Radio vs Online Streaming

Radio vs. Online Streaming. Most Played Songs Globally In 2020

By Tommaso Rocchi.
Published January 6th 2021.

Published January 6th 2021.

What a year was this one! With all the changes that happened in our everyday lives, music seemed to be one of the few things that kept us sane during this troublesome 2020. And with the inevitable disappearance of live events, many people ended up increasing the amount of music that they listened to on streaming services and traditional radio. 

According to Statista, 18% of heavy radio listeners in the US said they will listen to more radio as a result of the pandemic, and 79% said that they would continue to listen to the same amount of time.

But aside from the increased availability of time, this year brought many exceptional tracks from both new artists and international superstars. So, without further ado, let’s take a look at the most played tracks and artists on the radio stations WARM tracks around the world and how different is the chart compared to the biggest streaming service, Spotify.

Top 5 songs

The Weeknd dominated both Spotify and radio charts with his extremely successful single Blinding Lights. The song counts 3,747,891 plays on the radio and a whopping 1,763,233,948 streams on Spotify, making it the artist’s most successful song to date, outclassing previous hits The Hills and Starboy. Dua Lipa had another phenomenal year thanks to her single Don’t Start Now, landing at second place in the airplay chart and 5th in the Spotify one. Aside from these two tracks, there is a clear difference between the two charts in terms of popularity. While it’s normal to have a bit of spillover of older tracks in a new year, the radio was feeling particularly nostalgic during 2020 since 14 of the top 20 songs of this year were officially released as singles in 2019. Songs like Blinding Lights, Don’t Start Now, Dance Monkey, Circles and Memories ended up securing very high positions, both on Spotify and traditional radio. 

Top 5 Male Artists

When looking at the top male artists, the two charts seem to be very different. The radio airplay confirms the top positions to The Weeknd (thanks to Blinding Lights) and Justin Bieber due to the number of singles and features he had this year. On the other hand, Spotify saw the dominion of Latin and hip-hop artists whose extensive body of works outclassed even the extraordinary performance of Blinding Lights. Bad Bunny had a very prolific year since he released three full-length records, including the highly acclaimed album YHLQMDLG. Drake seemed to have benefited more from past tracks and sporadic features more than from new releases, similar to Ed Sheeran’s situation on the airplay chart.

TOP-MALE

Top 5 Female Artists

Dua Lipa had an extraordinary 2020 when looking at the overall global radio plays thanks to her album Future Nostalgia, which allowed her to land six singles on the charts with a total of 6,390,533 plays around the world. Ava Max benefitted as well from having a massive exposure in terms of the number of singles and having an album released in the same year. On the streaming side, the queen of 2020 is still Billie Eilish, followed by Taylor Swift and Ariana Grande.

It’s interesting to see how Taylor Swift’s two last unconventional albums (folklore and evermore) were highly acclaimed on Spotify but ended up getting almost no recognition in the radio world. Her single cardigan was the only one to get programmed and got less airplay than her older hits like Shake It Off orYou Need to Calm Down.


In conclusion, we can see how the streaming and the radio world behave very differently in terms of top artists and songs. Catchy melodies and more traditional approaches to the song structure is still getting a lot of attention on global radio, favoring international superstars like The Weekend, Dua Lipa, and Ed Sheeran. This doesn’t mean that alternative music isn’t played on the radio. There are thousands of international radio stations and local college radio programming various genres and breaking new music. 

On the streaming side, users seem to gravitate more towards trap/hip hop and even Latin music, having the possibility to select the music they want and therefore having more freedom to experiment with different genres. This is proven by how different the top artists’ charts are from each other, mainly due to the different consumption methods.

If we look at Taylor Swift, her only single was poorly received in terms of airplay, presumably due to its unconventional style and mood, making it difficult to position it on the regular radio programming. On the other side, on Spotify, where users can listen to the full record, her last two full albums performed significantly better which could have also been influenced by the way these albums were marketed: no announcements nor singles released in advance.

We saw how streaming services and radio possess very different dynamics due to the different ways of consumption of their audiences and the specifics of the two media. A single could work exceptionally well on the radio, but it could be easily dispersed on a streaming service. On the other hand, less traditional artists could have a better resonance on a platform like Spotify. No size fits all. If you are releasing music you should check both your radio and streaming numbers to get a clear overview of your music’s performance.