Music like most other cultural forces is subject to a slew of trends. These frequently come in cycles and the genres and styles that were omnipresent 20 years ago become reimagined, repackaged and frequent the airwaves once more.
While lo-fi beats to study to could’ve been the most unexpected sub-genre to emerge in the previous decade we also saw the indie bands of the 2000s bow to trap music’s seismic wave. Like any temporary trend, these sounds will likely give way to other styles and genres once people’s attention lies elsewhere.
Trends are not limited to the types of music that enter people’s popular consciousness. We’ve mapped some of the patterns that emerged towards the end of the last decade that we hope are here to stay. Not solely based artist’s final product but the make-up of the industry behind the music, the plethora of cultures now prevailing in the mainstream and the positive effects for wider society.
More recognition and reward for producers
It’s the age of the producer. Instrumentals in hip hop especially have evolved massively in the last decade. We are seeing artists like slowthai and JPEGMAFIA embrace punk sounds, A$AP Rocky has numerous psychedelic records in his discography and there’s no end in sight for this kind of welcomed experimentation.
Producers are to thank for the execution of these sounds and for too long they’ve been under-appreciated and undervalued. This prevailing pattern of behaviour is amplified by the numerous ways labels have found to avoid fairly compensating them.
If you gonna call out Atlantic then you might as well call out all the labels because they all doing the same thing. Shit cash money was dropping actual albums and wasnt even paying the producers. You can’t just single out one party when all other parties doing the same. https://t.co/YaKPQfOgrn
— Sonny (@SonnyDigital) January 3, 2018
However, a number of innovations and changes helped ensure producers can sidestep label bullshit and secure the bag in the 2010s. The emergence of ‘Type Beat‘ producers has allowed them to market their content clearly and to receive money for their endeavours.
In terms of recognition for their work Spotify finally added a long overdue option for accrediting producers. Increasingly impressive branding helped raise the profile and value of producers too. They are no longer maestros working behind the scenes but artists in their own rights with bona fide followings. Just look at Kenny Beats and his ‘The Cave‘ series that has projected his personality and skills to millions that have watched the episodes.
Kenny has benefitted from another branding masterstroke. Catchy, recognisable tag lines have become more important than ever and when the prolific producer swapped EDM for hip hop production his ear worm ‘Wow Kenny’ tagline illustrated his on point sonic branding. Coupled with a hardline stance on splitting profits from any track he works on he’s becoming a household name in hip hop, helping push producers to the fore whilst illustrating some important best practices.
We’ve seen the emergence of super star producers like Metro Boomin and Murda Beatz and although there is still a long way to go, producers are getting their time to shine.
More inclusive environments
Music needs to up its game in terms of inclusivity. There have been some tentative steps in recent years to create a more diverse landscape that is accessible for people of all genders, ethnicity and backgrounds. However, there is still much work to be done.
A BBC study found that in 2017, a staggering 80% of festival headliners were male. Subsequently we saw Primavera Sound commit to gender inclusive line-ups featuring a 50/50 split, and 45 other events promised to reach a 50/50 balance by 2022. These concerted efforts to make a change are important and hopefully the start of a wider trend.
However, the problem is industry-wide and exists outside the confines of festival line-ups. Recently we saw no female artists nominated for the Album of the Year at the Brit Awards and between 2013 and 2019 only 10.4% of Grammy nominees were female.
To combat this Spotify created their EQL Studio Residency in 2018 in an attempt to encourage more women and people of other genders into the studio. It provides three full-time, paid residencies to women and gender non-conforming individuals across the world. It’s not huge in the grander scheme of things, but is one of a number of initiatives that we are beginning to see more of.
The aforementioned changes happen in the face of a growing gender gap in music. In order to clsoe the gap we need more of the aforementioned initiatives, a proactive approach and widespread support from peers. Hopefully this decade will see the erosion of backward gender imbalances and the adoption of more modern approaches.
The prominence of non-English music
Music has quite evidently became more global. Well at least in the sense that tracks from across the globe are more widely available because of the emergence of the internet. However, towards the end of the decade we saw more non-english records doing major numbers in the western world than ever before.
Traditionally non-English songs that have done well in the UK or America are frequently satirical in style or are novelty tracks such as ‘Gangnam Style’.
However now we are seeing chart topping tracks of a serious nature take hold. I’m not just talking reggaeton and Spanish speaking artists who have long had a strong fan base in North America due to the huge presence of Spanish speaking people there. But also the likes of Korean pop stars of BTS, a 7 piece group that sold out Wembley stadium in just 90 minutes.
Nigerian star and 2019’s BET best international act Burna Boy frequently sings in his native yoruba. Not adhering to the demands of the western world he’s another example of the trailblazing artists embracing their heritage and bringing their culture to the world.
Although if we look at streaming behemoth Youtube, there’s clear evidence of the growth of non-english speaking music. In 2015 Youtube’s global top 10 list was made up of solely english language songs, 2016 saw one non-english song, 2017 saw six non-english tracks and by 2018 only two of the ten tracks were english language.
The increasing widespread popularity of non-English music also importantly encourages acceptance and promotes tolerance of other cultures. Music is a great window into the lives of others and this is a particularly welcome trend that will no doubt encourage positive relations in the next decade.
Music becoming louder and angrier
Music reflects reality. In turbulent times we’ve seen the birth of punk music, Rage Against the Machine’s furious sonics and hip hop’s anti-establishment narratives.
With Donald Trump currently President of the United States and Boris Johnston flailing whilst he tries to deliver one of the most divisive events in British history we’ve seen musicians respond the way they know best.
California spitter YG linked up with the late Nipsey Hustle for ‘Fuck Donald Trump’ and recently we saw slowthai hold Boris Johnston’s severed head at the Mercury Prize awards show.
There’s huge questions over our political future and artists are creating catharsis through their responses. This is an established pattern that emerges when we are faced with uncertain times or political turmoil.
However, when it comes to more mainstream music the results are similar.
A recent study named ‘Quantitive Sentiment Analysis of Lyrics in Popular Music‘ from two academics from Michigan’s Lawrence Technical University has stated that, “The results show that anger, disgust, fear, sadness, and conscientiousness have increased significantly, while joy, confidence, and openness expressed in pop song lyrics have declined.”
The study sampled music from the top 100 charts so in essence it illustrates what the general public want to hear rather than the artists want to express.
However, less joyful music isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We need artists representing the anger felt on a grassroots level. If the frustration in mainstream songs isn’t political in nature it still opens the door for others to politicise the anger in their music.
Life can be hard and with the current political circumstances of unaffordable housing, economic inequality and the threat of dangerous anti-immigrant narratives, being able to express feelings challenging dangerous trends is important.
Music is about expression. Be angry, feel sad, express your emotions this decade and let those in power know.