Josiah Queen on Topping Christian Albums Chart as a Gen Z Indie Artist: ‘I Think God Has Used These Songs to Reach My Age Demographic’

Singer-songwriter Josiah Queen recently accomplished a relatively rare feat in the CCM space when his first album, The Prodigal, debuted atop Billboard’s Top Christian Albums chart for the week dated June 8: the 21-year-old Florida native reached the chart’s pinnacle without the help of a record label with his self-released album.

Additionally, the album’s title track is in the top 10 on Billboard’s Hot Christian Songs chart and has earned more than 45.7 million on-demand official U.S. streams, according to Luminate. Queen also has three additional songs on the Hot Christian Songs chart. Meanwhile, Queen has seen his Spotify followers mushroom over the past year or so to over 2 million monthly followers, thanks to his acoustic-based, folk-tinged sound — which also stands out on CCM radio among sleeker, pop-oriented fare.

“I think since [the] COVID [pandemic], people have been drawn to a raw-sounding, folk sound. People just love to feel something,” Queen tells Billboard via Zoom.

Like many Gen Z singer-songwriters in the pop, hip-hop and country spaces, Queen began releasing his music and initially built his following through social media, but he also spent years performing at worship conferences around the country.

Queen released his first batch of songs on TikTok and Instagram at age 16, starting with “God of Miracles” in 2020, and has followed with a steady stream of new music ever since — including 2022’s “Use Me” and “Grave Clothes,” and his breakthrough 2023 songs “I Am Barabbas” and “Fishes and Loaves,” which musically recounts the Biblical story of Jesus feeding 5,000 people with fish and bread.

A year ago, a TikTok clip for “I Am Barabbas” went viral, earning nearly two million views. It was around that time Queen began working with co-managers Matt Reed (Hyphen Media Group) and Devin Poindexter (Mad Jack Management). The song also marked Queen’s first entry on Hot Christian Songs in April, peaking at No. 38.

“He would tease songs before they would release, sometimes up to four or five weeks before and kind of test the songs to see which ones would get traction,” Reed tells Billboard.

When Queen released “The Prodigal” this year, he instinctively knew the power of continuing to place the song in front of audiences on social media, further building listeners’ familiarity and engagement with the song.

“’The Prodigal’ had nearly 40,000 uses on Instagram by the end of the year, when Josiah had the idea to do a year-end video recap that utilized the song, and it earned another 15,000 uses,” Reed says. “I think [it’s about] just finding new ways to talk about a song and giving people the opportunity to insert themselves into what the song represents.”

According to Luminate data, the Christian/Gospel genre is the fourth-fastest growing music genre in the U.S. in 2024 in overall consumption (following pop, Latin and country), having grown 8.9% in overall consumption so far this year. Luminate research shows that a developing younger audience is one driver of this growth, with research showing that the share of listeners that are millennial and younger has grown from 39% of overall genre listenership in 2022, to 45% in 2024.

“I think God has used these songs to reach my age demographic,” Queen says. “That’s the biggest dream come true, because there are so many people that are my age that are underserved with Christian music. Seeing the people at the live shows and the fan base that was sharing the music with friends through word of mouth — not even just through social media — it wasn’t a planned thing.”

Recent Luminate data also highlights the word-of-mouth growth in Gen Z (those born between mid-1990s and early 2010s), with Gen Z audiences being 20% more likely to cite friends and family as a music discovery source than the average consumer of Christian/Gospel music.

Reed says approximately 72% of Queen’s fan demographic is within the 13-24 year-olds demographic, below CCM radio’s typical core demographic of 24-54 year olds listeners.

“When you look at CCM music, it typically is ages 30 or 40 and up,” Reed says. “Josiah’s music is on the front line of all these other Gen Z artists making music for their peers. It’s not that CCM hasn’t had young artists, but typically they’ve made music for radio specifically. But I think [for] Josiah’s music and who it’s connecting with, he is on the front lines of creating music for his generation.”

Queen says he initially wrote songs that he hoped would appeal to labels and radio before he realized the need to shift toward music that simply felt personal. “I think so many people write music because they think getting a record deal is what you need to do to make it,” Queen says. “I was doing that for a while, but I realized it wasn’t working — so I just started making music I genuinely believed in.”

His acoustic-based, Americana-leaning sound first gained early support on Spotify’s folk-oriented playlists. Now, his music is found not only on playlists such as Spotify’s Top Christian Contemporary and Christian Road Trip playlists, but remains on the acoustic-oriented Homegrown and Indie Spirit playlists. He’s also been featured on Amazon’s Folk for Summer and Divine Summer playlists.

Once Queen began releasing music, he says Amazon Music’s Lauren Stellato and Apple Music’s Steve Blair reached out to him directly, based on his growth on the platforms and on social media. This year, Queen was the only Christian artist who was part of Amazon’s Artists to Watch program. “It does feel like we’re in that space where the music is going beyond the typical CCM/Christian market, and DSPs have been really helpful in getting us exposure in other avenues,” Reed says.

A team of independent radio promoters signed on to work Queen’s music to radio, including Grant Hubbard, formerly a vp at Capitol Christian Music Group for many years, as well as Jen Mouttet, Rick Steimling and Hyphen Media Group’s Tamara Moore. But even prior to bringing the team on board, Queen says CCM radio giant K-LOVE already had reached out to him directly, saying that they would be adding his song into rotation—a tide change that led him to reconsider his stance on signing with a label.

“Even from my earliest interviews, the question was always ‘Why aren’t you with a label?’ It’s so strong in the industry, the ties to radio and the labels, so taking these songs to radio comes with its challenges,” Queen says. “Around December [2023], we were like, ‘Should we sign?’ and we decided not to at the time. Then, I got a direct message from the people at K-LOVE, and they said they were going to add my song. That was in January, and it changed my whole trajectory.”

Reed notes that though Queen hasn’t yet signed with a label, they are in discussions with multiple labels.

Queen, who is repped by Jeff Roberts Agency for booking, wrapped his headlining The Prodigal Tour earlier this year. Starting in July, he will open shows for another rising young CCM hitmaker, 29-year-old “Good Day” singer Forrest Frank, alongside plans for Queen to launch another headlining tour in the fall.

“We didn’t know what to expect on the spring tour when we put it on sale, so the capacities and venues were a little scattered,” Poindexter says. “We had some 250-300 [capacity shows] that we had to add shows for, and then we did three or four shows that were over 1,000 capacity. We did about 23 shows total and every single one sold out.”

Meanwhile, Queen and his team aim to keep expanding upon the success of The Prodigal with his folk-tinged sound.

“The name of the game is building onto each song. One song has its moment and, hopefully, people love it, then you build onto that with the next song.”

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