On Wednesday, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) launched its inaugural “Class Of” campaign, which the organization will use to celebrate artists who earned first-time U.S. certifications in a given year. In announcing the 2020 class, it revealed that 53 artists scored their first gold or platinum awards.
32 artists saw their singles go platinum for the first time, including Doja Cat, Arizona Zervas, Tones and I, Gabby Barrett, 24kGoldn, Pop Smoke, Powfu, Rod Wave, Benee, and Conan Gray. And 12 of those 32 are now multi-platinum. (Only four awards were album-related, and they were all gold.) The RIAA’s complete list is available here.
“In a year filled with so much negativity, being a part of the RIAA’s ‘Class of 2020’ is an honor, really,” “Whats Poppin” rapper Jack Harlow told the organization for its press release. “Getting a gold record was already a dream come true, but now having a four-times platinum song is at the top of my list of things that I’m most proud of in my career.”
The decision to highlight the achievements of first-timers comes as there are simply more first-timers than ever to recognize. And that’s because of the strength of the digital single.
Overall, 525 songs were certified platinum in 2020, according to the RIAA’s online database. That’s a 7% increase compared to 2019, when 489 songs went platinum, and a nearly 800% increase compared to 2010, when just 69 songs went platinum. In the last decade, year over year, the number of platinum certifications for songs has increased by an average of 18%.
It’s also worth noting that, in 2020, 59 songs were both released and certified platinum in that same year. That particular figure has risen considerably in recent years: Only eight songs were both released and made platinum in 2018, and 25 achieved the feat in 2019.
These surges make sense given music streaming’s continuous rise in popularity and its lack of cost barrier to fans who want to hear a new song or album. (The playlist-driven Spotify, which now uploads approximately 40,000 songs a day, first launched in the U.S. in 2011. The RIAA started including streams in its certification process in 2013. And Apple Music launched in 2015.)
It’s become abundantly clear that the music industry’s move to digital — first through sales, then streams — has created a larger singles market than album market. And with singles requiring far less effort and preparation than albums, and virality more attainable than ever nowadays, new artists have more power than ever before.
Of course, it sure would be nice if all these artists scoring certifications were compensated accordingly. In that sense, seeing a rise in the certification of songs while the majority of artists can’t make a living from streaming — something that feels particularly lopsided at a time devoid of touring, which serves as many smaller artists’ main revenue source — is oddly bittersweet.