentation of German, Japanese, and Brazilian artists here could be pure coincidence; however, it could also emphasize the digital lag on the part of markets who are still reliant on physical and/or more traditional consumption and marketing formats. While TikTok is more of a music marketing and music discovery platform than it is a music consumption platform, it is also arguably the new digital frontier for the music industry.

What's this?

As we discovered through our analysis on COVID-19’s Effect on the Global Music Business, mid-March appeared to be a defining marker for studying quarantine’s effects on music consumption during the coronavirus pandemic, especially with regard to Western markets.

Again, our Top TikTok Tracks chart is not based on consumption but on TikTok’s own Trending page. Still, it appears US artists whose music landed on the chart (based on users posting videos using their tracks) were not immune to the same sort of quarantine effects that platforms like Spotify and YouTube experienced — namely, a significant dip in March followed by a substantial rebound.

By April, tracks from each country seemed to rebound in a manner consistent with what we saw in Part 2 of our COVID-19 analysis, with regard to YouTube: an early- to mid-March low in video views and then a rebound come late March and into April.

In March, tracks by American artists fell to nearly half of their January count, dropping their representation from 8x to around 5x that of UK artists’. By June, tracks by US artists on the Top TikTok Tracks chart were closer to 10x that of artists from any other country.

All other markets demonstrated a similar trend to that of the US but to a less extreme degree, and while we can’t definitively say that COVID-19 lockdowns are the reason for the noticeable dip across these particular markets in March, the fact that the trend is consistent across markets beyond just the US indicates something significant happening here.

While a track’s TikTok video count isn’t a pure consumption metric — TikTok isn’t a music consumption platform in the same way that YouTube or Spotify is — it does give some indication of how music usage changed on the platform during this 6-month time period.

Considering genre in addition to month and artist origin reveals not only that Pop has by far the highest representation in five of the Top 10 artist countries (treating Puerto Rico as its own market) overall, but that March proved to be a low point for Pop tracks across all of these countries, which adds more context to the many analyses suggesting that Pop consumption was down during quarantine (again, consider TikTok not as a consumption platform but a marketing and discovery platform that drives consumption on other platforms).

In our first edition of 6MO, which looked at the first six months of 2019 through the lens of the geographic representation of artists on the Top 30 playlists of four major DSPs, Pop and Hip-Hop naturally won out across the board. However, differences started to emerge between DSPs the further down the list of genres we went.

Here we see a similar dynamic, with logical genre differentiators by country: Puerto Rican and Colombian artists with tracks on the chart tended toward Reggaeton, South Korean artists toward K-Pop, Australian artists skewed Alternative, and Indian artists favored Desi Hip-Hop.

Generally speaking, Pop and Hip-Hop tracks tended to have more counts in June and less counts in March across markets, and the same was true for each market-specific genre. For whatever dark spots there were for mainstream markets and genres during the first quarter of 2020, by the second quarter, they came roaring back on TikTok.

Music Synchronization

It’s Tearin’ Up My Heart: Songs in Sync With Netflix Teen Dramas

Even if you’re not big on music synchronization as a field, you probably saw the clip below in April 2019 when Netflix’s Someone Great was released. Lizzo was already on her way to stardom, but it was Gina Rodriguez’ dance party over Lizzo’s banger “Truth Hurts” that boosted Lizzo’s ca-reer. Just a little.

Today, though COVID quarantine may serve as a somber way to increase subscription revenue, streaming video on demand (SVOD) services like Netflix, Hulu, HBO, and Disney Plus stand to benefit. Having said that, it’s still a survival of the fittest: all are spending top dollar in the hyper-competitive quest for eyeballs.What they’re also doing is perking up ears, too. Through the music synchronization opportunities they provide in these films and shows’ soundtracks, SVOD platforms have inadvertently given a select group of artists a major marketing event with global reach.

To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You (Released Feb. 13, 2020)

If you are someone who’s into the Netflix adaptations of young adult fiction writer Jenny Han’s To All the Boys trilogy, you may have heard this song echoing in your hallways at home:

Maybe it was your teenager getting over young love issues (maybe it was you), but try not to hold it against California-bred, Berklee-schooled singer-songwriter Ashe if she’s professionally happy about it. Her cathartic, stripped-down piano ballad, “Moral of the Story,” deals with her own real-life bout of heartbreak, and it provides the perfect backdrop for the Netflix show’s main character, Lara Jean. (Spoiler alert: next paragraph.)

