Written by Matt Griffiths, CEO of Youth Music
As ABBA prepare to launch their highly-anticipated new album this week, it got me thinking about other musical legends of yesteryear, and who might be considered their equivalent counterparts storming the industry today.
Gen Z is more exposed to the vast world of music than any other age group. As people have gravitated from Vinyls to playlists and radio to streaming services, today’s teens and young adults have taken a fluid approach to musical genres, as they show an unprecedented eagerness to shed labels and venture into new sounds, cultures and experiences.
A few weeks ago, we celebrated the most forward-thinking projects and people in music nationwide at The Youth Music Awards. That's inspired us to honour the Gen Z favourites revolutionising the industry in our ‘This Generation’ list.
The list has been compiled to highlight how artists of 2021 are not only judged on their music but also their social contributions, and that the expectation by the modern day fan is for their heroes to be so much more than just a musician.
All of the artists on the list are ambassadors for key causes such as gender equality, LGBTQIA+ rights, mental health and wellbeing, body positivity and other social and political issues.
Youth Music’s ‘This Generation’ List:
BILLIE EILISH IS GEN Z’S MADONNA
Like Madonna, Billie Eilish quickly rose to fame, becoming a household name recognisable in every corner of the globe. From writing the new Bond theme song, to reinventing her style and challenging gender boundaries, Eilish cemented her icon status amongst Gen Z listeners in a manner reminiscent of Madonna, when she won millions of hearts around the world decades ago.
LIL NAS X IS GEN Z’S DAVID BOWIE
David Bowie was a pioneer of his generation as he tackled gender and social norms with his transformative looks and unrelenting commitment in pushing for equality, all while creating music for the ages. Today, we see Lil Nas X stepping into his role as Gen Z’s ultimate male musical icon. From his string of hit singles, to his powerful videos, Montero Lamar Hill has become an idol for young listeners, and an avid advocate for the queer community and people of colour more widely.
BTS ARE GEN Z’S ABBA
I challenge you to find a single music fan who doesn’t know ABBA - it’s impossible. The emblematic band, forever known for their catchy hits like ‘Dancing Queen’ and ‘Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!’, have paved the way for young K-Pop musical group BTS to step into the scene and build their very own empire with a young audience. Just as ABBA covered a wide spectrum of themes in their multiple albums, BTS creates music that speaks to the struggles faced by the youth of today: from bullying, to mental health issues and everything in between - reaching millions of listeners.
HALSEY IS GEN Z’S CELINE DION
To an older audience, Celine Dion’s voice and musical style is recognisable from miles away. As the quintessential female vocalist of her generation, she won multiple awards and wrote timeless hits, like Titanic’s theme song, ‘My Heart Will Go On’. The same can be said about Gen Z top charter Halsey. Her slow and steady rise to fame has made her a force to be reckoned with today, as millions of listeners look up to her for her distinct vocals, relatable lyrics and, most importantly, her fight to abolish gender norms and her advocacy for mental health.
RAG N BONE MAN IS GEN Z’S FRANK SINATRA
Every generation has its iconic voice, one you just won’t forget - and Gen Z is no exception. Whilst Frank Sinatra wowed crowds and graced films with his unforgettable voice, Rag ‘n’ Bone Man has stepped in to scratch the itch amongst young listeners as he achieves cult status with billions of views and streams.
CHILDISH GAMBINO IS GEN Z’S JOHN LENNON
Not only one of the most iconic musical legends, and part of arguably the biggest band of all time, John Lennon was also regarded as much for his endorsement of a wide range of progressive political causes and using his music to promote change. Similarly, Childish Gambino uses his music to address social injustice, with tracks such as ‘This is America’ also acting as powerful social commentary pieces.
LIZZO IS GEN Z’S LIZA MINNELLI
Known for her commanding stage presence and as an outspoken advocate of the LGBTQIA+ community, Liza Minnelli broke boundaries with her hold over stage and screen in Hollywood. Today, Gen Z female R&B icon Lizzo is continuing to break boundaries as she strives for body neutrality, as well as being known for her unique star quality, with young music lovers all over the world rocking to her instantly recognisable tunes, like ‘Good As Hell’ and ‘Truth Hurts’.
STORMZY IS GEN Z’S DR. DRE
It’s no surprise that Dr. Dre is considered the Greatest Of All Time when it comes to rap and hip-hop music. As the man behind some of the genre’s biggest tunes, like ‘Still D.R.E’, he has also worked behind the scenes to help other household names in their rise to fame - like Eminem. Today, we are seeing Stormzy rise up the ranks as this generation’s icon. From his hits ‘Shut Up’ and ‘I’m Back’, to his fight for social justice, he is a role model for the young generation.
At Youth Music, we’re all about shaping the future of the industry, and celebrating young, innovative talent. We want to celebrate the next generation, who are redefining what it means to be an artist in a myriad of compelling and creative ways.
Gen Z musicians are shaking up the music world by pushing boundaries and speaking up for the causes that matter. Whilst earlier generations have had their fair share of icons, we think the latest artists deserve to carry the fire, and we can’t wait to see what they do next.
You may also like...
Learn more about the first round of organisations receiving grants from our Incubator Fund, designed to help open up access to sustainable careers in music for people aged 18-25, particularly those who are underrepresented; and to support creative employers to innovate and incubate new and diverse talent.
Are you aged 18-25 and chasing a career in music, but finding it tough, closed off and hard to break in to?
Start finding your way in with Youth Music's NextGen Community.