What Can The Streaming Services’ Year-End Data Tell Us About Pop Today?

Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for MRC

What Can The Streaming Services’ Year-End Data Tell Us About Pop Today?

Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for MRC

The first on-demand streaming service turned 20 years old last week. On Dec. 3, 2001, the San Francisco startup Listen.com launched Rhapsody—not a personalized online radio station but a searchable “celestial jukebox” allowing users to stream any song in its library for a monthly fee. At the time, this was novel and, depending on your connection speed, impractical. Two decades later it is the baseline of the music industry.

Billboard began incorporating data from streaming services into the Hot 100 in 2007. Spotify launched in the US in 2011. According to the RIAA, streaming accounted for more than 50% of music industry revenue for the first time in 2016. By 2020 that total had risen to 83%. Sales and radio play continue to matter, but in a very real sense, streaming is what’s driving the industry in terms of both economics and content. What’s big on streaming platforms is what’s big, period. Conveniently, Spotify, Apple Music, and YouTube have all issued year-end reports in the past week. Let’s see what we can learn from them.

Bad Bunny Is The King Of The World

Or at least the king of Spotify. With 9.1 billion streams worldwide, the genre-detonating Puerto Rican superstar was the platform’s most-streamed artist globally and came in fifth overall in the US behind Drake, Taylor Swift, Juice WRLD, and Kanye West — this after his YHLQMDLG finished as Spotify’s most-streamed album of 2020. Impressively, Bad Bunny ruled 2021 without a new album or a crossover hit in the American mainstream this year, though notably his Jhay Cortez collab “Dakiti” did finish ninth on Apple Music’s year-end countdown. The data suggests people are digging into his catalog in an in-depth way, not just gravitating toward one or two signature hits, and that listeners are committed to that bellow for the long haul.

BTS May Be A Bigger Phenomenon Than Ever

The seven-man K-pop unit had the third most-streamed catalog globally on Spotify, and their 2020 hit “Dynamite” was Apple’s most-streamed track. Given that “Butter,” Apple’s #21 song of the year, was an even bigger hit than “Dynamite” here in the States, it will be interesting to see whether the song can enjoy a similar long-tail success in 2022 even as the band takes the first few months of next year off.

Olivia Rodrigo Is The Breakout Star Of 2021

The teen singer and actor’s debut SOUR was Spotify’s most-streamed album of the year, and its breakout ballad “drivers license” was the platform’s most-streamed song both globally and domestically, with the pop-punk hit “good 4 u” ranking at #4 around the world and #2 in the US. The tracks were nearly as ubiquitous on Apple, where they ranked at #2 and #7 respectively. Those two hits were also #1 and #2 on Apple’s chart of the most read lyrics. Plus, the “drivers license” video was YouTube’s ninth most streamed music video of 2021.

Pop Has Retaken The Throne From Hip-Hop

One of the first major ripple effects of the streaming revolution was an increase in chart prominence for hip-hop artists. But Spotify’s four most streamed albums globally are by pop acts Olivia Rodrigo, Dua Lipa, Justin Bieber, and Ed Sheeran. The fifth is Planet Her by Doja Cat, an artist who blurs the boundaries between pop and rap — much like Drake and Bad Bunny, the biggest artists on the platform that could be classified as rappers. The same patterns hold true on Apple’s top 100 songs list (Apple did not release a companion albums list or US-specific data), where Pop Smoke, Lil Baby, and DaBaby’s “For The Night” and the aforementioned Bad Bunny/Jhay Cortez track are the only rap songs in the top 10.

But On YouTube, Rap Still Rules

In a sharp contrast to Spotify and Apple’s stats, YouTube’s top 10 videos list is dominated by rap artists. Pooh Shiesty and Lil Durk’s “Back In Blood,” which has tallied almost 213 million views since its release in January, was the most-watched video of the year. Also in the top 10: Polo G’s “RAPSTAR,” the DJ Khaled/Lil Baby/Lil Durk hit “EVERY CHANCE I GET,” MO3 & OG Bobby Billions’ “Outside (Better Days),” Cardi B’s “Up,” and Rod Wave’s “Street Runner.” This makes some kind of sense; there are whole universes of rap music taking place only on YouTube right now.

A Freak Alt-Rock Crossover Hit Is Still Possible

At a time when everything from pop-punk to industrial rock sounds are making a resurgence within mainstream pop, it’s perhaps not surprising that a synth-powered cult-beloved rock band could ride TikTok virality to true pop-chart success. And yet “Heat Waves” by Glass Animals racking up the fourth-most streams in America this year is still kind of stunning. Released at the midpoint of 2020, the track has kept building and building and still hasn’t stopped; this week it remains in the Hot 100 top 10 despite the yearly influx of Christmas music.

Songs That Pique People’s Curiosity Are Often International

One fascinating chart Apple included is the most Shazam’d songs of 2021. (Apple owns Shazam, an app that will identify a song for you based on a few seconds of audio.) More than half of the top 10 consists of artists from outside North America, and not just known quantities like Ed Sheeran. Australian rapper Masked Wolf’s “Astronaut In The Ocean” topped this chart; songs by the Italian rock band Måneskin and the Nigerian singer CKay also cracked the top 10.