Though some of the top YouTube comments felt that it was “cringe” when Lara Jean starts diegetically lip syncing to the words to Ashe’s chorus, it has obviously proven to be the one musical moment most applicable to real life. Story-wise, it wasn’t a huge plot point, but simply when the main character is just crushed over a boy and goes about her day: brushing her teeth, zombie-walking through the school hallway, and spacing out in class. It’s a moment we can all relate to.

The first of the three-part film series, To All the Boys I've Loved Before, debuted in 2018 and enjoyed 80 million Netflix viewers worldwide. Even lead actors Lana Condor’s and Noah Centineo’s respective Instagram profiles jumped from 100K to 5.5 million and 800K to 13.4 million shortly thereafter. The third and final chapter, To All the Boys: Always and Forever, Lara Jean, is in production as of August 2020, and may launch another artist’s career into the stratosphere.

But for the sequel, To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You, it’s Ashe who really pulled ahead of the rest of the film’s original soundtrack. As you can see upon the film’s debut on Feb. 12, 2020, in less than a month, “Moral of the Story” shoots up from the low 50s to the high 80s in a score called the Spotify Popularity Index (SPI).

While that statistic might be a little abstract, think of it like a test score: 100 is perfect, and 0 is at the bottom of the pile of popularity. According to Spotify, SPI relates to “the total number of plays the track has had and how recent those plays are.” The amount of streams “Moral of the Story” was registering at that time apparently triggered Spotify’s algorithms in a glorious way.

The rush initially secured her placements on several editorial playlists including a 42-day run on Pop Rising (1.9M followers), a 75-day run on Today’s Top Hits (26.6M followers), and double-digit-day runs on European and Australian “Hits”-style playlists. Serving as evidence of Netflix’s global distribution, the track also landed on several Viral 50 charts across Asia, Europe, Latin America, and Oceania in mid-February 2020. It got so good that ex-One Direction member Niall Horan hopped on a duet version of the track in June 2020, which hit similar playlists, and as a testament to trigger cities, continues as of August 2020 on two Filipino editorial playlists: Hugot (2M followers; translates to “cathartic” or “in my feelings”) and Chillax Ka Muna! (1.1M followers; translates to “chill first!”).

Obviously, an enduring career means more than just one Netflix sync, but looking across her streaming and social statistics, her career has shown no return to pre-Netflix levels. As an artist, her slow and steady rise exemplifies some of the best careers trending across multiple platforms, suggesting true fan engagement. As for “Moral of the Story,” its own release one year prior to the movie’s seems to have helped give it its subsequent rise to the top of Spotify’s algorithms. If it were new and starting from zero, would the track have only risen to the middle of the pack, and hence never achieved all the playlisting it did? Only the algorithm’s creators could say. But for Ashe, that rise seems to have helped her create momentum on which she continues to capitalize.

Sex Education, Season 2 (Released Jan. 17, 2020)

Fresh off of a third season renewal, BAFTA-nominated Netflix comedy-drama series Sex Education follows a group of British teenagers as they navigate sexual boundaries on top of regular life. In a delicate balance of light-heartedness and authenticity, the show has unearthed an unlikely track:

Any LCD Soundsystem fans will recognize the original song “I Can Change,” which was first released in 2010 with a quirky, mid-tempo electronic beat and lead singer James Murphy’s lamentations to his lover about how, well, he can change. However, it’s not Murphy, but American singer-songwriter Ezra Furman playing their acoustic guitar cover version in Episodes 4 and 8 of Season 2. (Spoiler alert: next paragraph.)

We first hear Furman’s “I Can Change” in Episode 4 when Adam, a square-jawed, recently expelled cadet from military school, invites Eric, an openly gay fellow student, to break random objects all night in a junkyard. Though an odd way to spend the night, the song establishes itself as a cue for Adam’s uptight, repressed demeanor to let its hair down. We then come across the song again in the series’ last episode, when Adam’s co-worker Ola unsuccessfully tries to defend Adam to their mutual boss, getting them both permanently fired. As seen in the cute interaction between them both above, the track reasserts itself as Adam’s permission to be happy, and a reason for us to save it as a track to relive that moment with.

