Unlike earlier generations, Gen Z – those aged 15 to 25 – have more audio options than ever before. And as this cohort adopts listening habits that are likely to last a lifetime, new research shows what is motivating how they consume music and podcasts alike.
The Culture Next report, commissioned each year by Spotify, shows that while earlier generations of young people struggled to fit in, Gen Zs are focused on standing out. And that is reflected in their musical taste. Seven in ten (71%) said they listen to at least one music artist or podcast that others would find niche, obscure, or experimental. And 80% said audio allows them to explore different sides of their personalities.
Yet American Gen Zs aren’t necessarily iconoclast loners. Nearly half (47%) have joined a digital community such as Subreddit or Discord for fans of a particular creator. In fact, the data also shows Gen Z is shaking up the creator-fan relationship, turning it from a one-way broadcast into a two-way exchange. The research finds 48% of Gen Z is more likely to follow a music creator on social media after listening to them, compared to 38% of Millennials who say that.
Role Of Spoken Word Audio
Thanks to podcasts, today’s younger listeners are adopting the habit of listening to spoken word content much earlier than previous generations who typically aged into the talk radio format. During the past year alone, average podcast listenership among Gen Zs in the U.S. increased by 62% on Spotify between Q1 2022 and the year prior. The streamer says 22% of 15- to 17-year-olds are listening to podcasts at least weekly compared to 41% among 18 to 24 year olds.
“Part of the draw of spoken-word content, according to Zs, is that podcasts serve as a safe space for processing their feels. Whether they’re feeling too vulnerable to speak up or still figuring out the right words to describe what they’re feeling, podcasts are a judgment-free zone,” the report says. “Podcasts have become a space for Gen Z to work through life’s most complex issues.”
The research finds more than half (55%) of American 18- to 24-year-olds said they turn to podcasts to get answers to hard or personal questions before talking to their families about it, and 62% said they listen to podcasts to inform the conversations they have with their friends.
That, along with the impact of the pandemic, is likely why Spotify says around the world the top podcast genre among its Gen Z users is Mental Health. It says the genre had a 54% increase in the number of streams among Gen Z listeners in the U.S. in Q1 compared to a year ago. That’s also no surprise considering the data also shows Gen Zs in the U.S. are more likely than Millennials to describe their generation as “stressed out” by a 74% to 47% margin.
Gen Z’s leaning into podcasting to solve its problems also helps figure out a hurdle marketers have long faced – how to reach young people. The report says thanks to the intimacy of the audio format, Gen Z feels especially close to their favorite hosts. That means host-read ads inside podcasts that are done in the style of the show can compliment more traditional brand marketing.
The stress that Gen Z is under is one reason why the authors of the report think the generation is embracing what it calls a “nouveau nostalgia.” The data shows seven in ten American Zs report they like listening to and watching media from earlier decades, because it reminds them of when things were simpler.
On television that means “Friends” is hotter than it has been since going off the air two decades ago, and when it comes to music there are some unexpected breakouts. Spotify said it recently set a nine-day streaming record for Celine Dion’s 1996 hit record “It's All Coming Back To Me Now.” And Nirvana and Coldplay saw a surge in streams among 18- to 24-year-olds globally between March 2022 and the prior year.
“Among Zs, the past is all fuel for the future — and that’s true for more than music. 80% of American Zs like when brands bring back old aesthetic styles, and 74% love when brands produce retro products or content,” the report says.
Spotify’s 2022 Culture Next report is based on surveys of Gen Zs conducted by Lucid in March and April in 17 countries around the world, including the U.S., Canada and Mexico with 650 to 750 respondents in each country. Download the full report HERE.