May 5, 2020

Contemporary Music Trends: Country Is Up

Tuesdays With Coleman

Last week, we shared some of the major findings of Contemporary Music SuperStudy 2—our second annual test of the past year’s biggest songs in streaming, sales and radio airplay, conducted with 1,000 people between the ages of 12 and 54 across the United States and Canada. These initial findings include that Pop is the best-testing genre, Ed Sheeran’s “Shape Of You” is the most popular title and Post Malone has the highest number of top tier songs.

This week, let’s take a look at some of the interesting trends between last year’s study and this one. (Note that some of the trended data looks a little different than as reported a year ago because of adjustments in scoring methodology; we have applied the revised methodology to the older study so that we have apples-to-apples comparisons.)

COUNTRY’S SHARE OF THE 100 MOST POPULAR CONTEMPORARY SONGS HAS NEARLY DOUBLED

While Pop remains the best-performing genre, the award for “most improved” goes to Country. Country titles have gone from 12% of the Top 100 in the original Contemporary Music SuperStudy to 23% of the Top 100 in Contemporary Music SuperStudy 2.

Contemporary Music SuperStudy 2 Genre Distribution Trend

For context, Country’s performance in last year’s Contemporary Music SuperStudy was not great. In that research, Country music accounted for 21% of all songs tested, but just 12% of the Top 100—a substantial level of under-performance. In this year’s Contemporary Music SuperStudy 2, Country again represents 21% of all songs tested, but its 23% share of the Top 100 now shows a modest level of over-performance for the genre.

The improvement in Country is largely the result of songs that weren’t in last year’s study, either because they hadn’t been released yet or because they weren’t consumed enough in streaming, sales or radio airplay to qualify for the test list. Of the 23 Country songs in the Top 100 of Contemporary Music SuperStudy 2, 15 weren’t tested in the first Contemporary Music SuperStudy. The remaining eight performed well in the original study, all in the Top 125.

No one artist dominates Country performance, though several have multiple popular titles. Dan + Shay, Jason Aldean and Luke Combs each have three of the 23 Country songs in the Top 100. In particular, Dan + Shay stand out for having three of the top five Country titles.

Dan + Shay have three of the top five Country titles in Contemporary Music SuperStudy 2.

Several of the most popular Country songs might be considered “poppy” in sound, but that is not a new development and it tends to be true of any genre. Mass appeal titles are oftentimes rather accessible and broadly appealing. Almost by definition, the biggest hits are the ones whose appeal expands beyond their core lane. “Meant To Be” by Bebe Rexha featuring Florida-Georgia Line is the top-testing Country song in both last year’s study and this year’s study.

POP, HIP HOP/R&B AND DANCE/ELECTRONIC HAVE TRENDED DOWN

While Country’s share of the 100 most popular contemporary songs has grown most substantially, a few other categories are also up a bit. Alternative/Rock has gone from 11% to 12%, Latin has increased 0% to 2%, and Other—which covers songs that do not fit into one of the six major genres—now makes up 2% of the Top 100, up from 0% last year.

Meanwhile, performing less well in Contemporary Music SuperStudy 2 than in the first Contemporary Music SuperStudy are Pop (declining from 42% to 34% of the Top 100), Hip Hop/R&B (23% to 19%) and Dance/Electronic (12% to 8%).

THE PERCENTAGE OF TOP 100 TITLES FROM THE MOST RECENT YEAR IS DOWN SLIGHTLY

In the first Contemporary Music SuperStudy, we tested the songs that were most streamed, sold and played on the radio in 2018. This included material from 2018 back to 2014. Of the 100 most popular titles in that research, 40% were released in the most recent year, 2018.

Now, in Contemporary Music SuperStudy 2, we have tested the songs that were most consumed via streaming, sales and radio airplay in 2019. This includes songs from 2019 back to 2015. Of the Top 100, 36% were released in the most recent year, 2019.

Thus, in relative terms, the best-testing songs in Contemporary Music SuperStudy 2 are not quite as contemporary as the best-testing songs were in the original Contemporary Music SuperStudy.

THIS YEAR’S #1 SONG WAS LAST YEAR’S #2 SONG

As noted earlier, the most popular song in Contemporary Music SuperStudy 2 is Ed Sheeran’s “Shape Of You.” This title did not come out of nowhere—it ranked #2 in last year’s Contemporary Music SuperStudy.

Which title was ahead of “Shape Of You” in last year’s study? That would be “Uptown Funk” by Mark Ronson featuring Bruno Mars—a song that didn’t quite make the qualification cut for this year’s study because of its consumption metrics and age.

Check back next week for further insights from Contemporary SuperStudy 2, including findings about the differences in tastes between younger and older, male and female, urban and rural, and streaming service listeners and radio listeners.

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