Elton John, Queen & Mariah Carey Boost Catalog Streaming in UK

Elton John
Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Elton John poses in the press room with the award for Best Original Song - Motion Picture during the 77th Annual Golden Globe Awards at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on Jan. 5, 2020 in Beverly Hills, Calif.

LONDON — New music may rightfully be regarded as the lifeblood to streaming services, but it was heritage acts like Elton John and Queen -- alongside 1990s pop stars like Mariah Carey -- that Brits collectively spent the most time streaming last year, according to figures released by U.K. labels trade body BPI.

BPI's "All About the Music 2020" yearbook reveals that catalog streams (classified by BPI as music released in 2017 or before) accounted for just over 60% of all streams in 2019, up from 56.5% the previous year.

Among the most popular catalog tracks were "Mr. Brightside" by The Killers (first released in 2003, played 55 million times in 2019), "Bohemian Rhapsody" by Queen (1975, 53 million streams) and Mariah Carey's seasonal favorite "All I Want for Christmas Is You" (1994, 47 million streams).

Older tracks by contemporary artists such as Tom Walker, Lewis Capaldi and Lizzo also featured high in the year-end song list, while Wham's "Last Christmas" was Brits' most-streamed song from the 1980s and The Beatles' "Here Comes The Sun" the most played '60s hit.

There are, however, a number of provisos to the rise in catalog streams. Firstly, the number of tracks classed as catalog expands each year, so some growth in catalog listening numbers is naturally to be expected.

Most significantly, songs from 2019 account for just over one-fifth (21%) of the total 114 billion tracks streamed last year in the U.K. with tunes from 2018 making up 18.6%.

In total, there were 14 tracks in the most-streamed top 100 that were released before 2018 (and thus classed as catalog), but most of those were from 2016 and 2017, such as Lizzo's "Truth Hurts" or Tom Walker's "Just You And I."

Still-popular titles such as The Greatest Showman are also newly classed as catalog releases, further boosting the genre's market share.

The most-streamed song of 2019 in the U.K. was Lewis Capaldi's "Someone You Loved" followed by Lil Nas X's "Old Town Road" (both first released in 2018) and Ed Sheeran & Justin Bieber's "I Don't Care."

Nevertheless, the continued popularity of catalog hits in the streaming era shows no signs of falling away anytime soon.

Notably, music from both the 1970s and the 1980s enjoyed a greater share of catalog streaming last year (accounting for 7.6% and 9.2% of catalog plays, respectively), fueled by popular Hollywood movies based on the music of Queen, Elton John and Wham. Between them, Elton John and Queen account for six of the 10 most-streamed tracks from the 1970s.

In terms of decades, music from the 2010s (not including 2019 and 2018) made up 49% of all catalog streaming with the 2000s accounting for a 19% share and the 1990s just under 10%. The biggest "catalog" year of the 2010s was 2017, which accounted for 13.7% of all plays of music from the decade.

BPI Yearbook author Rob Crutchley said the enduring popularity of evergreen songs like "Bohemian Rhapsody" and Elton John's "Tiny Dancer" underscores "streaming's increasing ability to facilitate the public's enduring love affair with classic hits alongside its passion for new music."

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