Everything You Wanted to Know About Gen Z (But Were Afraid to Ask)

Think you know Generation Z? We wanted to set aside trite stereotypes about the streaming generation—yes, plenty of them have in fact seen or even own a record player—and truly get to know them on a global scale. So we commissioned our Culture Next Trends report, in partnership with research agency Culture Co-Op. We found an empowered, multinational, cross-cultural, socially aware, and informed group of 15- to 24-year-olds who speak their minds.

“We’re bold, fearless, careless, creative, and intriguing,” says Addy, a study participant from North Carolina. Powering this sentiment is technology, which “brings different cultures from faraway places closer together than we can ever imagine,” says Jared, from the Philippines.

Below are five defining traits of Gen Z uncovered in the study (which encompassed the U.S., U.K., Australia, Germany, the Philippines, Brazil, and beyond), as well as the streaming-related trends they inspire. These provide clear on-ramps for understanding and connecting with the world’s first generation of truly global citizens—whether or not they’ve used a record player.

Trait 1: All the Feels

Members of Gen Z are in touch with their feelings, and they understand the importance of expressing and addressing them.

Every young generation has claimed some measure of melancholy. (Just watch a John Hughes film.) Gen Zers, however, actively address their feelings—often through music, and specifically via their “bag playlists” (yes, bag) of sad songs. Not only is listening to these playlists up 45% year over year, but 49% of participants in the study said they find camaraderie in sharing their feelings of sadness and loneliness. No wonder Drake’s “In My Feelings” was such a hit.

Trait 2: Band of Others

Gen Z believes that music allows people to connect with one another and with different cultures. They listen to more international music than any other demographic.

More than half the participants in the study said they’re friends with someone from another country online. So it’s no surprise that Gen Z is fueling the K-Pop craze. K-Pop quickly became one of the 10 most-streamed genres worldwide, forging international bonds among listeners likely because of its upbeat, heartstring-tugging style and lyrical blend of Korean and English.

Trait 3: Subliminal Attraction

Gen Z craves discovery. Finding new things, ideas, music, podcasts, hobbies, and experiences makes them feel good.

Gen Z believes anyone anywhere has the power to break though the social media clutter and become influencers. The more relatable a person (say, a podcast host), the more trust and influence he or she engenders—driving discovery and, therefore, happiness. Our past research backs this up. 72% of people we surveyed in 2018 said discovery boosts happiness—so give them something new and authentic.

Trait 4: PolyFly

Gen Z wants to be part of the political conversation—and their seamless access to technology and all types of content empowers them engage in a way no generation previously has.

Podcasts that mix lifestyle and politics top the charts. See The Daily and Pod Save America. A solid 66% of respondents said they expect brands to be part of the debate, to promote progressive values, and to play a more meaningful role in society. “Our eyes have been opened to the lack of leadership by those in positions of power,” says Canadian pop star Alessia Cara, “and in turn, so many of us have had to step up in their place.”

Trait 5: Surround Sound

Gen Z may appear to be obsessed with their screens, but they value audio as an escape from visual stimulation overload.

Audio isn’t just background noise, said 50% of the study respondents; it plays a huge role in their everyday lives. So silence can be golden too. To raise awareness of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, Marie Claire ran a campaign of 30-second silent spots on Spotify. Listeners assumed there was a glitch and looked at their phones, only to see a message explaining the danger of staying silent about violence. Powerful, impactful communications such as this leave a lasting impression with Gen Z.

Scroll down to the infographic below to see more of the Culture Next Trends study’s most interesting insights. And millennials, keep your FOMO in check: we took a look at your generation, too.

You can also read the full report on Spotify for Brands.