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Future of Music: The Sounds of Tomorrow

A data-driven look at the niche genres next poised for world domination

sounds of the futuresounds of the future

Justin T. Gellerson/The New York Times/Redux; Courtesy of MFR Souls; Eduardo Antonio Gonzales; Amon Kiya; Ichiro Ohara/The Yomiuri Shimbun/AP

This story appears in Rolling Stone‘s 2021 Future of Music issue, a special project delving into the next era of the multibillion-dollar hitmaking business. Read the other stories here.

What’s next in America after K-pop and reggaeton? Data has shown that U.S. listener taste is going more global with each passing year. So when looking at the genres that are seeing the highest velocities on streaming, it’s no surprise that many come from outside the country’s borders — from South Africa and Mexico, and even 1980s Japan. We combed through U.S. listener figures from Alpha Data, the data analytics provider that services the Rolling Stone Charts, to predict the next breakthrough genres.


WHAT IT IS This dance style out of South Africa blends elements of deep house and kwaito, a local genre dating to the Nineties. Deep bass lines, jazzy keyboards, and synths blend to bring good vibes to the dance floor.
WHO’S DOING IT MFR Souls are pioneers of amapiano, and have a number of streaming hits. Perhaps the biggest crossover story is Kabza de Small, who has hits with the likes of Burna Boy and Wizkid, and a fan in Usher.
STANDOUT TRACK In 2019, Samthing Soweto found his first streaming hit with the amapiano tune “Akulaleki,” a pulsing, nimble example of the genre at its best.
WHERE IT’S GOING Amapiano is starting to spread globally. In the past year, streams in the U.S. for Spotify’s AmaPiano Grooves playlist have grown 75 percent.


WHAT IT IS A bit nebulous, but you know it by the way it bursts with bits of countless genres cranked to their most exaggerated extremes, plus dollops of Auto-Tune and glitchy synths. You know it by the way you wonder, “Is this meant to be ironic?”
WHO’S DOING IT The late Scottish producer Sophie was a hyperpop pioneer; she produced Charli XCX’s hyperpop-ish 2016 Vroom Vroom EP. 100 Gecs’ excellently all-over-the-place 2019 album, 1000 Gecs, gave the genre a big boost.
STANDOUT TRACK P4rkr’s 2020 emo-leaning “bad idea,” which launched the then-15-year-old to overnight streaming success.
WHERE IT’S GOING Toward the mainstream. 100 Gecs reached the Rolling Stone Artists 500 chart, and emerging acts like ElyOtto have hit the Breakthrough 25.

Global Drill

WHAT IT IS After its birth on the South Side of Chicago, the minor chords and distorted bass lines of drill first spread across the U.S. and U.K., where it spawned its own potent subgenre. Now, artists in Spain, Brazil, Puerto Rico, Turkey, and elsewhere bring their own flavor to the genre.
WHO’S DOING IT Skinny Flex is a leader in Spain’s drill scene; Brazil’s N.I.N.A. and Thai Flow are two female rappers in an otherwise male-dominated genre.
STANDOUT TRACK Check out “Stephen King,” where N.I.N.A. raps over a beat dark and ominous enough to live up to its name.
WHERE IT’S GOING Around the world. Spanish drill’s share of streams in the U.S. has more than quadrupled in the past year, according to Spotify.

City Pop

WHAT IT IS This Japanese style — currently enjoying a revival online — is a take on Western music of the 1980s that sparks nostalgia while also feeling entirely new.
WHO’S DOING IT City pop’s first big revival, in 2017, came when Mariya Takeuchi’s 1984 disco-pop burner “Plastic Love” went viral. And check out Tatsuro Yamashita’s acclaimed soft-rock albums, like 1977’s Spacy.
STANDOUT TRACK With a chirping flute sample and lyrics that don’t take themselves seriously, Haruomi Hosono’s “Sportsmen” feels like the first day of spring.
WHERE IT’S GOING According to YouTube music-trends manager Kevin Meenan, city pop has never been quite this big on YouTube. And on Spotify, city-pop consumption in the U.S. has increased more than 600 percent in the past three years.

Corridos Tumbados

WHAT IT IS In this Gen Z reinvention of the traditional Mexican folk ballad, six-string and 12-string guitars are the backdrop of stories of partying and diamonds and sipping lean, delivered in trap-influenced flows.
WHO’S DOING IT The genre’s biggest star is Natanael Cano, who broke through in 2019 with the album Corridos Tumbados; L.A.-based label Rancho Humilde is a powerhouse for artists like Cano, Junior H, and Ivonne Galaz, its first female signee.
STANDOUT TRACK Cano’s “Soy el Diablo” was a massive moment for corridos tumbados after Bad Bunny got in on a remix.
WHERE IT’S GOING Increasingly popular in the U.S., Cano’s album spent 13 weeks on the RS 200, while Junior H has been on the Artists 500 since last year.

In This Article: Future of Music 2021


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