2023 has been an action-packed year for the music industry. Elton John performed his last UK show, The Beatles released a new song with a little help from AI, and a wave of Gen-Z newcomers stormed into the charts. From growing global fan bases to reshaping the concert experience, the digital world has changed how we discover, consume and market our favourite artists. Let’s take a deep dive into the digital trends that rocked the music industry this year…
The Musical Playground
Short-form video content continued to dominate social media platforms throughout 2023, with TikTok singing its own trailblazing tune. From comedic lip syncs to #TubeGirl’s (@sabrinabahsoon) iconic videos, trending content in ‘For You’ feeds helped spotlight a plethora of songs, transforming artists into viral phenomenons that spread to YouTube Shorts and Meta Reels. TikTok became the ultimate musical playground in 2023, in which artists could utilise viral social media trends to inspire and promote their music at a culturally relevant pace.
This digital trend indicates that the modern musical experience has evolved; audiences now crave visual content to enrich their listening experience. In its latest annual report, TikTok claims the virality of songs on its platform has a direct influence on album sales and streaming figures outside of the social realm. Take a look at the UK's most viewed artists on TikTok in 2023…
Thanks to his musical talent and hilarious candour, Lewis Capaldi took the crown as the UK's most viewed artist, with his songs Pointless and Wish You the Best topping the charts. However, the success did not stop at Capaldi. In fact, 3 of 16 Number One tracks on the UK Official Singles Chart since January 2023 had a viral moment on TikTok.
The most popular song in the UK by video creations was Sprinter by Dave and Central Cee. Used by over one million content creators, the song brought UK Rap to the global stage and became the longest-running Number 1 song in the genre’s history. One video posted by Central Cee himself achieved nearly 60 million views. Turn up the volume and listen to the most popular song of the year…
The musical success that can amass from trending content provokes a controversial question: do artists now create songs with the primary intention of going viral on social media?
The Reign of K-Pop Royalty
Let me take you back to 2012 when everyone and their grandma was dancing to Psy’s iconic hit Gangnam Style. Since then, the Korean pop industry (K-pop) has rapidly grew in popularity. With their synchronised dance moves and cool, fashion-forward outfits, many K-pop stars successfully captured the hearts of Gen-Z audiences and reached global stardom in 2023.
TikTok reports that nearly half (46%) of its US users listen to non-English music. In fact, five of the Top 10 Most Viewed Artists globally on the platform this year were from the K-pop genre: BLACKPINK, BTS, ENHYPEN, LE SSERAFIM and NewJeans.
In July 2023, Blackpink made history with their electrifying set in Hyde Park. Performing to a sold-out crowd of 65,000 fans, they became the first ever Korean band to headline a major UK music festival. Following this, they cemented their royal K-pop status when they performed at a state banquet at Buckingham Palace, held in honour of South Korea’s visiting president Yoon Suk Yeol. King Charles even presented the quartet— Roseanne Park, Jennie Kim, Jisoo Kim and Lalisa Manoban—with honorary MBEs, the third highest ranking Order of the British Empire award. Unsurprisingly, their visit dominated X’s (formerly Twitter) trending topics, with #BLACKPINK, #MBE, #BuckinghamPalace and #KPOP trending in the UK throughout the day.
K-pop’s flourishing international success has undoubtably been accelerated by social media. By providing artists with a direct line of communication with new and existing fans from around the world, it enables them to market their work on a global scale.
The New Concert Experience
Following the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a shift in the way we experience live music events. Facebook, Instagram and YouTube have introduced features that enable artists to ‘go Live’ and broadcast to fans in real-time. Similarly, concert attendees can share live video footage on their socials, enabling viewers to live vicariously through the content creator and experience the event as a virtual audience member from the comfort of their sofa.
In 2023, the live concert experience and digital content creation became inextricably linked. Earlier this month, TikTok announced the expansion of its partnership with Ticketmaster across more than 20 countries. Artists will be able to embed ticket links in their videos, helping them sell tickets to fans directly in the app.
Taylor Swift’s 'The Eras Tour' has been the live music event of the year. Set to span 151 shows across five continents, it caused a frenzy online as fans battled to get tickets. For those that were victorious, they made sure to share their experiences on their socials, primarily TikTok and Instagram! With the help of some clever algorithms and a quick hashtag search, Swifties around the world could virtually experience each concert, pretty much as it happened, from anywhere in the world. Some fans even created content listing their top Eras Tour filming tips—think camera settings, lighting adjustments and the art of the perfect zoom. See @laxtoluxury's video to hone your skills.
Consequently, live music events are gradually becoming an assembly of glowing devices. Barricade spots are now hunting grounds for social media content, transforming concert attendees into powerful marketing tools for promoting new shows to huge fanbases. The relationship between artists and fans has thus been completely renegotiated; they no longer play to the fans physically in front of them, but to the millions that are potentially watching online. In those moments, the audience is in complete control of how the artist’s performance is shared.
So, whilst audience-created content can create monumental marketing opportunities, it also risks harming the essential concert experience. In pursuit of capturing their own viral moment, concert goers often forget the real moment in which they are living. By filming large portions of live shows, fans, perhaps inadvertently, treat artists as catalysts of self-promotion, prioritising their own likes and shares over the spontaneity of the moment.
Levelling the Playing Field
Before the rise of social media, breaking into the music industry was a monumental challenge that often required a long list of connections. However, social platforms like YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, X (formerly Twitter) and TikTok have worked to destroy these barriers and level the playing field, allowing hopeful musicians to bring their work to a global audience. On social media, anyone can become a star.
In August, farmer Oliver Anthony's country song Rich Men North of Richmond went viral overnight. Within one week of it being uploaded on YouTube, it achieved more than 17.5 million streams and was downloaded 147,000 times. Taking the music world by storm, Anthony surpassed giants like Taylor Swift, Morgan Wallen and Olivia Rodrigo in the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart ranking.
Released in the run up to the 2024 US presidential election, Anthony’s song is a conservative-leaning political diatribe, expressing his opinions on the political and economic elite. Interpreted as a working man’s anthem, the controversial song sparked political debate, with Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene terming it the "the anthem of the forgotten Americans” on X.
Ultimately, digital platforms have worked to democratise the music industry, thrusting voices that are not often heard onto the global stage. Furthermore, TikTok has made it even easier for rising musicians to launch their careers on the platform by introducing a new 'Add to Music App' feature. This give listeners the ability to save the songs they discover on TikTok to the music streaming services of their choice, including Amazon Music and Spotify.
Coming up in 2024:
With the arrival of fresh music in 2024, we can expect a wave of new digital trends that affect how we develop, consume and engage with music. Many of the trends discussed above will likely evolve and expand in exciting ways. Social media is the Simon Cowell of the new digital age, capable of inciting stardom and helping fan bases grow bigger than ever. Here’s some of our predictions for the year ahead…
Increased use of AI as a tool for music production and marketing
Continued dominance of short-form video, particularly on TikTok
Exclusive and subscriber-only content will gain momentum
Social media could drive the most profits in the music industry, surpassing streaming services
We can’t wait to see what 2024 brings!