Spotify Culture Next 2021 reveals the musical trends in Gen Z and Millenial

Gen Z and Millenial are driving the post-pandemic cultural renaissance with a more inclusive and connected environment

Spotify Culture Next 2021
Spotify Culture Next 2021

Spotify has published the third edition of Culture Next, the global annual report on the trends that define Gen Z and Millennials. If 2020 was the year of “cultural awakening“, 2021 promises to be a year of cultural renaissance. Indeed, this edition of Culture Next explores how Generation Z and Millennials are facing the common challenge of rebuilding culture from the ground up. In this context, digital audio plays a leading role.

What’s Spotify Culture Next?

Every year, Spotify embarks on a mission to learn more about Gen Zs and Millennials, two of our most influential listeners and creators. Culture Next, Spotify Advertising’s annual study of these groups’ listening habits and preferences, ages 15-25 and 26-40, is the result.

In April 2021, Spotify polled 9,000 Gen Z and Millennials in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Spain, Italy, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, India, Indonesia, Singapore, the Philippines, Japan, Australia, the United Arab Emirates, Thailand, and Malaysia.

They also collaborated with youth culture agency Archrival to conduct Zoom focus groups with over 400 respondents in 16 markets, including 40 in-depth interviews and a dozen ethnographies. These were combined with conversations with artists, podcasters, and thought leaders in the advertising industry, as well as Spotify’s own Streaming Intelligence and first-party data.

Gen Z and Millenials drive the cultural rebirth with a more inclusive and connected environment

It’s been a big year for Gen Z, the generation on the verge of becoming self-sufficient. Zs are eager to leave virtual events behind and resume IRL experiences now that traditional markers of adulthood (like hanging out with friends unsupervised, attending college in person, or starting their first post-grad jobs) have been put on hold. Spotify’s global research also revealed that Gen Zs are still on the lookout for meaning and connection, both within themselves and in the rapidly changing world around them.

They’ve reported more feelings of loneliness over the course of the pandemic due to a lack of school and face-to-face time with friends. What’s the good news? Music and podcasts have aided in the following ways: over the last year, 66 % of Gen Zs said audio made them feel less alone.

Millennials, on the other hand, faced a unique set of challenges. The pandemic has shifted this generation’s expectations of work-life balance as they advance in their careers and start families of their own. For millennials, audio has become the go-to medium for staying in touch with family, staying informed, and enjoying “me time.” Smart speakers, for example, have become a household must-have for millennial parents looking to entertain their children while also removing them from their screens.

Millennials have expressed strong emotional bonds with their favorite podcast hosts on a personal level. In fact, they’re more likely than Generation Z to say that podcast hosts feel like friends at times. With more years under their belts, millennials are more likely to gravitate toward nostalgic content (think nostalgic playlists, country music, and so on).

There are some similarities between millennials and Generation Zs that we discovered in Spotify’s research. Both generations are advocating for a more diverse and inclusive culture. Millennials and Gen Zs agreed that as a culture, we’re more open to hearing from different perspectives than we’ve ever been: In the past year, 53% said they sought out more content from more diverse creators and podcasts.

Paragraph re-elaborated from Dawn Ostroff’s (Chief Content & Advertising Business Officer, Spotify) piece on Spotify Culture Next 2021.

The listeners’ view: the major role of audio in young people’s live

Sound as an escape from the day-by-day problems

Unhealthy tech habits are the norm for both millennials and Gen Zs, especially during a pandemic, from doomscrolling to bingeing. With so much bad news and so few ways to get away, zoning out may appear to be the only option. Audio of any kind, according to respondents from both generations, encourages them to tune in to themselves, each other, and the outside world.

  • 83% of Millenials and 69% of Gen Zs in the U.S. agree that they use audio to reduce their stress levels
  • 77% of American Millenials see audio as a mental health resource
  • 69% of American Gen Zs feel “more centered and generally happier” when listening to their favorite music on a daily basis
  • Podcasts about mental health increased their listener by more than 200% between Gen Z and Millenials followed by Health and Self-help topics that increased respectively by 105 % and 95 % on average.

The blurred line between reality and the digital world

Audio-first immersions became more literal as millennials and Gen Zs sought to escape the same four walls, city blocks, and social pods they’d been stuck with for over a year.

As live shows stop, immersive virtual worlds became a critical tether for musicians and music fans. Immersion into alternate realities is fairly common among both millennial and Generation Z gamers. Their desire for hybrid real-virtual experiences, on the other hand, is driving new content preferences.

