2019 in music streaming: Luka Chuppi, Kabir Singh emerge as biggest Indian albums, Old Town Road dominates US, UK charts
For all the talk at conferences about non-film music staking its claim in the hearts of Indian listeners, the year-end streaming charts are dominated by Bollywood, and to some extent, English-language hits. Perhaps 'Duniyaa' is the default No. 1 song of the year, and its parent soundtrack Luka Chuppi the joint biggest album of 2019 along with the Kabir Singh OST.
When we look at back at 2019, a few songs will stand out as definitive popular culture moments of the year. Like, for example, 'Azadi' by Chandigarh-based electronic music producer Dub Sharma, a sanitised version of which was used in Gully Boy. Over the last month, I’ve heard the words of Kanhaiya Kumar’s JNU speech, which forms the basis of the track, being melodically chanted at anti-CAA and anti-NRC protests in Mumbai and each time, the feeling – even without the aid of Sharma’s dubstep beats and rapper Divine’s verses – is electric.
'Azadi' was a mid-level hit, but it was one of the defining songs of 2019. The rest of the year’s biggest tunes weren’t quite as political, at least not as obviously. There was little doubt that 'Old Town Road' by Lil Nas X, which was controversially barred from Billboard’s country chart, would end up as the No. 1 song of 2019 in the US. Its 19-week run at the top of the publication’s all-genre Hot 100 list broke the all-time record for the most weeks at No. 1.
A word about Billboard’s year-end chart through: it covers the period from the middle of November 2018 to the middle of November 2019. I understand the need to prepare and put out annual wrap-ups before everybody’s focus shifts to the holidays, but excluding over 10 per cent of the current year doesn’t give the truest picture of its most popular tunes. Not that the No. 1 would have been different; nothing came close to 'Old Town Road', which repeatedly broke records for stream counts, which are the main determinant of the charts these days.
'Old Town Road' is also the biggest song released in 2019 in the UK, where the year-end survey will no doubt be topped by 'Someone You Loved' by Scottish singer-songwriter Lewis Capaldi, another indication that the UK has a thing for red-headed balladeers (see Adele, Ed Sheeran). But neither 'Old Town Road' nor 'Someone You Loved' was the longest-running No. 1 in the country.
That honour went to 'Dance Monkey' by Tones and I, which broke the record for the most time at the top by a solo female artist with 11 weeks. Tones and I is the alias of Australian vocalist-composer Toni Watson, who did a Lil Nas X in her home country by breaking the all-time record for the most weeks at No. 1 with a whopping 21. What’s almost as remarkable as that achievement is Watson’s backstory. She met her manager while busking in the beach town of Byron Bay.
Shifting our focus to India, the answer to the question “What was the No. 1 song of the year?” is “Depends on whom you ask." The launch of the much-anticipated official Indian music chart seems to be indefinitely delayed, so we have to look at the individual charts of audio-streaming services to find out what the top track of 2019 was here.
According to Apple Music, it was 'Apna Time Aayega' from Gully Boy, which surprisingly doesn’t figure even in the top fives of Gaana, JioSaavn or Spotify. Apple Music is particularly popular with hip-hop fans the world over, and in India too, it would seem.
Similarly, Spotify seems to be a favourite of international music fans, as it is the only service on which an English-language smash, 'Senorita' by Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello, was the year-end chart-topper.
On JioSaavn, the most played tune was the old-school romantic ballad 'Ve Maahi' from Kesari, while on Gaana, it was a leftover from last year, 'Aankh Maarey' from Simmba. On the Times Group-owned platform, the most streamed song released in 2019 was 'Duniyaa' from Luka Chuppi, the only hit to appear in the top five of all four DSPs.
Perhaps 'Duniyaa' is the default No. 1 song of the year, and its parent soundtrack Luka Chuppi the joint biggest album of 2019 along with the Kabir Singh OST. Hits from both films are among the most streamed tracks on all the services. They share similarities and differences. Like most Hindi film soundtracks these days, they’re both compilations of contributions by different composers.
The difference is that while Kabir Singh comprises originals, Luka Chuppi is made up entirely of remakes. 'Duniyaa' was first a Punjabi pop hit in 2016 for its singer Akhil. The soundtrack also marked another trend, the rather strange practice of having lyrics in Punjabi, no matter where a movie is set. Luka Chuppi takes place in Gwalior and Mathura.
For all the talk at conferences about non-film music staking its claim in the hearts of Indian listeners, the year-end charts are dominated by Bollywood, and to some extent, English-language hits. (The success of 'Senorita' makes me believe that Shawn Mendes or Camila Cabello might be the international star to tour our shores next.) Only two Indian pop tunes landed top five placements in 2019, and, incidentally, the biggest Bollywood label, T-Series, released both.
'Pachtaoge' uses a bit of help from the Hindi film industry, it’s sung by its busiest playback singer, Arijit Singh, and the video features one of its rising stars, Vicky Kaushal. 'Vaaste' on the other hand belongs to the sonic template of teenage love songs that were the hallmark of the 90s era of Indi-pop. Its lead vocalist Dhvani Bhanushali sings for films occasionally, but she has a closer connection with T-Series. Her father leads marketing, media and publishing at the record company.
With listenership split across various audio-streaming services, we should look at YouTube, which arguably provides a wider representation of nationwide music consumption. YouTube did not release a chart of its most viewed music videos in India during 2019, but it did reveal the top trending videos of the year. Interestingly, only one Bollywood track, 'Coca Cola' from Luka Chuppi, is in the top five, which is led by viral Tamil film hit 'Rowdy Baby', which was the seventh most watched music video globally. 'Vaaste' and Punjabi pop smashes, 'She Don’t Know' by Millind Gaba and 'Coka' by Sukh-E Muzical Doktorz complete the top five.
Top 5 most streamed tracks of 2019 on audio-streaming services:
1. 'Apna Time Aayega' from Gully Boy
2. 'Senorita' by Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello
3. 'Bekhayali' from Kabir Singh
4. 'Old Town Road' by Lil Nas X
5. 'Duniyaa' from Luka Chuppi
1. 'Aankh Maarey' from Simmba
2. 'Duniyaa' from Luka Chuppi
3. 'Coca Cola' from Luka Chuppi
4. 'Vaaste' by Dhvani Bhanushali and Nikhil D’Souza
5. 'Photo' from Luka Chuppi
1. 'Ve Maahi' from Kesari
2. 'Tera Ban Jaunga' from Kabir Singh
3. 'Duniyaa' from Luka Chuppi
4. 'O Saki O Saki' from Batla House
5. 'Pachtaoge' by Arijit Singh
1. 'Senorita' by Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello
2. 'Tujhe Kitna Chahne Lage' from Kabir Singh
3. 'Bekhayali' from Kabir Singh
4. 'Duniyaa' from Luka Chuppi
5. 'Ve Maahi' from Kesari
Top 5 trending music videos on YouTube in 2019:
1. 'Rowdy Baby' from Maari 2
2. 'Vaaste' by Dhvani Bhanushali and Nikhil D’Souza
3. 'She Don’t Know' by Millind Gaba
4. 'Coca Cola' from Luka Chuppi
5. 'Coka' by Sukh-E Muzical Doktorz
Amit Gurbaxani is a Mumbai-based journalist who has been writing about music, specifically the country's independent scene, for nearly two decades. He tweets @TheGroovebox
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