May 1, 2019

Our (Musically) Divided Nation

Part one of a four-part series on music consumption trends

After 2016, our nation has become a divided land: People are in different camps, where the world looks totally different than it does in other camps.

We’re not talking politics. We’re talking music.

The styles of music people play most on Spotify, buy most on iTunes (yes, people still do that) and hear most on FM radio grew sharply divided in 2017 and remain diverged today.

To quantify this divide, we examined Billboard’s Year-End charts, which use Nielsen data to identify the 75 biggest songs in radio airplay, digital song sales and streaming. We then had our team of new music gurus code each song’s sound style.

Our quantitative analysis confirms what many radio programmers have anecdotally observed:

  • Hip Hop dominates the most popular songs that listeners stream.
  • Country has grown on FM radio during the past two years, but remains non-existent among the biggest songs on streaming platforms
  • Pop remains the most popular style of music people pay to download

Already in 2016, Hip Hop was twice as popular among the year’s biggest hits on streaming as on radio or digital sales, while Pop, Rock and Country were less popular on streaming.


In 2017, that divide widened sharply: Hip Hop grew to account for over half of the 75 most-streamed songs in 2017. Meanwhile, Pop’s share of 2017’s biggest songs grew on both radio and in digital singles sales, but sank on streaming.


Today, those divisions remain. Hip Hop still rules among streamers, while Pop remains most popular among iTunes buyers and radio listeners.


Looking at Hip Hop unilaterally doesn’t tell the full story: When we divide Hip Hop into Pop Hip Hop (think Post Malone’s Better Now) and Pure Hip Hop, Pop Hip Hop is evenly represented among the biggest songs on streaming, digital sales and radio airplay. The divide stems exclusively from Pure Hip Hop, which comprised 37% of 2018’s 75 most streamed songs, but a scant 7% of 2018’s most played songs on FM radio.

Pure Hip Hop songs that were huge hits on streaming, but outside of Urban were largely absent from the radio in 2018, include:

  • FEFE – 6ix9ine Featuring Nicki Minaj & Murda Beatz
  • Gummo – 6ix9ine
  • This Is America – Childish Gambino

Even songs like Travis Scott’s Sicko Mode and Stir Fry from Migos, which received considerable airplay on CHR after breaking on streaming, generally received mixed results in new music research among mainstream audiences.

Why is there such a discrepancy between how often these songs get played on Spotify and what listeners say they want to hear on the radio? We’ll explain this schism in our next post.

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