  • 68% of Millenials and Gen Zs globally “attended” a virtual experience in the last year
  • Millennials are more likely to “attend” virtual events than Zs (63% vs 36%)
  • 69% would rather connect with other music fans of an artist you like from around the world via live streamed concert
  • 73% of American Millenials feel that audio is the most immersive form of media
  • time spent streaming Spotify via gaming consoles increased 31% in the U.S. between Q1 2020 and Q1 2021.

The pandemic has driven the need of creating communities of music fans

Being a part of a fan community, according to psychologists, is beneficial to mental and emotional health, particularly among teenagers, because it fosters a sense of belonging and identity.

Gen Zs, who grew up with the internet, came of age remixing, reposting, and reproducing culture. Everything, including audio, is ripe for some inspired rearranging in their eyes. Young listeners, armed with social media, are now actively involved in promoting new artists, co-creating songs, and forming powerful global communities that produce tomorrow’s hits.


With creators more accessible than ever, Millennial and Gen Z listeners are now able to respond to musicians’ work-in-progress drafts, choose their favorite hooks, write lyrics, retitle songs, and even vote on which tracks are released.

  • 42% of Gen Z Spotify users in the U.S. said they’ve heard a song on social media and then searched for it on Spotify
  • 76 % of Millenials audio creators say that receiving feedback from fans or followers is part of their creative process (vs 65% of Gen Z)

The creators’ view: culture is being shaped through music and podcast

From a niche to the mainstream: authority of audio contents

For a new generation of “cord nevers” — Gen Zs who already use their phones as their primary news source — podcast creators are quickly becoming the front page, the 6 o’clock news, the silver screen, and the classroom. Millennials, on the other hand, continue to watch their favorite shows (and hosts) for reliable information about the world.

The trust that Millennials and Gen Zs have in traditional societal institutions, such as politics, religion, and the media, is at an all-time low around the world.

Unlike traditional broadcasters, who rarely stray from the script, audio creators are more likely to reveal their vulnerable and raw “real” selves, with whom listeners are more likely to connect.

  • 18% of American Zs identify as “cord nevers”, who have never used traditional cable TV
  • 76% of American Millenials believe the actual voices of podcast hosts can make or break a podcast
  • 41% of global listeners say they trust ads more if they hear them during a podcast
  • 81% report that they have taken an action after hearing a podcast ad

Amplifying the underheard voices that matter

Millennial and Gen Z creators use audio to tell their stories. They are discovering a medium that is willing to embrace projects that represent and empower them, as well as the communities in which they live.

Unlike some visual media, where expensive equipment, formal education, or large crews are required, audio creators have a lower barrier to entry and thus less inherent bias. This accessibility and convenience are especially important for Gen Zs, who are more likely to produce and promote themselves.

  • 63% of American Gen Zs believe they have more freedom to be their authentic selves than previous generations
  • On average, 60% of Millenials and Gen Zs agree that as a culture we’re more open to hearing diverse voices than ever before
  • 68% of Millenials and 50% of Gen Zs in the U.S. said they’ve sought more content from more diverse creators and podcasts in the last year
  • In the U.S. market, podcast listeners who are Black, Latinx, Asian, or who self-identify as some “Other” ethnicity all surpassed the growth rate among white listeners.

When curation turns into creation

Curation is a crucial part of how culture is shaped today, with the ability to forge connections, set emotional tones, and even launch careers.

Zs who grew up in a digital world are particularly adept at curating their lives and identities. Curation has evolved into much more than just aggregation among today’s Gen Z audio creators; it has evolved into pure creation.

While playlists have been around for more than a decade, audio creators have only recently fully embraced them as a platform for showcasing their curatorial skills. Millennial creators, in particular, have embraced playlist curation as a means of ensuring their place in cultural conversations by highlighting favorite tracks, citing influences, and more.

  • 64% of global Gen Z creators feel that the digital technology makes it easier than ever to be cultural curator
  • Among Gen Z listeners in the U.S., Spotify’s hyperpop playlist grew by an impressive 117% between Q1 of 2020 and 2021.29
  • Followers of Spotify’s Lorem playlist increased 43% between Q1 2020 and Q1 2021.
  • 67% of global Millenial creators said they feel more pressure than ever to be a cultural creator

Conclusion

Two generations face a similar challenge: rebuilding culture from the ground up. Millennials and Gen Zs not just listening on Spotify; they’re also creating, discovering (and revisiting), building communities, and giving a platform to voices that have previously been ignored.

To read the full report, find out more about the statistics and the data go over Spotify’s The Culture Next Hub website. Enjoy the interactive report here.

All the data reported on this piece are taken from Spotify’s Culture Next Report 2021 U.S. Data may vary depending on the geographic region.

Spotify Culture Next 2021
Spotify Culture Next 2021 infographic