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With a little help from Squid Game, Dark Academia, and fashion, a radical new wave of artists is sweeping the previously elite world of classical music. Daisy Woodward investigates how classical music became cool.

Many of us would probably guess orchestral music if asked what music people under the age of 25 listen to. Yet, according to a Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO) survey published in December 2022, 74% of UK residents aged under 25 were likely to tune in to just that at Christmas, compared to 46% of people aged 55 and up. These figures reflect not only the RPO’s broader finding that under 35-year-olds are more likely to listen to orchestral music than their parents, but also the widespread surge in popularity of classical music in general, particularly among younger generations.

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There are numerous reasons for this, ranging from the playlist culture spawned by streaming platforms, which allows listeners to easily discover new artists and types of music to fit their mood, to the solace it provided during the pandemic, not to mention the prevalence of classical music in pop culture hits like Squid Game. But perhaps at the top of the list is the global wave of Gen Z and young millennial classical artists who are finding new ways to be seen and heard, as well as new ways to modernise what has long been regarded as music’s most elite and stuffy genre.

Unsurprisingly, social media played a significant role in this, as evidenced by a quick search of the popular TikTok hashtag “classictok.” (currently 53.8 million views) demonstrates. Young classical artists have used the democratic potential of the digital realm to lift the heavy velvet curtains on their art form, presenting classical music and its storied history in ways that are accessible, unintimidating, and, most importantly, fun.

For French violinist Esther Abrami, who has over 250,000 Instagram followers, 380,000 TikTok followers, and was the first classical musician nominated in the Social Media Superstar category at the Global Awards, the journey to social media fame began with a desire to share her passion with a wider audience. “I was studying at a prestigious university and spent the majority of my time studying for exams, so the joy of sharing had vanished. Then, at the few concerts I did perform for, there was a very specific type of audience that wasn’t very diverse “Abrami explains to BBC Culture.

She noticed that a few classical musicians had taken to Instagram to increase their exposure. and decided to follow suit. “I started posting a few things and was astounded by the response. People from all over the world are suddenly listening to you and telling you that watching you play the violin brightens their day “She is ecstatic. “It opened the door to an entirely new world.”

I ended up becoming an opera influencer by sharing the parts of me I felt comfortable sharing, which is a lot – Babatunde Akinboboye

Babatunde Akinboboye, a Nigerian-American baritone and lifelong hip-hop fan, rose to social media fame in a similar swift and unexpected manner when he posted a video of himself singing Rossini’s renowned aria Largo al factotum over the top of Kendrick Lamar’s track Humble. “I was in my car and realised that the two pieces worked musically together, so I started singing on top of the beat,” he explains to BBC Culture. He captured the moment on his phone and uploaded it to his personal Facebook account, assuming that his friends would enjoy it more than his opera colleagues. “But I went to sleep, and when I woke up the next morning, it had spread to my opera network and far beyond,” He laughs, explaining that his self-described “hip-hopera” had caught the attention of The Ellen Show, America’s Got Talent, and Time magazine in just two days.

Both Abrami and Akinboboye discovered classical music in their teens, late by conventional standards, and pursued their interest in the genre on their own. This is still a driving factor in their desire to reach new audiences, which they have done on a large scale largely by being themselves. “I ended up becoming an opera influencer by sharing the parts of myself that I felt comfortable sharing, which is a lot,” says Akinboboye, whose playful hip-hopera and opera videos and posts have garnered him 688,000 TikTok followers. “It’s a lot about how I relate to opera; my musical background is hip-hop, but I found a relationship with opera that resonated with people,” she says. He elaborates. “Almost every day, I receive a message informing me that I attended my first opera today. I believe it is because they are seeing someone with whom they are comfortable or familiar.”

‘Complex and profound’

Abrami, another enthusiastic content creator, concurs: “Putting the face of someone close to them in the genre is a big deal in my opinion. That’s what I’m aiming for: to reach out to different types of people and build bridges, to show them how powerful music can be. It’s complex and profound, and it may take some time to grasp, but once you do, it’s incredible.”

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