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Top 3 Niche Music Genres That Surged in Popularity in 2023 (Thanks to Social Media)

Cutecore, Eurodance, and Sad Girl Indie made their way to the mainstream.

Photo by Erik Mclean / Unsplash

You know those genres that make your Spotify algorithm scratch its head? Well, according to Chartmetric's Inaugural Year in Music report, it's not just streaming platforms that foster them; social media has a huge impact on the music genres taxonomy as well. Now, social media isn't just about stumbling upon these musical oddities; it's about building entire communities and fan bases around them.

From X (formerly Twitter) threads dissecting the latest cutecore releases or TikTok that revives the 90s eurodance tunes, social media has become a playground for niche music lovers to connect, geek out, and discover new music.

How social media & pop culture influence niche genres

A niche music genre is a style or category of music that appeals to a relatively small or specialised audience. Music genres are countless, and niche genres are the ones that build this vast music diversity. While these genres may not enjoy widespread commercial success, they often foster dedicated fan bases. Niche genres emerge from various cultural, regional, or historical influences, and they may cater to specific subcultures or communities.

Cutecore, with its pink and sparkly aesthetic, has provided a platform for up-and-coming female artists to express themselves in rap and hip-hop. The recent release of the Barbie movie in 2023, featuring Nicki Minaj and Ice Spice's infectious track "Barbie World," sparked a resurgence of Eurodance, breathing new life into the genre.

Meanwhile, TikTok has played a pivotal role in catapulting Sad Girl Indie into the spotlight. Dominated by talented queer female artists such as Mitski and boygenius, this genre has found a powerful platform on the popular social media app, amplifying their presence and influence in music.

What's more, according to the report, some songs and genres thrive more on certain platforms. For instance, YouTube stands out for its top-charting songs characterised by significant regional and genre diversity, reflecting the platform's robust presence in international markets. Among the 10 songs that maintained the longest tenure on the YouTube charts this year, only one track, "Flowers" by Miley Cyrus, represented an American artist. The remainder of the list comprised predominantly Latin and Asian artists, indicating the platform's influence across diverse cultures.

Much like the revival of catalogue music, niche genres found a renewed presence on TikTok this year.

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"On average, 47,218 tracks were ingested into Chartmetric and 22,224 tracks were released each day. From that bounty of new music, a few specific tracks bopped their way to the top of the charts, but it varied from platform to platform, with TikTok uncovering the lesser known ones."
Credit: Chartmetric
Credit: Chartmetric
Credit: Chartmetric

Here are three niche genres that experienced a surge in popularity thanks to social media, according to Chartmetric.

Cutecore Rap

Hip-hop's dominance appears to be undergoing shifts, and there's notable attention drawn towards the subcultures contributing to its vitality. Among these, the cutecore aesthetic, "all-pink and ultra-femme", stands out prominently, with a particular appeal to young women. This aesthetic has cheerful lyrics and is light-bass production-wise, often associated with Gen Z's nonchalant attitude towards societal norms.

Cutecore rap is characterised by its upbeat and emotional content, steering away from aggression, allowing female rappers to express themselves through a hyper-girly and digitally connected persona. Sonically, cutecore is drawing influences from Y2K and anime culture, with roots in Japanese aesthetics.

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And if you doubt this genre even exists at all, check our piece on how such music genres emerge.

Notable artists associated with the cutecore genre include e99, andi, Gomi, Ice Spice, Monaleo, BreezyLYN, Baby Tate, TiaCorine, and Coi Leray. TiaCorine's "FreakyT" has amassed 25.6 million Spotify streams, contributing to her popularity, while BreezyLYN's "Bad Bitches (Remix)" has 1.8 million Spotify streams and features on editorial playlists.

Cutecore is distinct from other Japanese aesthetics like Kawaii and Gurokawa, and it's part of a broader spectrum of aesthetics and subcultures related to cuteness and Japanese culture. Additionally, Menhera, a related subculture, explores themes of medication, suicide, and mystical powers.