Younger Artists Dominate The Streaming Realm

The oldest artist to be named in Spotify’s year-end report is 44-year-old Kanye West, the fourth-most streamed artist in America. He’s the only Gen X artist represented. Everyone else is millennial or Gen Z. Notably, millennial artists like Drake and Taylor Swift were more dominant overall, but most of the biggest hit songs were by Gen Z acts like the Kid Laroi and Lil Nas X. Better luck next time, Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga!


For the second week in a row, Adele holds on to #1 on both of Billboard‘s top two charts. After posting the year’s biggest debut last week, her album 30 rules the Billboard 200 again with a whopping 288,000 equivalent album units and 225,000 in sales. Those would constitute blockbuster first-week numbers, and per Billboard, they represent decreases of 66% and 68% from last week. She’s still operating on a different level from the rest of the music industry.

That said, 102,000 units for Taylor Swift’s Red (Taylor’s Version) in its third week is nothing to sniff at either. Michael Bublé’s Christmas climbs back up to #3 with 59,000 units, bolstered by 44,000 streaming equivalent albums. Up next are Olivia Rodrigo at #4, Drake at #5, Morgan Wallen at #6, Summer Walker at #7, Silk Sonic at #8, and the Weeknd’s greatest hits album at #9. Vince Guaraldi Trio’s A Charlie Brown Christmas returns to its #10 peak with 36,000 units, largely consisting of 19,000 streaming units and 13,000 in vinyl sales.

Adele’s “Easy On Me” remains #1 on the Hot 100 for a sixth nonconsecutive week, followed by the Kid Laroi and Justin Bieber’s “Stay.” Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You” has made its annual return to the top 10; it currently sits at #3, and don’t be surprised to see it back on top of the chart for a third straight year before this Christmas season runs its course. It’s not the only holiday staple in the top 10 this week: Brenda Lee’s “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree” is at #4, Bobby Helms’ “Jingle Bell Rock” is at #5, and Burl Ives’ “A Holly Jolly Christmas” is at #7. The rest of the top 10 includes Lil Nas X and Jack Harlow’s “Industry Baby” at #6, Glass Animals’ “Heat Waves” at #8, Ed Sheeran’s “Shivers” at #9, and Doja Cat’s “Need To Know” at #10.


Ed Sheeran & Elton John – “Merry Christmas”
This song could’ve been a lot worse, and indeed Sheeran’s antics in the video make it feel a lot worse.

Ariana Grande & Kid Cudi – “Just Look Up”
I appreciate how this climate emergency ballad breaks the “serious song about serious issues” fourth wall when Grande sings “Get your head out of your ass/ Listen to the goddamn qualified scientists.”

Shawn Mendes – “It’ll Be Okay”
I feel extremely confident stating that you can skip this one if you’re not invested in the Shawn Mendes-Camila Cabello breakup on a tabloid level.

5 Seconds Of Summer – “2011”
“Why do we ruin our dreams? Why do we sabotage things? Can’t we just go back to 2011?” If this means 5 Seconds Of Summer want to start writing songs like “She Looks So Perfect” again, I’m all for it.

Kim Petras – “Coconuts”
I am sure many will enjoy this one at the club but it is, uh, not for me.


  • Olivia Rodrigo announced 2022 tour dates. [Olivia Rodrigo]
  • Rodrigo also did an acoustic “good 4 u” at the Teen Vogue Summit. [Twitter]
  • Adam Levine got a rose tattooed on his face. [Twitter]
  • Justin Bieber went through with his Saudi Arabia concert despite high-profile backlash. [Twitter]
  • Billie Eilish discussed her her tattoos in her fifth annual Vanity Fair year-end interview. [Vulture]
  • Eilish also released a self-directed video for “Male Fantasy.” [YouTube]
  • One more Eilish item: She’s PETA’s Person Of The Year. [PETA]
  • Demi Lovato said they’re no longer “California sober” — “sober sober is the only way to be.” [TMZ]
  • Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You” became the first holiday single to be certified Diamond by the RIAA. [Twitter]
  • HIV/AIDS orgs say that DaBaby ghosted them and never donated any money. [The Daily Beast]
  • Roddy Ricch’s new album Live Life Fast will be out 12/17. [Rap-Up]
  • Christina Aguilera will receive the Icon Award at People’s Choice Awards this week. [E!]
  • Taylor Swift sent Don McLean flowers after breaking his record for longest #1 song. [Twitter]
  • Adele gave an interview while getting her makeup done by YouTuber NikkieTutorials. [YouTube]
  • Coldplay released a live Infinity Station Sessions EP on Apple Music. [Twitter]
  • TWICE released a wintry music video for “Doughnut.” [YouTube]
  • Poo Bear announced an “NFT band.” [YouTube]
  • Ariana Grande and Kelly Clarkson did their new holiday song on Clarkson’s Christmas special. [Twitter]
  • Doja Cat released a video for “Woman.” [YouTube]
  • Machine Gun Kelly played a dumb Auto-Tune game with Jimmy Fallon. [YouTube]
  • Also on Fallon, Pistol Annies performed “Hell Of A Holiday.” [YouTube]
  • Glass Animals covered Lorde’s “Solar Power” for the BBC Radio 1 Live Lounge. [YouTube]
  • Cardi B launched a vodka-infused whipped cream. [Hypebae]
  • The “Baby Shark” NFTs are here. [PR Newswire]



more from The Week In Pop

Hi. It looks like you're using an ad blocker.

As an independent website, we rely on our measly advertising income to keep the lights on. Our ads are not too obtrusive, promise. Would you please disable adblock?