Teens love vinyl. They tell us why.

Molly Swindall poses with part of her Taylor Swift vinyl collection in Georgia. (Kendrick Brinson for the Washington Post via Getty Images)
Molly Swindall poses with part of her Taylor Swift vinyl collection in Georgia. (Kendrick Brinson for the Washington Post via Getty Images)

Music streaming services have made people’s favorite artists and albums the most accessible they’ve ever been. While preferring analog to digital platforms for music isn’t a new trend, Generation Alpha and Gen Z-ers are contributing to record-high vinyl sales in the United States. What is it about vinyl that teens find so appealing?

According to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), 43 million vinyl records were purchased in 2023, outselling CDs for the second time since 1987. Vinyl record sales also grew 10% to $1.4 billion, marking their 17th consecutive year of growth, and accounted for 71% of physical format revenue sales, the RIAA said. CD and cassette sales, for context, first overtook vinyl sales in 1988 and continued to reign supreme as the preferred physical formats for music consumption in the ’90s and aughts.

The supposed vinyl resurgence — some argue that it never actually left — has also effectively ushered in a younger, eager group of teenage collectors. Teens flock to social media to show off their meticulously curated collections, build community with enthusiasts their age, and search for and sell coveted presses. Rather than seeking out albums that were initially released on vinyl, teenagers are focused on collecting new releases, specifically albums that have been released in the past decade.

According to Luminate’s Year-End Music Report, Taylor Swift’s 1989 (Taylor’s Version) was 2023’s top-selling vinyl album globally, with 580,000 vinyl copies sold in the U.S. alone in the first six days of its release. Swift initially released 1989 in 2014, and this newer version, released in October 2023, featured five bonus tracks.

Nicole Raney, communications manager at Discogs, an online record-collecting community for music fans, told Yahoo Entertainment that five Taylor Swift albums — two of which are different color variants of 2022’s Midnights — are also among the platform’s most collected records in the last four years. Albums from Olivia Rodrigo, Billie Eilish, Dua Lipa and Phoebe Bridgers are popular too, she said.

“Teens aren’t the only ones who are into Taylor Swift, but she is one of many artists that are more popular among the younger generation and collectors on Discogs, indicating a strong overlap,” Raney told Yahoo Entertainment.

‘It’s so cool how little grooves on a disc can make music’

For 18-year-old Juniper Shrub, collecting vinyl is a welcome departure from how digital the world has become. “Almost every aspect” of the Dallas teen’s life, “like music, school, interacting with friends and even just communicating,” is online these days, she told Yahoo Entertainment.

“I love collecting vinyl because there are so many more levels to them, rather than just the vinyl itself. There are different color variants of all my favorite albums, picture discs and signed options too. I love thinking about vinyl’s intricacies because it’s so cool how little grooves on a disc can make music,” Shrub, who began collecting vinyl two years ago, said. She cites Gracie Abrams and Aaron Dessner’s Good Riddance Acoustic Shows album as a favorite in her collection.

“In a way, [vinyl records] hold good memories for me. It would be so fun to show friends or family of mine in the future ... who I listened to when I was 18,” she said.

Buffalo, Minn., native Brooke Wahlenberg, 18, is a member of the Young Vinyl Collectors group on Facebook. Like Shrub, Wahlenberg was drawn to the tangibility of vinyl records. Her social media feeds were also flooded with vinyl-related content, which solidified her decision to buy a record player.

“I started collecting around 15, when I got my first job and also my first iPhone, so I was connected to social media for the first time. I saw vinyls practically right away on my feed and I thought that all of the different pressings were so cool,” she told Yahoo Entertainment.

While the release of several vinyl variants may appeal to collectors — Wahlenberg’s most coveted album is Taylor Swift’s heart-shaped, 2023 limited-edition press of Lover: Live From Paris — the practice has been called out by some artists as being wasteful. Billie Eilish told Billboard in a recent interview that “it’s some of the biggest artists in the world making f***ing 40 different vinyl packages that have a different unique thing just to get you to keep buying more.” Still, these “special” releases continue to reel in young collectors.

“Within each vinyl there’s a nice look into that album [and] artist’s aesthetic with all of the artwork that comes with it. ... It feels more raw and immersive to me,” Wahlenberg said.

Jenn D’Eugenio, the founder of Women in Vinyl, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting women, female-identifying and marginalized minorities in the vinyl industry, told Yahoo Entertainment that renewed interest in vinyl has also prompted the release of albums that previously missed out on the format during the CD boom. Urban Outfitters, for instance, has been known to release exclusive soundtracks from films like 1999’s The Virgin Suicides and 2003’s The Lizzie McGuire Movie on vinyl.

“I’m personally loving being able to get copies of records I only had on CD or cassette in the ’90s now on vinyl,” D’Eugenio said. “I think a lot of it is nostalgia for sure, but also the opportunity for revitalizing and creating a new fanbase with vinyl buyers and music lovers, as a lot are coming up on 20th- and 30th-anniversary releases.”

Identity and fandom

Collecting vinyl, for many teens, presents the opportunity to show dedication to a particular artist and their fandom, according to Daniel Cook, owner of Los Angeles record store Gimme Gimme Records. It’s also a way for them to build identity.

“I think a lot of people, especially teens, at least partially build their identity around the music they like. When I was growing up it was like, ‘Oh, are you metal? Are you a punk?’ or whatever it is. The music you gravitate toward is a big deal,” Cook said. “And then having that tangible object to kind of prove to yourself and your friends that you’re a fan — that you spent the money and you get to look at the album cover and engage with it.”

Raney added: “While the quality and aesthetic of vinyl are big motivators, we’ve learned that younger record collectors are very much in it because of their fandom. They’re collecting records by their favorite artist regardless of whether they have a turntable yet.”

Listening to an album on vinyl, Cook continued, is also more of a social activity than streaming is.

“You put the record on, [you] choose a song, you flip the sides, you invite your friends over. It becomes more of a social thing,” he said.

Jim Henderson, co-owner of Amoeba Music, told Yahoo Entertainment that vinyl also gives teens the opportunity to experience music the way the artist intended.

“Most, though certainly not all, teens have lived with a lack of tactile engagement, and vinyl records are the height of it, as not only are they arresting in their appearance, but exceedingly functional and the big payoff — [records] connect you to your musical heroes,” he said. “Large-format art, vibrant colors, lyrics, liner notes ... everything the way the artist had intended it to be seen,” instead of a thumbnail image on a 4-inch phone screen.

A bridge between generations

For some teen collectors, the gravitation toward vinyl is a simpler, more personal one.

“I have parents that are in their late 50s, so listening to some of my records [with them] will bring back memories ... and help the bond we have now,” Priscilla Jett Sinclair, 18, who lives in New York City, told Yahoo Entertainment. She is also a member of the Young Vinyl Collectors Facebook group.

This reason alone, D’Eugenio added, is why the passion for collecting vinyl persists, regardless of age.

“A lot of people my age are also having kids or have kids that are now teens,” she said. “We grew up with the nostalgia of our parents’ records, so as a lot of us collect or are getting back into vinyl, I think we are creating that same nostalgia for this next generation.”