This emergence of cutecore aesthetics in hip-hop marks a departure from the genre's historical male-dominated narrative and the prevalent hypersexualisation of female artists. Instead, it allows female rappers to express their femininity on their own terms, embracing elements traditionally associated with cuteness.

Ice Spice is one of the prominent figures in this scene, having transitioned from local recognition to mainstream success. Collaborations with artists like PinkPantheress and Nicki Minaj have propelled her further into the spotlight, contributing to the popularisation of the cutecore aesthetic, particularly within platforms like TikTok.

Alongside Ice Spice and Nicki Minaj, other notable figures like Manaleo and Coi Leray are also contributing to the establishment of a distinctive niche within hip-hop. Together, they are constructing a space where women can assert themselves and achieve parity within the music industry.

Eurodance

In recent times, TikTok has become a major platform for viral dance crazes. For instance, Pinegrove's 2014 song "Need 2" saw a surge in popularity on TikTok after a video of a user named @garrettlee39 dancing to a snippet of the song went viral, leading to a trend dubbed the #pinegroveshuffle. According to the report, "within a month, 'Need 2' has been featured in over 77k TikTok videos, over a 1000% increase from the 6.5k TikToks that had existed before Lee’s viral dance was posted."

@garrettlee39

Pine muthafreakin grove

♬ Need 2 - Pinegrove

Similarly, South African singer Tyla's afropop single "Water" sparked a viral dance challenge on TikTok, showcasing the influence of global music trends on social media.

In 2023, there was a resurgence of interest in 1990s pop culture as well, including the electronic sounds of Eurodance. Artists like David Guetta has experienced a resurgence on the Billboard charts by drawing inspiration from a well-known classic. His collaboration with Bebe Rexha in 2022, "I'm Good (Blue)," became one of his biggest hits to date and earned him a Grammy nomination after TikTok users discovered its homage to Eiffel 65's 1998 track "Blue (Da Ba Dee)."

Guetta has continued his success with "Baby Don't Hurt Me," a collaboration with Anne-Marie and Coi Leray that samples Haddaway's Eurodance classic "What Is Love."

Sad Girl Indie

Last but not least is the sad indie girl genre.

The genre has gained traction in recent years, particularly among teenage girls and young adults. Playlists with titles like "sad girl starter pack" and "Sad Indie" frequently feature artists such as Mitski and boygenius (a supergroup comprising Phoebe Bridgers, Lucy Dacus, and Julien Baker).

Much of the genre's growth is attributed to platforms like TikTok, virality on which that often leads to broader successes like Lizzy McAlpine’s "ceilings" since aspiring songwriters frequently use these platforms to showcase their demos, hoping to capture the attention of fans drawn to similar artists.

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Yet, if you're a musician reading this, you should know that TikTok's role in a lesser-known artist's career is slightly exaggerated. The narrative that "It Starts on TikTok," targeting artists and industry execs isn't entirely accurate. How come? Read our piece on TikTokification of music to find out. 

Some more genre insights from Chartmetric

Credit: Chartmetric 
  • Latin music carried its meteoric rise over the past few years into 2023 as its sound continues to expand and grow. K-pop also keeps growing in strength and has been one of the most talked about genres in the 2020s. Despite there being a relatively modest number of releases compared to other genres, the marketing prowess of the K-pop industry ensures its phenomenal success rate. Other genres to watch include Indian music, African music (like Afrobeats and amapiano), and J-pop, which are starting to gain traction globally.
  • The growth of streaming in India has loosened the stranglehold that Bollywood once had in the market.
  • In terms of volume, hip-hop/rap artists are the biggest presence in music, followed by pop, dance, and electronic artists.
  • A similar pattern follows for tracks, whose all-time most dominant genres are hip-hop/rap, rock, and pop.That being said, electronic, dance, and alternative music all took spots in the top 5 for the most common genres among 2023 track releases.
  • Though 39% of Spotify’s top artists in 2023 are pop musicians, only 24% of the most streamed songs were also pop.

🍿 Read the full report on niche genres here.

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