At the beginning of every year, editors and pundits all over the world prepare long proclamations and declarations on how the previous 12 months brought unprecedented changes, and pull out their crystal balls to bless us with insights on how the next dozen months will continue to change the world forever.
We at Sound of Life are likely no different—but hear us out when we say that 2021 has truly given us a real taste of what’s to come in this new golden(?) age of music. With fundamental shifts in both what the world listens to and how it listens, this past year was a steep and rapid climb up the digital ladder, bringing us ever closer to a virtual and hyper-connected world. From the breakdown of genres, to the advanced proliferation of technology in music, we’re keen to see which of these specific trends will persevere through the hype and come out on top in 2022.
All music is world music
In an industry where all new creations are now born as digital releases, and easily accessible to anyone who’s searching for them, the term “world music” may finally be put to rest in a permanent funeral. 2021 in particular saw non-English music dominate all sorts of charts, whether it be Korean pop, Korean house (especially break-out female DJs such as Peggy Gou), reggaeton star Bad Bunny triumphing as the world’s most-streamed artist of the year, or Rosalia’s flamenco-inspired debut album (which also served as her masters’ thesis), making her an international sensation.
It’s no question that 2022 will continue to see more global artists take center stage, and for "popular music" to finally reflect the diversity of the world population. With the increasing popularity of non-western artists, and the increasing purchasing power of non-western listeners, the music market will be expected to step up their investments towards other continents beside North America and Europe – Asia, Africa, and Latin America may finally gain proper recognition as individual and equal scenes in their own right, instead of being grouped together into an amorphous “world music” label.
We can expect unprecedented investment in African artists in particular—both from listeners on streaming platforms such as Spotify, Soundcloud, and even TikTok, as well as from industry giants such as Warner and Universal. Such implicit and explicit endorsement in artists such as Nigeria’s Tiwa Savage (who released a track with Brandi last year), CKay (of the now-viral love nwantiti fame), Kenya’s Afro-pop outfit Sauti Sol (via AI records), and South African rapper Nasty C (who’s worked with Ari Lennox), will be evidence that the Western world is finally graduating from the term “world music” into a truly embracing acceptance of an international scene.
The breakdown of genres
2022 won’t just see the final dissolution of “world music”, but other genres will see a fundamental decline in their significance as well. The increasing accessibility of digital instruments and tools are already leading to exponential growth in the experimentation and modularity of music creation itself—and these same platforms that allow a DJ in Berlin to discover a funk artist from Rio, will also allow them to download and rework their tracks into a completely different groove.
Since reinvention is the holy grail of creativity, we can no longer expect the traditional guardrails of genre to be sacred. It’s already irrelevant to draw distinctions between pop, indie, folk, blues, R&B, or hip-hop, and music-sharing platforms of today already choose to class tracks by style, aesthetic, attitude, or cultural context instead. This curation around “mood” or emotional experience is exemplified by the popularity of playlists such as Spotify’s Pollen and creme, with its apt tagline “Genre-less. Quality first always.”
The DJ Renaissance
Speaking of digital tools, the pandemic saw the skyrocketing sales of DJ controllers and DAW programs, as well as the rise of live-streamed DJ sets. The ubiquity of “bedroom DJs” and self-produced music is peaking at an all-time high, with companies like Soundcloud, Spotify, and TikTok now looking to grab a piece of the creator pie by making self-publishing easier than ever. With recording, editing, and sharing functions baked right into the user experience, these platforms will play a significant role in the flattening of the music industry alongside the more traditional production programs.
But while the proliferation of DJs and musicians is great news for the individual, the increasing noise makes competition fierce, and ever-more effort will be put into the marketing and branding of music and their creators. We can also expect music-makers to ask for a fairer share and compensation from streaming platforms and labels, as demonstrated by Taylor Swift and Kanye West’s very public fights against Universal.
Hyperpop for a post-tech world
We can also expect the abundance of digital tools—not just in music but in our everyday lives as well—to affect the tone of popular music. In a world where we may all be useless and soon replaced by the technology we’ve created, the rise of hyperpop probably won’t wane anytime soon. The 1984 of musical expression, the juxtaposition of industrial noise and distorted vocals against the shallow sweetness of pop chords and/or grime beats will continue to represent the existential state of our present and future world. Accompanied by brightly coloured Y2K excess, no other musical mood better reflects this generation’s attitude in the face of technological advance.
Part and parcel of this experimental art-pop identity is an explicit fascination with virtual personas. Artists such as FKA Twigs, Arca, Sophie, and Sevdaliza all use the fusion of digital bodies with their human voices as artists’ statements, as well as a way to perform in the online world on their behalf. It comes at a good time, as the unusual constraints caused by the pandemic have caused artists to dig deeper into novel ways to connect with their fans that weren’t in-person. With real-life concerts diminished over the past couple of years, even mainstream artists have adopted virtual reality versions of themselves: from Doja Cat’s “first-ever codable music video experience” at dojacode.com, to Travis Scott’s concert held in the online world of Fortnite.
Musical bytes and viral content
Our last prediction for 2022 is the continued TikTok-ification of everything, including the music industry. While allowing smaller, self-made artists to find an organic audience, it’s no surprise that social media will also cause the art of songwriting to continue on its trajectory of catering to algorithms, with an emphasis placed on catchy hooks and easily replaceable singles. In an age where attention is the greatest commodity, a “successful” piece of music has to be readily married to some form of visual and experiential content, whether it be a short video, movie, or game. Search, and you’ll find countless playlists centered around gaming or TikTok as their own popular musical classifications.
So will all acts of creation fall prey to the pursuit of virality, or will we see an anti-trend of Bandcamp-style fans voting with their streams and dollars for the continued practice of thought-out, full album releases? As songs get shorter, snappier, and grabbier, will the natural law of opposing forces cause artists to react, resist, and turn back to the practice of writing for musical expression and experiences instead of forgettable diddles? I guess we’ll see in our predictions for 2023.
Cover Credit: Rick Rothernberg/Unsplash
Writer | Cynthia Chou
Cynthia is a Canadian writer and recent transplant to Berlin. She also likes to paint and sing and eat and drink and stuff while traveling the world.