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Americans' tastes in music are changing, with world music gaining popularity

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

And from the screen now to the speaker - or at least the earbud.

MARIA SHERMAN: Hip-hop and R&B have been the largest musical genres in popularity globally, dethroning rock music for a long time.

RASCOE: That's Maria Sherman. She covers the music business for the Associated Press. She says the world surpassed 4 trillion streams last year. That's trillion with a T. And it's not just hip-hop and R&B stealing market share from rock. Here in the U.S., country music is in a new period of growth - driven not by the Grand Ole Opry or even tweens rediscovering Taylor Swift's fiddly numbers from earlier in her career. Sherman points to tracks like this one - "You Proof" by Morgan Wallen.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU PROOF")

MORGAN WALLEN: (Singing) I need something you proof, something stronger than I'm used to. Yeah, I've been pouring 90 to a hundred, feel like nothing's going to cut it. That's the hard truth. Yeah, I need something you proof.

SHERMAN: You know, when I was driving my dad's pickup truck, and I heard it on WACO 100 in Central Texas, I couldn't believe it. Clearly, this is a young guy who listens to a lot of different type of music, including rap and hip-hop, and he's weaving that into his songs. And it's making him sort of quietly one of the most popular artists in the country right now.

RASCOE: So Americans are turning more and more to country. And America's musical exports, which used to be dominated by rock 'n' roll, are now more hip-hop and R&B. How about the rest of the world's influence on the U.S.? Is that relationship still very one-sided? Maria Sherman says, less than it used to be.

SHERMAN: We've seen that in America, music listeners are more and more open to non-English language music. It's something like 2 in 5 American music listeners will listen to music that isn't performed in English. And in the Latin space, we've seen a lot of success with regional or regional Mexican music.

(SOUNDBITE OF ESLABON ARMADO AND PESO PLUMA SONG, "ELLA BAILA SOLA")

SHERMAN: And that encompasses a lot of different genres of music from Mexico and the southwest United States, like Texas and California, where you have large populations of Mexican Americans. And I think the greatest example, the sort of biggest song in the regional Mexican music space is "Ella Baila Sola" by Peso Pluma and Eslabon Armado.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ELLA BAILA SOLA")

PESO PLUMA: (Singing in Spanish).

ESLABON ARMADO: (Singing in Spanish).

SHERMAN: And that sound incorporates mariachi, banda, corridos, norteno - sounds that, even if you're unfamiliar with Mexican music, you can probably identify some of the instrumentation - and bringing it into this sort of modern style. The first voice you hear is Peso Pluma, and he has this kind of raspy talk singing almost sort of rap style, and he does rap in some of the other songs of his. And all of that is sort of bringing in, you know, a little new and a little old.

RASCOE: They're kind of doing this modern or, you could say, like, an updated take on this traditional music. Why are people more drawn to this now in the U.S.?

SHERMAN: So sort of social media and streaming in general has really democratized listening habits. You can listen to music from another culture that you might not otherwise have any exposure to. The other aspect is that in the United States, we have a large Latino population. There are many Mexican Americans, and many people are curious about the music of their heritage and also want to find their own attachment to it, their own understanding of it, in ways that are relevant to their experiences, their lifestyles. Instead of pulling from the traditions of - you know, dating back to the Mexican Revolution - can be about relationships or more contemporary aspects that they relate to and that they see themselves in.

RASCOE: What are some other examples of international music that's really kind of gaining a foothold right now?

SHERMAN: Afrobeats is the other one that I think has to be mentioned. Sort of Nigerian rhythms are all over the place, both in rap and hip-hop and R&B, but they're being - you know, they're collaborating across cultures. If you're in France, there are French rappers who are playing with Afrobeat music. I think a great example of the sort of global phenomenon is there's even a new Grammy category this year - Grammy Awards are coming up on February 4 - on best African music performance, and the majority of those artists are Afrobeat musicians, like Tyla.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WATER")

TYLA: (Singing) Telling me that you really about it. Why try hide it? Oh, talk is cheap, so show me...

SHERMAN: So it's really this kind of incredible cross-border collaboration of these musics. And the fact that U.S. listeners are enjoying them as global listeners are, and there's this exchanging of ideas - it's kind of a beautiful thing to see.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WATER")

TYLA: (Singing) Make me sweat. Make me hotter. Make me lose my breath. Make me water. Hopefully...

RASCOE: How do you see music and other entertainment companies adapting to this new reality really bringing a wide range of music into the U.S.?

SHERMAN: For the most part, the belief was that American English speakers want to listen to English-language music. I mean, if you think of even, like, the Latin crossover moment of the late '90s, early 2000s with people like Ricky Martin, Enrique Iglesias, Shakira, Jennifer Lopez, whatever it may be, performing English-language songs in order to adapt to this audience. Now that that is changing, it's no longer seen as music performed in other language requires input from a specific world music team, that it has to be sort of separate from what we consider to be pop music. You know, I like to look at award shows as sort of evidence of the ways in which this music is kind of being embraced. In September of last year at the MTV Video Music Awards, there was this beautiful moment where Anitta - she's a Brazilian pop star. She performs regularly in Portuguese and Spanish - performed alongside TOMORROW X TOGETHER, a K-pop boy band.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ANITTA AND TOMORROW X TOGETHER: (Vocalizing).

(Singing) All I know is if you walk away, there'll be something. Baby, that's OK, 'cause...

SHERMAN: So you had this, like, trilingual moment on stage broadcasted live, which is the other aspect of this. Quite often, whatever we would call, quote-unquote, "world music" or global music would happen off screen. You wouldn't see it on your TV. It certainly wouldn't be on the broadcast. And now it's being shown to everybody because it's what people are interested in.

RASCOE: You know, with all of these trends, is there a through line that you see?

SHERMAN: The main sort of sonic similarity is that all of these musics, while they do have genre definitions or words that we used to try and talk about them, they're incredibly fluid. They're all pulling and borrowing from each other. And that's kind of a beautiful thing. And it's going to make talking about genres more and more complicated as we continue down this path where everybody is sort of open-minded and certainly has their ears open to all this different type of music, and that's really exciting.

RASCOE: That's Maria Sherman of the Associated Press. Thank you so much for speaking with us.

SHERMAN: Thank you so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF JEADY JAY SONG, "FADA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.

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