Analysis

Billie Eilish wins big in Apple awards and Spotify 2019 stats


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What we need, said almost nobody in the music industry, are a few more awards ceremonies. But now we have two, from the world’s biggest subscription music-streaming services.

Spotify’s first awards will take place in Mexico City next March, driven entirely by its data, but Apple Music’s first event took place overnight, chosen purely by the company’s editorial team. The simplification of Spotify as ‘algorithms’ and Apple Music as ‘humans’ is a complete fallacy, but dammit if the two services’ awards aren’t playing right in to it.

Spotify’s awards don’t even have nominees yet, but the company did (also overnight) just release its ‘Wrapped 2019’ data for the most popular artists and music on its platform this year. So what can we learn? There’s fun to be had comparing the 2019 stream-count for Billie Eilish on these fierce rivals.

On Apple Music, which gave her three of its five inaugural awards (Global Artist of the Year, Songwriter of the Year (with her brother Finneas), and Album of the Year, Eilish’s album was streamed more than 1bn times. On Spotify? Eilish’s catalogue was streamed 6bn times in 2019. It’s not a perfectly direct comparison, but it’s near enough, and about right given the respective services’ scale.

Who else did well across Apple’s awards and Spotify’s year-end roundup? Sit down for this bombshell: ‘Old Town Road’ was quite popular. Apple awarded it ‘Song of the Year’, although it didn’t say how many streams Lil Nas X’s track notched up.

On Spotify, the Billy Ray Cyrus-featuring remix was the fifth most-streamed track this year with 801m plays. Camila Cabello and Shawn Mendes’ ’Señorita’ took top spot in those rankings with 1.02bn streams.

Meanwhile, Post Malone was the most-streamed artist on Spotify with more than 6.5bn streams in 2019 so far – less than 2018 winner Drake’s 8.2bn that year, by the way. After past years with all-male top-artist lists, Spotify will be pleased that Eilish (second) and Ariana Grande (third) made it this year.

Lizzo got Apple’s fifth and final prize for ‘Breakthrough Artist of the Year’, while the company also celebrated itself with the design of its awards (“Apple’s custom silicon wafer suspended between a polished sheet of glass and a machined and anodised aluminium body. The wafers start as a perfect 12-inch disc of silicon with nanometer level flatness. Copper layers are deposited and patterned by ultraviolet lithography to create connections between billions of transistors,” since you asked).

Meanwhile, Spotify revealed that (another bombshell, have that chair handy!) Drake was its most-streamed artist of the decade, ahead of Ed Sheeran, Post Malone, Ariana Grande and Eminem. Spotify will be launching its annual ‘Wrapped’ feature for listeners, showing everyone their own most-streamed artists, on Thursday (5 December).

We’ve yet to find out what role, if any, ultraviolet lithography will play in Spotify’s awards in March, but the bigger picture here is that for DSPs, awards and year-end roundups are, yes, about celebrating artists – but also about sending out carefully-tuned messages to music fans and the music industry about their scale and culture. More the latter for Apple, with its awards re-emphasising the company’s alignment with Billie Eilish; reminding people of the human-curation thing; and celebrating diversity.

Spotify may well punch back on some of those come March, but scale will also be its key message: look how big it is in Latin America; look how big artists have got in countries a long way from their homelands; and look how big the overall numbers are.

Music-streaming still isn’t a two-horse race, but the battle of scale and culture between Spotify and Apple will still be one of its defining traits in 2020, as it has been in 2019.

Stuart Dredge

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