The Soundtrack Of A Generation: Behind Gen Z And Millennials’ Music Preferences

Spotify’s Culture Next report explores Gen Z and Millennials’ listening habits vis-a-vis the Covid-19 pandemic, digital trends, and last year’s social justice movements.

The Gen Z and Millennial Landscape

According to this report, after a challenging year ravaged by the pandemic, Gen Zers desperately want to resume events that are seen as traditional markers of adulthood. They’re keener than millennials to leave virtual events, especially after heavily using music and podcasts as a way to decrease loneliness during the peak of the pandemic. 

Millennials are facing different challenges: they’re trying to re-establish lost connections, advance in their careers and start a family. Millennials see podcast hosts as friends and seem to favour nostalgic content, such as decades playlists, over new songs. 

Millennials and Gen Zers distinguish themselves from previous generations by being the ones that are actively promoting a more inclusive culture that embraces minorities. According to Spotify findings, 53% of Millennials and Gen Zers who use Spotify said that they actively sought content from diverse creators in 2020. 

Trend 1: Sound Escape

77% of millennials and 67% of Gen Zers in the U.K use audio as a de-stressor. 

Millennials and Gen Zers are using audio as a way to destress and reach self-actualisation. For millennials, nostalgic sounds are super popular and make them feel connected to their roots. For Gen Zers, audio is an integral part of their DIY self-care and wellness routine. By tuning in to self-care podcasts and ambient sounds, they are enriching their lives by taking care of their mental well-being. 

Trend 2: Blurred lines

60% of millennials living in the U.K feel that audio is the most immersive out of all the different media forms. 

Millennials and Gen Zers are becoming increasingly immersed in a reality that blurs the virtual and the tangible. When it comes to concerts, Gen Zers are eager to return back to traditional, IRL concerts while millennials are more than happy to continue attending virtual concerts. This constant navigation between the virtual and the real shapes the experiences of millennials and Gen Zers and is driven by one of the most immersive forms of entertainment: audio. 

For both generations, navigating between these two spaces is an everyday reality. Hybrid real-virtual experiences, driven by new forms of content, are becoming increasingly popular. A key example is gaming. Millennial and Gen Z gamers are swapping game soundtracks with their own playlists while playing. In fact, 65% of millennials and 56% of Gen Zers agree that curating their own gaming playlist is important for them. 

Trend 3: Symbiotic Creation

76% of millennials stated that receiving feedback from their audience while creating content/art is an important part of their creative process. 

Artists and content creators are forming symbiotic relationships with each other and with their fans. 

Fans are no longer seen as passive; they’re now perceived as an important part of the creative process as they can make or break an artist/content creator’s career. 

Gen Zers, in particular, are well-versed in reposting, duetting, remixing and re-arranging content using apps and social media tools. They’re more interested in artists and content creators that encourage them to create their very own content than those who seek to maintain that artist mystique. 

Psychologists have also found that fan communities and fandoms help teenagers and young adults form a sense of identity and belonging. Beyond supporting artists, fandoms and user groups such as Kpop fans and TikTokers have been key in banding together to support social justice movements such as BLM and get involved in the U.S presidential campaign. 

Millennial and Gen Z listeners are more involved in their favourite artist’s creative progress than the previous generations. They use social media to send artistic feedback to their favourite artist in the form of lyric and music suggestions. By doing this, the traditional fourth wall between the artist and the fan has been irrevocably replaced with the concept of collaboration. 

Creators Trend 

Trend 1: The “It” Source

41% of all global listeners say they trust podcast ads more than traditional ads. 81% say that they’ve taken action after hearing a podcast ad.

Millennials and Gen Z’s sense of trust in traditional social institutions are lower than it ever was. They’re looking for alternative sources of information to find the truth about current affairs. For these two generations, Podcasters have emerged as authentic, accessible, relatable, and trustworthy sources of truth. 

Podcasters differ from traditional broadcasters in the way they deliver content: podcasters are seen as more authentic since they largely don’t have a set script. They’re seen as raw, vulnerable, and real: three values that are important for both millennials and Gen Zers. In fact, they’re more likely to take action after hearing a podcast ad than a traditional ad. 

Trend 2: Representation

50% of millennials and 43% of Gen Zers living in the U.K said that they’ve actively sought more content from diverse content creators in 2020. 

Millennials and Gen Zers are demanding representation. Content creators from these two generations are bypassing traditional gatekeepers and creating their own content that they then disseminate using social media. 

Audio creators who feel that their stories have been ignored for too long are finding new and innovative ways of bringing their stories and opinions to the public. They’re reaching a wider audience and proving to everyone that diverse voices can sell. In the U.S market, podcast listeners who self-identify as Other, Black, Latinx or Asian surpassed white listeners’ growth rate in 2020. 

Trend 3: Cultural Curation

64% of global Gen Z creators said that digital technology has facilitated cultural curation. 

Cultural curation is a massive Gen Z and millennial trend. Cultural curation helps Gen Zers forge their own identity, while millennials use it to keep their audience interested in their brand. This trend has proven to change lives: content creators that know how to use it to their advantage are launching brands, forming new relationships and forging brand partnerships. 

Nowadays, cultural curation is as important as creating original material – young artists do not shy away from adopting sounds from other artists, cultures, genres and decades, and making them their own. Playlist curation, in particular, is seen as the ultimate expression of this magpie intellect. Creators are using playlists to showcase their interest and enhance their brand by highlighting go-to tracks, artists and influences. 

Final notes

Digital technology has empowered millennials and Gen Zers to express themselves fully and to connect with similar individuals from all across the globe. In a world where the lines between the real and the virtual are becoming increasingly blurred, audio is employed as a self-soothing mechanism, educational resource, and brand-boosting machine. By using audio as a tool for change, millennials and Gen Zers are shifting the narrative and doing their part in building a more inclusive society where unique stories are celebrated instead of being suppressed. 

Download the full report


Janelle knows a thing or two about the music industry. Having been involved in the industry since the age of 13, she's now involved in a variety of music-related projects and is always keen to share industry tips 'n' tricks with fellow musicians.