Showrunner Laurie Nunn tapped Furman for the first season as well in 2019, asking Furman to be the show’s “Simon & Garfunkel to our The Graduate,” and Nunn kept Furman on for 2020. In that sense, this show’s soundtrack is unique in that it was a one-person show and not a collection of various artists.

Sex Education’s first season was reported to have been on track for 40M viewers within its first month, setting up the second season for an even bigger audience. Walking the fine line between critical and popular acclaim, you’d expect the show to blow up Furman’s track in the same way as Ashe’s on Spotify … except that it doesn’t. At least not in the same way.

This soundtrack’s popularity scores show a few behaviors: First, it’s a relatively less popular collection of music, with most of the tracks’ scores hovering in the 30s to 40s region. Furman’s “Love You So Bad,” from their 2018 album, was already at its high 50s level, and was unaffected by the show’s January 2020 release. Second, the show didn’t really affect the majority of these tracks, only moving them up a few notches. Third, “I Can Change” leapt over its peers from the mid-30s to high-50s within a month of the second season’s debut.

We see again a track that doesn’t accompany a spectacular plot event. Instead, we get a scene that, if its characters’ arcs didn’t build us up to a lovely rush of emotion, would be almost forgotten. And while the tracks’ scores eventually cool off as the months go by, it happens slowly, and the effect of both seasons of Sex Education has been quite kind to Furman’s career, here shown in Spotify followers spiking when each season premiered respectively in January 2019 and January 2020.

Unlike with Ashe’s track (159M Spotify plays, as of August 2020) in To All the Boys 2, Furman’s “I Can Change” in Sex Education did not lead to massive amounts of streams (2.7M currently). However, the story here is not about instant streaming royalties, but the intimate connection between visual storytelling and a well-chosen track that fits it like a glove. For the artist, if this leads to more followers and subsequently better positioning in algorithms, maybe it is about future streaming royalties and other forms of revenue (e.g., merchandise, post-COVID ticket sales).

Unlike with Ashe’s track (159M Spotify plays, as of August 2020) in To All the Boys 2, Furman’s “I Can Change” in Sex Education did not lead to massive amounts of streams (2.7M currently). However, the story here is not about instant streaming royalties, but the intimate connection between visual storytelling and a well-chosen track that fits it like a glove. For the artist, if this leads to more followers and subsequently better positioning in algorithms, maybe it is about future streaming royalties and other forms of revenue (e.g., merchandise, post-COVID ticket sales).

Crash Landing on You (Released Dec. 2019 - Feb. 2020)

For the uninitiated, the pop culture Korean Wave is certainly more than the boy band BTS (as big as they are), and more than K-Pop music itself (as huge as it is). Netflix, well known now for breaking internationally into 190 countries with rampant success throughout the 2010s, could surely tell you all about the mad fandom surrounding Korean dramas (and why it invested in Crash Landing on You).

You probably need to binge all 16 movie-length episodes first to get the full emotional effect, but you'll get the idea of this grand ballad from this video.

Korean indie singer-songwriter Yerin Baek fronts arguably the most memorable track of the acclaimed series, with her piano-driven love ballad, “Here I Am Again.” While there is always something lost in translation, the lyrics communicate the comings and goings of love, as Baek, a former JYP Entertainment trainee, softly sings “Let me take you in like this / So even when we push each other away / We’ll be engraved even deeper.” (spoiler alert: next two paragraphs)

But unlike Western dramas, we don’t see just one or two key moments with Baek’s track. It’s used several times throughout the season, including the Episode 16 finale when fashion entrepreneur Yoon Se-ri and the dashing North Korean soldier Captain Ri Jung-hyuk have a surprise reuniting in the Swiss countryside among lush green mountains.

Unlike Sex Education’s “I Can Change” or To All the Boys 2’s “Moral of the Story,” this climactic scene actually is the huge, been-waiting-all-season-long moment that everyone’s heart wants so badly to happen, and the story’s resolution feels spectacular.

When comparing Baek’s track with other also frequently used tracks on the original soundtrack in the first half of 2020, this time measured by Shazams, we find that it indeed pulls ahead of the rest of the pack, along with Yoon Mi-rae’s guitar ballad “Flower.” Both tracks are rapidly approaching 100K Shazams each, but it’s still a small overall number.

