(Header image via YouTube.)
Gen Z is known for their devout love of music, but with school, extracurricular activities, and time with friends and family taking up their schedule, it can be hard to find time to just sit and intentionally enjoy listening to it. But with the onset of COVID-19, we’ve got more time on our hands than ever, and artists are using this time of national unrest to share their voices on the issues they care about. Your teens may be feeling pressed to discover what artists are actually saying through their songs, which gives us all the more reason as parents and caring adults to spend time getting to know the messages of the music our kids listen to.
As 2020 passes the halfway mark, our culture has seen a ton of new music develop, but we’ve got the top 5 albums Gen Z is listening to. We encourage you to explore some of this music your teen might be listening to and start a brand new conversation today!
The Weeknd — After Hours
When COVID-19 hit, many artists postponed releasing their albums because they couldn’t do public press releases to promote their work. The Weeknd (real name Abel Tesfaye) was one of the few artists who trusted his fans to share his music organically, and it paid off big time. After Hours continues The Weeknd’s trend of dark, honest R&B music, along with more prominent 80s influences like the Billboard Hot 100 and TikTok hit “Blinding Lights.” Now the most-streamed artist on Spotify, The Weeknd continues to find success crooning about the pitfalls of chasing empty pleasures. While we hope teens can’t personally relate to some of the lyrical content regarding drugs, sex, and losing faith, there’s no doubting his authenticity, a trait that continues to be incredibly important to Gen Z.
Conversation starter: The Weeknd is unafraid of being honest about himself and the ramifications of poor choices he makes, yet he has seemed to keep pursuing empty pleasures during his entire career. Can you find redeeming qualities in his music or persona? What are your thoughts on his honesty about his struggles and lifestyle choices?
Lauv — ~ how i’m feeling ~
Luav isn’t afraid to wear his heart on his sleeve. In ~ how i’m feeling ~, the pop artist envisioned the concept of the “One Man Boyband,” six different personalities of Lauv that come out through the lyrics of the 21-track album. Throughout the album, Lauv focuses on the emotional side of dealing with things like modern relationships, discovering identity, and mental health. Though his transparency can seem a bit depressing, the songs remain upbeat, fun, and relatable for Gen Z as they too work through understanding different sides of themselves (similar to the themes found in Dixie D’Amelio’s “Be Happy").
Conversation starter: Lauv explores mental health and the different sides of himself through creating music. What are some ways that you process the emotions you feel? Is there any way I can help you to find better outlets to process your thoughts and emotions?
Dua Lipa — Future Nostalgia
Australian pop star Dua Lipa wants to get you dancing. She self-described her new album’s vibe as the soundtrack for a “disco dancercise class,” and throughout its 11 tracks, Lipa sings her “female alpha” identity into existence. With the help of Billboard charts and a TikTok trend using her song “Don’t Start Now,” her songs have soared in popularity, and Gen Z is sure to enjoy her fun, retro sound. Future Nostalgia has a prominent theme of female empowerment, which she primarily expresses through breakups and sex. With the overbearing production of the songs, it can be easy to get hooked on the beat without understanding some of the problematic messages underneath.
Conversation starter: Dua Lipa’s lyrics seem to present the idea that the key to feeling empowered is to have fun and do whatever you want, with whoever you want. What do you think of this view? Do you think there are healthier ways to find empowerment through hardships?
Drake — Dark Lane Demo Tapes
Would the list be complete if we didn’t mention Drake? Dark Lane Demo Tapes serves as a less-cohesive mixtape of sorts, showcasing Drake’s ability to throw together a group of random throwaway songs and still get a lot of buzz. Demo Tapes is much more experimental than most of Drake’s previous work, and the production’s diversity nods to the “genre-less” trend that Gen Z has adopted. He even arguably crafted a song just so it could be a TikTok trend. Drake’s music focuses on complicated relationships with friends and past lovers, and there’s always a healthy dose of braggadocio about his prominence in the music industry. The album is more reflective than most of Drake’s work, talking about things like life and love.
Conversation starter: After this much time in the music industry, Drake seems to be willing to make whatever kind of song will be popular in order to keep his “goat” status. Do you think this trend-following is to stay authentic and relevant, or is he losing his originality?
BTS — MAP OF THE SOUL: 7
Though they may not be for everyone, K-Pop boyband BTS is everything to the fans who listen to them. An extension of last year’s MAP OF THE SOUL: PERSONA, MAP OF THE SOUL: 7 continues the focus on the importance of self-discovery, and the self-love that should follow suit. BTS did a press tour (pre-COVID-19) in which they shut down NYC’s Grand Central Terminal and did an episode of Carpool Karaoke. This mainstream exposure showed people BTS members’ authentic personalities, which earned them points in Gen Z’s world (even if teens don’t understand the Korean language). As they expand their “genre-less” sound and promote their honest, positive messages, BTS continues to be a global phenomenon.
Conversation starter: BTS has always stressed the importance of their relationship with their fans, and how they use their music as a way to celebrate this connection, even if in many ways it's hard for them to actually “connect” to English-speaking listeners. What about BTS and their music connects with you, and what do you like about it?