But Tumblr devotees dig deep beneath A-list pop stars and the faces seen all over teen tabloids. “You might not have another My Chemical Romance fan in your high school, but Tumblr is your safe space where you can go and find people who love the same things you love," says Amanda Brennan, Tumblr’s content insights manager, its self-described "meme librarian." She analyzed its Fandometrics throughout the year, chronicling, cheering and sometimes diving into the pockets of alternative music fandom that’ve found Tumblr strongholds. The three lists no doubt reflect the 2016 pop zeitgeist, but left-of-center upstarts disproportionately make their presence felt. The only artist with two titles cracking the albums list is none other than Twenty One Pilots, My Chemical Romance made the same list despite having broken up in 2013, and Jersey punks The Front Bottoms improbably hit the bands tally at 18, beating out innumerable more well-known acts.
How did Tumblr’s become such a haven for teen and Millennial fans of alternative culture? Billboard chatted with Brennan about how its hyper-involved user base influenced its year-end charts. Find those charts below, followed by our Q&A.
1. 5 Seconds of Summer
2. Twenty One Pilots
3. One Direction
4. Fifth Harmony
5. The 1975
6. Fall Out Boy
7. Little Mix
8. My Chemical Romance
9. Panic! at the Disco
10. All Time Low
11. Bring Me the Horizon
12. Arctic Monkeys
13. Black Veil Brides
15. Pierce the Veil
18. The Front Bottoms
1. Taylor Swift
3. Justin Bieber
5. Selena Gomez
6. Troye Sivan
8. Ariana Grande
10. Lana Del Rey
11. Lady Gaga
12. David Bowie
13. Melanie Martinez
14. Kanye West
15. Nicki Minaj
18. Demi Lovato
19. Shawn Mendes
20. Frank Ocean
1. Lemonade by Beyonce
2. Blurryface by Twenty One Pilots
3. Blue Neighbourhood by Troye Sivan
4. Made in the A.M. by One Direction
5. Anti by Rihanna
6. Sounds Good Feels Good by 5 Seconds of Summer
7. The Life of Pablo by Kanye West
8. Agust D by Agust D
9. Vessel by Twenty One Pilots
10. 1989 by Taylor Swift
11. Cry Baby by Melanie Martinez
12 Death of a Bachelor by Panic! at the Disco
13. Views by Drake
14. 25 by Adele
15. Badlands by Halsey
16. Lotto by EXO
17. Mind of Mine by Zayn Malik
18. Joanne by Lady Gaga
19. Purpose by Justin Bieber
20. Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys by My Chemical Romance
Billboard: How do you come up with these lists?
Amanda Brennan: It’s a magic combination of searches, likes, re-blogs and original posts. We weight them and compare them to the volume year over year. Fandometrics is week over week, but for Year In Review, we actually compare it to the volume of 2015.
What info from 2016’s year-end lists really surprises you?
Well, because I work with the data week to week, so I’m not very surprised. The one thing that was a little surprising to me was how high the Front Bottoms got. They are a relatively indie band that doesn’t necessarily make the top 20 every week. It’s this cool undercurrent that’s been bubbling up.
They’re ranked higher than Coldplay!
I have some theories about why. It relates to this other trend on Tumblr called scream poetry… They’re very beautiful images with text (usually) in caps lock. It’s this visual way of representing lyrics in a very aesthetically pleasing way… A lot of it is very emotional. There’s this one from the Front Bottoms that goes, “With tears in my eyes I begged you to stay / you said, ‘Hey man I love you but no f-ckin’ way.’”
[With scream poetry] there’s a lot of Brand New, Halsey, Twenty One Pilots… in the search results right now is actually a Justin Bieber one, so it doesn’t feel limited to indie or emo or any time of genre -- just any type of lyric that is emotional.
Another interesting one -- No. 20 on the albums list is My Chemical Romance’s Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys. They’re not even active and that’s not commonly thought of as one of their more popular albums.
Yeah! I was really surprised by that too. But I think the aesthetic of the album is one of their strongest, and kind of the weirdest. It’s got the spider logo and all these reds and desert feels, which people really identify with still. “Killjoys” as a term has become -- full disclosure, I’m totally a My Chemical Romance fan -- for the fandom, it more specifically relates to people who like the later album. That section of the fandom ran with it and it’ll never die.
What do you think about 5 Seconds of Summer being named the top band?
5 Seconds of Summer getting to No. 1 wasn’t surprising; they were No. 1 most weeks on Fandom Metrics. And I think of a lot of it just has to do with... cute boys from Australia making really relatable music that’s fun. You don’t have to be into pop-punk to like 5 Seconds of Summer. They have this mass appeal that anyone can pick up and be really excited about them.
Is there anyone who just missed the lists?
I was actually surprised to not see Brand New on here. They had a pretty big year, for what they had. Marilyn Manson also had a pretty big year. Blink-182 had a little bump when California came out. They were pretty close… they could have made it. Green Day also was pretty close -- they were No. 21. There’s the Smiths. Slipknot also had a pretty big year. I think they have a Tumblr.
That’s another good point. Do you see artists with their own Tumblrs getting a lot of traction?
Yeah, 5 Seconds of Summer is a great example. We have a Q&A series called Answer Time, and they crashed our site when they did Answer Time. I think they’re the best example. The 1975 are also great at Tumblr. When they made their transition from black to pink, they deleted all their posts from Tumblr. Everyone was like, oh my god, what is happening? And then they brought it back in the new aesthetic. I remember when it happened because the search results changed completely in color. One day from the next, the vibe totally flipped. It was amazing to see the fans immediately picking up what the band put down.
We did an IRL event with the 1975 in London. It was this beautiful neon aesthetic with roses… the posts that came out of it were really beautiful. With IRL we pair a musician with an artist and create this really visceral online/offline experience that brings your Tumblr dashboard to life. The line for it was a mile long; thousands of people tried to get in.
Why do you think alternative music resonates so well with your users?
Speaking for myself as a Tumblr user, when I first joined Tumblr, I joined for the pop-punk community. They were my people who were here and I’ve made so many friends that I still have to this day, because of Tumblr in 2008. The alt kids feel at home here. Tumblr is like where you go to share your passions. Usually the kids who are into these bands are going to the shows, buying the merch. They’re the people up in the front. They’re the people making art about the things they love. Music is their life. When you find a space like Tumblr where you can live your life online with the people who feel that same passion, you can share your fan art, you can share your silly fan fiction, just in the same breath that you share these true emotional stories about what happened when you met the band, or the moment you got the album, your reaction. Sometimes Tumblr is this amazing place where you can interact with the artist. You can ask them a question; maybe they’ll answer. Artists reblog the content. It’s just this next level, "Oh my gosh, I love this thing so much and the person is there with me, speaking my language and enjoying the conversation, too." They’re a part of it, too. I don’t think there’s another place on the Internet that’s as full of love and excitement and non-stop passion for whatever the thing you love, it’s here.
And it really feels like a safe space for kids who might not be around many others like them.
Yeah, totally. You might not have another My Chemical Romance fan in your high school, but Tumblr is your safe space where you can go and find people who love the same things you love.
We also have this thing called Post It Forward -- when you said “safe space,” you made me think of that. It’s art… a safe space where we support people, no matter what they’re going through. We’re doing 31 Days of Self-Care in December, with prompts every day. A few of them are based on music -- favorite songs, what lyrics inspire you. We really encourage Tumblr to be that safe space for people, to encourage them to share the things they love. We support that so much.