That begs the question: Which music platform best measures popularity for a show that originates from the Asian market? YouTube’s most popular video for Baek’s track sits at more than 15M views. Without even being active in Korea, Spotify shows seven-digit stream counts for its more popular tracks (16.2M for Baek’s “Here I Am Again”), and the show’s most popular playlist has 172K followers as of August 2020, but it still doesn’t seem to capture the drama’s smashing popularity.

At least for Baek, she saw a nearly 200K increase in her Instagram followers that coincided with Crash Landing on You’s premiere worldwide on Dec. 14, 2019. In a nod to her business strategy, she deftly released her latest album Every letter I sent you. a mere five days prior to Episode 1, making for a 1-2 punch that will serve her social media standing well throughout the rest of 2020.

Baek’s success aside, measuring the success of a K-drama’s soundtrack will be a challenge for most Westerners. It’s hard to compare Netflix’s dominant SVOD single-day global release strategy with the fragmentation of the music streaming market worldwide. The US and UK audiences are well represented in Spotify’s audience for example, but Asia has historically been tough for the Swedish stream giant.

Meanwhile, Crash Landing on You was the third highest-rated program in Korean television history, as well as landing in the Top 10 most viewed series in the United States and Japan for Netflix audiences. Netflix’s August 2020 push into Southeast Asia via a mobile-first strategy will surely feed into that region’s growth, and artists will inevitably find streaming success, though possibly on less familiar platforms in the West.

Korea’s music streaming market, for example, is so focused on local players (e.g., Melon, Genie, Flo), that when Crash Landing on You was released, another soundtrack song, IU’s “Give You My Heart,” registered the second “all-kill” track of 2020. An “all-kill” is K-Pop lingo for a song that registers as No. 1 simultaneously on all the major local apps’ charts and is frequently referred to on music blogs and between fans on social media. Though Baek’s memorable ballad set the theme for Se-ri and Jung-hyuk’s long-awaited reunion, “Give You My Heart” played during the heart-wrenching scene of their final separation at the DMZ border. While inevitable, the characters’ intensely emotional tears at their forced split may have contributed to the song’s popularity in Korea, as viewers off-screen likely also reached for a few tissues. However, streaming services familiar to Westerners are not currently included in the “all-kill,” which is evidence of an intensely local focus that’s reinforced by music companies owning equity in national streaming platforms.

A final point to note about IU’s song is that she sang entirely in Korean. While the lyrics of “Give You My Heart” still translate well, like in the tear-jerking opening line “I have nothing for you, I give you my heart,” both Baek and Yoon actually included a few English lyrics in their ballads. In “Here I Am Again,” Baek can be heard sweetly singing, “I’m still and I’m here,” while Yoon softly croons, “I’m worried about you / Always, your way” in “Flower.” Korean musical act 10cm is the only other artist who incorporated English in their song “But It’s Destiny”, but Baek’s and Yoon’s ballads were probably most memorable to Western viewers as their English refrains sang through some of the more emotional moments in the series. Cross-cultural collaborations may be one way for artists to penetrate foreign markets, but there could also be potential in incorporating lyrics from other languages and syncing the song on an international platform like Netflix as well.

Great Music and Great Stories: Another Discovery Funnel

The global SVOD release dynamic is much like music streaming is nowadays and no longer restricted to slow, market-by-market syndication practices that hampered rapid growth. We’ve explored three dramas with different artist effects, but the truth is that these sync opportunities are few and far between.

While IFPI’s Global Music Report saw 2019’s global recorded music synchronization revenue at a mere 2.4 percent of the overall pie, we’ve seen what it can do beyond getting a simple check cut. It’s the long-term view, SVOD marketing funnel, industry clout, and lifting up of these artists’ music through streaming app algorithms that are really the prizes won in this arena.

In many ways, music is an ego-driven, siloed industry, but the truth is that artist release dates alone are simply not as important anymore. While many fans certainly follow and anticipate their favorite artists’ next drop, they’re also shooting TikToks, gaming online with their friends, and yes, Netflix and chilling.

It seems that artists telling their own stories, while proactively helping others tell theirs, is the real opportunity for growth in 2020 and beyond.

Bonus: HBO’s Insecure (four seasons strong) and Hulu’s Normal People are other SVOD shows with strong music supervision behind them. Future music to watch out for in the H2 2020 teen drama space is Netflix’s Warrior Nun and Amazon Prime’s Hanna.

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