One clammy August night time in 2011, newly relocated to New York Metropolis, I watched Music Twitter collectively lose its shit. Jay-Z and Kanye West had simply launched Watch the Throne, their buzzy, long-prayed-for joint album about wealth, class, and #BlackExcellence. The timing was, on reflection, paradoxical: August eight was additionally Black Monday. International inventory markets had been in a thrashing downturn. The chilliness of the Recession iced our backs—nonetheless. The strangeness and uncertainty of the second was matched solely by the strangeness and uncertainty of what unfolded on my laptop computer display screen. Like a meteor rocketing towards Earth, Music Twitter had converged for its first actual second of the last decade—a presaging of future instances and traits.
One summer time later, sweaty and electrical with the fever of the season in an residence on Mulberry Avenue, mates and I salivated over the gravity of a TextEdit screenshot Frank Ocean had, solely minutes in the past, uploaded to his Tumblr web page. It detailed a lingering and intense relationship with one other man, his old flame. A window was opening. By the top of the 2010s, a 19-year-old born Montero Hill would discover viral fame within the unlikeliest of web apertures: on a short-form video app referred to as TikTok, finally catapulting into untold stardom—and with it his track turned the longest-leading Billboard Scorching 100 No. 1 in historical past. Montero Hill vanished. The younger legend of a black homosexual cowboy named Lil Nas X was cemented—and the tempos of our digital biodome had been absolutely etched in stone.
On the daybreak of the last decade, although we couldn’t absolutely grasp it then, a brand new language was being written on-line for each music artists and followers. Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram—they had been tangible proof that eccentric, one-purpose applied sciences couldn’t solely endure however revolutionize how we perceive, devour, and make music. Engagement was obligatory.
Now, within the dimming tints of a decade that moved at warp pace, the right here and now could be outlined doubly: by obsessives and obsessive applied sciences. Allow us to look to our foremost cultural engines, a lot of that are nonetheless with us, a few of which have withered into the digital graveyard, because the true barometer of music engagement. Social media platforms have altogether rewritten how we metabolize music and the tradition that surrounds it. They’ve radicalized the foundations of fandom. They’ve upturned conventional trade releases and made extinct the concept of gatekeepers. Better of all, they’ve given us goggles for a future that obeys solely the heart beat of change.
Huge knowledge tells one story. That music streaming platforms—Soundcloud, Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal—are essentially the most transformative music instruments of the last decade. Guess what? Huge knowledge is flawed. This decade, music streaming platforms merely archived tradition; they didn’t form it in the way in which that we prefer to consider. Except for Soundcloud—that cute, risky breeding floor of style fermentation—Silicon Valley-backed music giants had been necessary in largely two methods: They substantiated the Playlist Period (which Soundcloud had already been experimenting with in far more thrilling trend, although on a a lot smaller scale), and in consequence they created a tradition depending on singles. The logic skewed to our frenzied instances. We moved at lightspeed, which meant there was no time to labor over hour-long albums. The cult of the only finest mirrored one other fashionable phenomenon that outlined this decade: virality. Singles—Cardi B’s “Bodak Yellow”; Carley Rae Jepsen’s “Name Me Perhaps”—turned the conduit; an optimum pathway to seize the second and all it needed to provide.
Music streamers are like museums: They home tradition, they don’t create it. Soundcloud was the lone exception. Despite the fact that it predates the Huge Three, it has had essentially the most enduring impression, culturally. Launched in 2008, SoundCloud got here of age this decade and erected a enterprise mannequin on community-oriented music streaming—for musicians, podcasters, DJs, mixed-media artists—that mirrored that plurality in each regard, quickly reworking right into a community whose boundaries had been delightfully porous. It gave us Soundcloud rap, some of the disruptive and compelling genres of the 2010s, and elevated cultural forces like Likelihood the Rapper, Lorde, and Lil Uzi Vert to pop royalty.