Chart Beat

The Year in Livestreams 2020: Instagram Live Blurs the Lines of Genre & Generation, From Justin Bieber to Verzuz

Monica and Brandy
Prince Williams/Wireimage; Derek Blanks

Monica and Brandy

As previously reported, Elton John topped Billboard’s year-end Top Tours ranking, while Radio City Music Hall and Live Nation crowned the annual Top Venues and Top Promoters lists. But in 2020, traditional touring did not account for the full landscape of the live music industry.

Amid an indefinite COVID-19 shutdown, artists took to the Internet, broadcasting live from empty theaters, outdoor landmarks and their own living rooms.

This week, Billboard is remembering the year in livestreams, with highlights from some of the major digital platforms that connected fans to their favorite artists. Here, we dive into some notable events from Instagram Live.

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A quick scan of the artists with the most cumulative IG Live views from 2020 (based on data from Jan. 1 through Oct. 31) might be close to a casual music fan’s approximation of the most engaged artists on social media. Justin Bieber crowns the list, while Cardi B, Miley Cyrus and DaBaby are sprinkled throughout the top 15.

But a closer look at the ranking, as well as an eye on the platform’s most-viewed individual livestreams, show a cross-generational mix as Snoop Dogg, Fat Joe and D-Nice mingle with Billie Eilish, Trippie Redd and Megan Thee Stallion.

This crossover was front-and-center at the onset of the COVID shutdown. DJ, rapper and producer D-Nice hosted a series of Club Quarantine events, inviting users to watch, comment and ultimately dance. The nine-hour March 21 broadcast peaked at 101,000 concurrent viewers, which included Rihanna, Mark Zuckerberg and now-President-elect Joe Biden. D-Nice was back the next day with forward momentum, hitting 160,000 peak concurrent viewers.

A man of many talents and many names, Sean Combs hosted the similarly themed Diddy Dance Party on April 12, outlasting D-Nice with a 10-hour runtime. The event topped out at 130,000 concurrent viewers, a 3% sliver of the stream’s total 4.3 million viewers, making it the most-watched IG Live of the year.

The triumph of early streams centered around classic hip-hop and R&B foreshadowed the massive success of Verzuz, which accounts for eight of the top 10 Instagram Lives of the year (based on total viewers). The video series pits two icons against one another in a friendly competition as each star plays through highlights of their discography.

It was all dreamt up by Timbaland and Swizz Beatz, two longstanding heads of pop and hip-hop production that understand that the idea could include the cross-demo appeal of “Rick Ross vz. 2 Chainz” (1.2 million viewers; Aug. 6) and “Patti Labelle vz. Gladys Knight” (2.5 million; Sept. 13).

An early event was a matchup of '90s R&B architects Babyface and Teddy Riley. It garnered over a half-million concurrent viewers and a total of 3.4 million users, finishing at a concurrent-to-total viewership score of 15%.

“Jill Scott vz. Erykah Badu” followed on May 9, achieving the same 3.4 million total views but growing its peak concurrent viewership to 735,000 users (22%). That percentage continued to grow as the year went on, building to the “Brandy vz. Monica” showdown (Aug. 31) reaching 1.25 million concurrent viewers, 36% of its total 3.5 million views.

See below for the top five IG Lives of 2020, by peak concurrent viewers (Jan. 1 – Oct. 31)

1. @6ix9ine – 6ix9ine First Live After Prison (2 million; May 8)
2. @verzuztv – “Brandy vz. Monica” (1.25 million; Aug. 31)
3. @missjillscott – “Jill Scott vz. Erykah Badu” (735,000; May 9)
4. @verzuztv – “Patti Labelle vz. Gladys Knight” (612,000; Sept. 13)
5. @verzuztv – “Beanie Man vz. Bounty Killa” (577,000; May 23)

And here are the top five Livers of 2020, by total cumulative views (across several Lives) (Jan. 1 – Oct. 31)

1. @justinbieber
2. @dnice
3. @iamcardib
4. @verzuztv
5. @snoopdogg

While freely crossing generations, both rankings centered on pop, R&B, and hip-hop artists, with Eilish standing as the lone alternative act (Billie Eilish Live with Fans; 270,000 peak concurrent viewers; April 20).

Notably, Eilish and 6ix9ine’s top-performing streams focused on speaking directly to their fans rather than performance. In addition to the mix of demographic and genre, the format worked as a tool of general communication for acts, be it a live concert, a Q&A, or an all-inclusive dance party.