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Report Shows Music Streaming Set New Record in 2020, With 17% U.S. Increase Led by Huge Lil Baby Tally

Among the big winners of the year in MRC's study: Taylor Swift's album sales, Roddy Ricch's blockbuster single, country music streaming, Latin pop and the vinyl boom. To the surprise of many, the pandemic seems to have ended up being a boon for streaming.

lil baby rapper hip hop album
Kenneth Cappello

Music streaming was down in the early days of the pandemic, but that turned around in a big hurry as quarantining went on — so much so that the year 2020 ended up setting a streaming record in America, increasing 17% for the year to end with an unprecedented 872.6 billion streams.

The flagship artist for that wild increase? Lil Baby, whose “My Turn” album, released in late February, ended the year with a total of 3.9 billion on-demand streams for its tracks.

These are among the stats included in a report released Thursday by MRC Data, which encompassed a great deal of information about developing trends in the music industry as well as year-end charts collated for Billboard magazine.

The MRC study showed that music streaming declined 5.7% during the first two months of lockdown, a precipitous drop-off that set off major alarms at the time. Yet the uptick as things turned around in succeeding months was far more dramatic, leading to the 17% annual increase. Clearly, an initially befuddled populace realized, as housebound months went by, that there is no self-care quite like music.

The streaming uptick was even greater globally than it was domestically. International audio on-demand streaming was up 22.6% in 2020.

“My Turn” was the most consumed album of the year overall, according to MRC, with 2.63 million album units tallied, Taylor Swift’s “Folklore” came in second in these calculations with 2.2 million album-equivalent units.

(Previously, a Rolling Stone year-end report released earlier this week had Swift coming in first and Lil Baby second, but Billboard and Rolling Stone make their final calculations based on different data sets, with Billboard/PMC including video streams, in which Lil Baby had an outsized presence, as well as audio, among other differences.)

As actual album sales go, Swift had no competition. “Folklore” was the only album of 2020 to top a million in full-album sales, finishing the year with 1.28 million copies sold.

In the U.S., the year’s most consumed song was Roddy Ricch’s “The Box,” with 1.3 billion streams and 1.7 billion audience impressions at radio. Internationally, the biggest track of the year was “WAP” by Cardi B featuring Megan Thee Stallion.

Speaking of Cardi and Megan: Another milestone noted by MRC was the presence of five female rappers as either the primary or featured artist on a No. 1 song on Billboard’s Hot 100 during the year — compared with a total of six in the entire history of the chart prior to 2020. Besides Cardi and Megan, Nicki MInaj, M.I.A and Doja Cat were the other female rappers to land in that top spot.

The news was not so great for digital music sales, as consumers continue to devalue ownership of their music when streaming is so handy. Global song sales were down 19.2% and the decline was even harsher in the U.S., with a decline of 22.3%, from from 301 tracks sold to 234 million.

Total album sales, including both physical and digital copies were down 9.2% in the U.S.

However, the physical sales decline was entirely on the CD side. Vinyl is continuing to enjoy boom times and looking less and less like anything that can be considered a fad or even niche market. In the U.S., vinyl was up a staggering 46.2 percent, representing a leap from 18.8 million LP copies sold to 27.5 million.

Trends were encouraging in several individual genres. Latin music fans particularly upped their listening habits after the pandemic began, with Spanish-language pop experiencing a 26.9% increase overall, and 28.8% in on-demand streams, since the beginning of the pandemic.

Country music streaming has long lagged behind other genres, but big leaps were made in 2020. A record was set in the week ending July 9 when country songs were streamed 1.4 billion times. Some of the responsibility for the leap lies with new superstar Luke Combs, whose “What You See Is What You Get” album had 95.6 million streams in its debut week, marking the first time a country album had the highest number of streams for any album in any genre in a particular week.

On the list of the year’s most-consumed albums, Lil Baby’s “My Turn” and Swift’s “Folklore” were followed by Pop Smoke’s posthumously released album in third place (2.198 album equivalent units), then the Weeknd. Juice WRLD, Post Malone, Lil Uzi Vert, Roddy Ricch, Harry Styles and Luke Combs to round out the top 10.

The list of actual album sales was led, as previously mentioned, by “Folklore,” followed by BTS’ “Map of the Soul: 7” in second place. Rounding out the top 10 in pure album sales were the Weeknd, Styles, Billie Eilish, Lady Gaga, Juice WRLD, Halsey, Eminem and Swift again (with her December release “Evermore”) in the Nos. 3-10 spots. As physical albums go, excluding digital sales, BTS beat Swift for the No. 1 spot.

Styles had the top vinyl release, selling 232,000 LP copies of “Fine Line.” Eilish came in second and actually had two releases in the vinyl top 10.

In digital song consumption, which includes both streaming and downloads, Ricch’s No. 1 “The Box,” at 7.6 million song units, was followed by the Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights” with 6 million. As mentioned earlier, “The Box” racked up a phenomenal 1.3 billion streams, counting both audio and video; the second biggest on-demand streaming song was Future and Drake’s “Life Is Good” with 1 billion.

BTS’ “Dynamite” was the biggest seller in the diminishing market for individual track downloads, with 1.3 million. “Blinding Lights” was a distant second place with 580,000 paid track sales, and Gabby Barrett’s “I Hope” came in third with 351.000 song sales.

The Weeknd was in first place on one chart — top radio songs, with 3.8 billion audience impressions for “Blinding Lights.” Post Malone’s “Circles” was the second biggest radio song, at 3.5 billion impressions.

When the pie was sliced up by genre, R&B/hip-hop was on top with 28.2% of overall volume, followed by rock with 19.5%, pop with 12.9%, country with 7.9%, Latin with 4.7%, dance/electronic with 3.2% and Christian/gospel with 1.9%.