American Music Taste Finally Went Global in 2020 - Rolling Stone
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American Music Taste Finally Went Global in 2020

Regional Mexican music, Afrobeats and K-pop were some of the subgenres that saw the biggest lifts in U.S. streams in 2020

Global genres like regional Mexican music and afrobeats saw some of the biggest lifts in streams in 2020Global genres like regional Mexican music and afrobeats saw some of the biggest lifts in streams in 2020

While our feet were planted firmly in the U.S. in 2020, largely barred from international travel, streaming data shows us our ears, at least, were wandering the globe. Figures from Alpha Data, the analytics provider behind the Rolling Stone Charts, show that U.S. listeners gravitated more and more toward global genres than in the year prior. When studying streaming behavior in 2020 compared to 2019, Afrobeats, K-pop, and Regional Mexican were among the genres that saw the highest growth in streams. 

It probably comes as no surprise — given the canceled schools and existential anxiety and all — that among the mainstream genres, the biggest year-on-year lifts came in Easy Listening (+39%), children’s music (+28%), and New Age (+27%). The next biggest increase was for Latin music, which was up 25% year-on-year in on-demand audio streams. That’s 53% more than the overall 16% increase in on-demand audio streams. 

By comparison, hip-hop increased 11%, rock rose 12%, and R&B jumped just 7%. Pop and dance, meanwhile, failed to see much increase at all between the two years: Dance music rose 1%, while pop dipped a bit, down 2% compared to 2019. The only other genre to outpace the overall growth in streams was Country, which saw a 19% increase. 

Regional Latin sounds go international

Within Latin, the subgenres that saw the biggest leaps weren’t reggaeton and Latin pop, which have seen crossover success in the States for years, but regional genres steeped in Latin American traditions.

Regional Mexican music, in particular, saw a notable increase in on-demand audio streams. Ranchera saw a 54% increase, while Narcocorridos (or drug ballads), a subgenre of the traditional Mexican corridos, saw a 41% increase year on year. Regional Mexican artists reached the upper ranks of the charts more than ever. Eslabon Armado, a trio that formed in California but play traditional Mexican sierreña music, reached Number 24 on the RS 200 with Vibras de Noche, the highest ranking for a regional Mexican group. And Natanael Cano, a leader in the corridos tumbados — a hip-hop take on corridos — more than quadrupled his streams in 2020, reaching Number 70 on the Artists 500.

A further testament to the spread of regional Latin sounds was the popularity of Bad Bunny’s second studio album YHLQMDLG, which largely abandons the more crossover styles of his debut for a street reggaeton style called reggaeton a la marquesina that was once criminalized in Puerto Rico. The album finished at Number 12 on the Year-End Top 200 Albums Chart, with 1.3 million units and over 1.5 billion on-demand audio streams in 2020. 

Other increases included a 37% rise for merengue, which began in the Dominican Republic, and a 27% lift for cumbia, whose roots are in Colombia. 

Afrobeats heat up

America is a little late to Afrobeats, but over the past few years, U.S. listeners have been playing catchup — especially, it seems, in 2020. Streams for Afrobeats and Nigerian music more than doubled in the U.S. compared to 2019, according to Alpha Data. Year-on-year, streams for Afrobeats rose 129%.

This meant more Nigerian artists reached the U.S. charts: All told, five African artists reached the Breakthrough 25 Chart in 2020. Burna Boy and Davido, who were already established stars in Nigeria, both launched albums onto the RS 200 and reached Number 128 and 263, respectively, on the Artists 500. 

K-Pop Keeps Up the Pace

K-pop continued to dominate the charts this year, with overall streams for K-pop up 31% compared to 2019, thanks to A-list acts like Blackpink and BTS, and newcomers to the chart, NCT 127 and the girl group, TWICE.

K-pop streams weren’t just relegated to niche audiences either, with the artists holding their own against mainstream competition. In fact, BTS had 1.6 billion total on-demand audio streams in 2020, besting even big names like Beyonce and one-time BTS duet partner Halsey on the charts. The global superstars also saw two of their albums go to Number One in 2020, a feat matched only by the surprise drops from Taylor Swift.

Blackpink also had a big year on the charts, with their debut LP, The Album, reaching Number Two on the RS 200. The girl group also had a big hit with their Selena Gomez collab, “Ice Cream,” which reached the top 10 of the RS 100. Thanks to the release of their new album and the Gomez duet, Blackpink saw a 175% increase in streams year on year.

Two other K-pop acts worth noting are NCT 127 and TWICE. NCT 127 saw a 177% increase in streams from 2019, while TWICE saw a 120% lift.

—Additional reporting by Tim Chan


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