Updated: May 10
The 21st century transformed many things about popular music. It ended iconic music retail businesses Tower Records and HMV as technology allowed music to be downloaded to the computer and saw the demise of compact discs. The 21st century is also the period where musicians began experimenting with different sounds using new technology available. One of the most notable is Outkast’s hit single “Hey Yah”, in which the duo paid homage to past R&B and Soul artists while adding their creative vision into the track. Here are some of the most influential musicians in the 21st century.
Aaliyah helped redefine hip-hop, pop, and contemporary R&B and earned her the nickname “Queen of Urban Pop”. However, her career came to an end too soon when she died in a plane crash in the Bahamas in 2001. Her music continues to be popular due to posthumous releases. She has sold 24 to 32 million records worldwide and her legacy continues with Blackground Records belatedly reintroducing her catalog for the streaming era.
Eminem is one of the most famous rappers of all time and he gained worldwide popularity with his albums The Slim Shady LP and The Marshall Mathers LP. His subsequent albums continue to bring him huge successes and he is one of the best-selling music artists of all time. His success has inspired many other white rappers to follow in his footsteps.
Arcade Fire is the 21st-century update to what R.E.M. was to 1980s college rock. It was a daring niche act that against all odds, they became one of the biggest bands in the world. The group broke out with their 2004’s hit Funeral with a tidal wave of familial grief, millennial hope, and cathartic live shows. Listeners bond with the group in their search for salvation in the midst of real chaos found in the world.
Beyonce is one of the most successful stories of a girl-group leader to a solo phenomenon in music history. The former Destiny’s Child lead singer has been flexing her three-octave range in collaborations with established hitmakers. She has been reinventing herself by making inoffensive career choices. Beyonce also took over the helm of Beyonce Inc. from her father and made a surprise-releasing self-titled visual album in 2013. She also contributes her songs to singing about her country’s long-standing inequalities. Seems that this superstar is not yet done despite reaching the apex of her career.
Bjork is best known for her association with the now-defunct yet popular band, The Sugarcubes. This iconic bestselling Icelandic singer-songwriter of all time is a singer, record producer, songwriter, DJ, and actress. She has received numerous awards for her works and has been named Time magazine’s most influential people in the world in 2015.
Daft Punk is one of the key contributors to the contemporary electronic dance music scene. The French duo got their start by translating subterranean Chicago house music for European tastes. Soon they produced their own sounds with 1997’s Homework. Daft Punk re-invented dance music and made it palatable for rock fans. Their innovative influences resonated with generations of musicians across the electronic music, rock, and hip-hop world.
How can anyone miss out Jay-Z, the iconic hip-hop musician who has amassed one of the deepest catalogs in hip-hop history? Having turned 51 last year, Jay-Z has become his only competition. After releasing his classic album The Blueprint in 2015, Jay-Z is still looking for a mid-career masterpiece to transition him from King of the block to the boardroom.