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If you look at the Billboard Hot 100, you will immediately notice that there are quite a number of songs, such as Ed Sheeran’s “Shivers”, and Elton John and Dua Lipa’s “Cold Heart,” that are holdovers from 2021. What’s the reason behind this? Are hit songs already becoming a thing of the past?

Hit songs and streaming

Streaming, in particular, editorial playlists, have been a major driving force in propelling songs to “hit level” status. What we are seeing in April 2022 is in contrast to April 2021, where hit songs such as Olivia Rodrigo’s “Drivers License,” Justin Bieber’s “Peaches” and Lil Nas X’s “Montero (Call Me by Your Name) dominate the charts. What’s more, all releases were long-lasting hit songs. 

The lack of hit songs in 2022 so far may be due to the fact that big labels are now using streaming and the digital space as “show-and-prove.”

This means that while music industry gatekeepers are increasingly scouting the digital space for potential hit songs, the song already needs to have traction before it can cross over to radio and charts. Therefore, the digital and cultural aspects of the song need to sync to make it a hit, which can take weeks or in other cases months

Is TikTok still relevant in shaping hit songs?

In 2019 and mid-2020, the social media platform TikTok proved to be an instrumental music discovery platform; so much so that A&Rs flocked to the platform to find the next breakout star. Lil Nas X, in particular, served as the poster boy for TikTok success, after his country rap hit song “Old Town Road” entered the Billboard charts in March 2019.  

TikTok’s popularity led to an explosion in its user base. This has led TikTok to become more diverse in terms of the music that becomes popular on the platform. In addition to brand new songs, TikTokers are discovering album in-betweeners from years ago and rediscovering them. The most popular example is the resurrection of Fleetwood Mac’s classic “Dreams”, which reached the Hot 100s top 15 in 2020. Other songs, such as Arctic Monkey’s “505” and Frank Ocean’s “Lost” were discovered again this way. 

Moreover, the TikTok artist boom came at a cost, with the focus on a quick hit, algorithms, and streams taking precedence over long-term artist development. In 2021, British artist Raye made headlines after she claimed that she could not release an album after 7 years with Polydor. Raye ended up in a situation where she frantically looked at numbers and stats to get the go-ahead to make her first album.

A-listers not releasing music

Another reason we still have no clear hit songs so far is that A-listers such as Ariana Grande, Justin Bieber and Cardi B have not released any songs this year. Other artists who have released music – such as Dua Lipa – are competing with their previous hit songs.

In addition, many A-list artists are now focusing on touring and the festival season, after losing a lot of money due to cancelled tours in 2020 and 2021. As almost every show and festival returns this year, many want to connect with their fans via live shows and recoup the money they lost due to cancelled shows and tours.

Therefore, a combination of industry catch-up, touring, the post-TikTok boom, and A-listers not releasing music has led to a hit-less 2022 so far. However, with Harry Styles’ anticipated third album release coming up this May, this is set to change. In fact, his song “As It Was” is set to break the 2022 mould and become the year’s first proper hit song. 

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