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What Spotify data show about the decline of English | The Economist

Katji

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What Spotify data show about the decline of English

Our interactive analysis of five years of hits in 70 countries—and the links between them

Jan 29th 2022

https://www.economist.com/interacti...potify-data-show-about-the-decline-of-english

BAD BUNNY may not be a household name in the English-speaking world. Yet the Puerto Rican rapper, whose verses are usually in Spanish (and, on one occasion, Japanese), was the most played artist in 2020 and 2021 for listeners on Spotify, the world’s largest music-streaming platform. Such success might have been harder to achieve 30 years ago when English was dominant. In the new digital era, it is becoming ever more common.

[ Skip to the audio interactive ]

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To investigate the evolution of music tastes across the world, The Economist trawled through the top 100 tracks in 70 countries according to Spotify. Examining 13,000 hits in 70 languages along with other data like genre, lyrical language and nationality of artist, we sought to group countries according to musical similarity.

On these 320,000 records, we employed a principal-components analysis to assess the degree of musical kinship between countries, and then a clustering algorithm (known as k-means) to group them. Three broad clusters emerged: a contingent in which English is dominant; a Spanish-language ecosystem; and a third group that mostly enjoys local songs in various tongues. Across all, one trend emerged: the hegemony of English is in decline.


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The drop over the past five years is mostly concentrated outside the English sphere. Within the Spanish cluster, English quickly lost ground—from 25% of hits to 14%—as native artists like Bad Bunny and Rauw Alejandro became internationally ascendant. Among the local-language cluster, in countries with strong, indigenous music cultures—like Brazil, France and Japan—English declined even more precipitously, dropping from 52% of hit songs to just 30%. Only in the English cluster did the language remain unfazed, dropping only slightly from 92% to 90%.


There is no doubt that, despite its decline, English is still king. Of the 50 most-streamed tracks on Spotify over the past five years, 47 were in English. And the genres it incubated are being widely adopted elsewhere. There is now excellent rap available in Arabic, Russian and, of course, Spanish. A sign of the momentum in global-music tastes comes from a collaboration in 2018 between two superstars—Bad Bunny and Drake, the self-proclaimed king of rap in English. On that occasion, Drake delivered the chorus in Spanish.



Songs jump musical cultures more often than before. Modern drivers like social media are to blame. To demonstrate this, we plotted the most-streamed song for countries in each group weekly for the full five-year period, revealing precisely when and where these leaps happen.



We have designed an interactive matrix showcasing the most-streamed song on Spotify in 70 countries every week from December 2016 to the first week of 2022. These range from global blockbuster hits like Ed Sheeran’s exceedingly saccharine and exceedingly catchy “Shape of You” to niche sensations in Japan and Iceland.
Hover to reveal the song and its language, and see how far its popularity spread.
Click to listen to snippets
of every song and explore musical tastes around the world—from Polish rap to Brazilian pop.


[ cropped screenshot: ]

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Note: We labelled each of the roughly 1,700 songs with the lyrics language using an automated technique. While the reliability of this method is good, occasional errors may have crept in.
Each song is only labelled with one language. Where a song contains two or more languages, our automated method makes a best guess.
Spotify is not available in every country and launched in some countries only midway through the time period analysed, which is why there are initially no data for some countries.

Audio and album images courtesy of Spotify.

Sources: Spotify; Genius; Google Translate; Musixmatch; Popnable; Soundcharts; The Economist
 

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Katji

Katji

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An example of what you can do with data - if you have the data and the tools for analysis.
 

iMickey503

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Well, information is not knowledge [BIG BIRD- Oscar the Grouch records]
Knowledge is not wisdom
Wisdom is not truth [NIN- Pretty hate machine?]
Truth is not beauty
Beauty is not love
Love is not music
Music is the best
 

tr1ple6

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An example of what you can do with data - if you have the data and the tools for analysis.
Or an example of how data can be misused to reach the wrong conclusion. The use of English may or may not be declining but the article did not at all demonstrate this. For example, there are other plausible reasons for English music being usurped in favour of local languages. It is expected that when Spotify first launches into a new market, the initial users may be from more cosmopolitan areas and listen to a lot of internationally famous (mainly English artists). As the platform gains traction local artists will start being listened to more on Spotify over time. That's just one alternative hypothesis but I would have to see a proper study to draw any conclusions
 
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Katji

Katji

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The article title seems click-baitish, how it got my intention in the first place.
 

Jimi Floyd

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Name the artist:

Well, information is not knowledge
Knowledge is not wisdom
Wisdom is not truth
Truth is not beauty
Beauty is not love
Love is not music
Music is the best
Frank Zappa. Also from Frank: "Without music to decorate it, time is just a bunch of boring production deadlines or dates by which bills must be paid."

 

xykreinov

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Lol no surprises here. It's not possible for me to even pretend to like most English pop stuff anymore. I'd rather listen to Spanish or Japanese where I can't understand a single word than listen to Drake.
 
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Katji

Katji

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Lol no surprises here. It's not possible for me to even pretend to like most English pop stuff anymore. I'd rather listen to Spanish or Japanese where I can't understand a single word than listen to Drake.
I found a good one, a couple days ago, random watch on tv, a documentary on Adele, English pop/R&B. Very interesting,unusual, totally authentic, not a "pop star" - although she became one...so to speak. I'd heard of her before, of course, but never given any attention.
...It's one thing I like about SABC - it comes up with a lot of music documentaries.
 
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Jimster480

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Alright so there are a few takeaways from this.
Most of the English speaking mainstream artists are garbage these days so like @xykreinov mentioned; people would rather listen to stuff they don't understand than garbage that they do understand.
Secondly Spotify is really bad when it comes to data metrics because so many people use Spotify "shuffle" and Shuffle literally doesn't shuffle songs at all but plays only the "most popular" songs; thus making them even more popular. I noticed this years ago and it bothers me quite a bit. It is something I hope will be different with Tidal (since I am trying that out) because if I want to shuffle a playlist; I want to hear all the songs randomly. Instead it will pick the 5-10 most popular ones and play those 3-10x (yes literally sometimes 10x) for other songs outside of this. Making every playlist sound like a popular radio station in a major city in the USA; where only the most popular tracks are played because they are requested infinitely all day long.
 

sonitus mirus

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Alright so there are a few takeaways from this.
Most of the English speaking mainstream artists are garbage these days so like @xykreinov mentioned; people would rather listen to stuff they don't understand than garbage that they do understand.
Secondly Spotify is really bad when it comes to data metrics because so many people use Spotify "shuffle" and Shuffle literally doesn't shuffle songs at all but plays only the "most popular" songs; thus making them even more popular. I noticed this years ago and it bothers me quite a bit. It is something I hope will be different with Tidal (since I am trying that out) because if I want to shuffle a playlist; I want to hear all the songs randomly. Instead it will pick the 5-10 most popular ones and play those 3-10x (yes literally sometimes 10x) for other songs outside of this. Making every playlist sound like a popular radio station in a major city in the USA; where only the most popular tracks are played because they are requested infinitely all day long.

It is difficult to find a good shuffle system. The way I use my streaming service (now Apple Music), is to add full albums from artists I know and enjoy, and then add several similar artists that may seem familiar or possibly not at all. By adding the albums, I also have separate lists automatically created for the Artists and for the Songs. I typically start my music by shuffling my library of 50,000 songs, and if the mood strikes me I will pull up a song or album to listen to immediately, where the random shuffle continues afterwards.

I will, on occasion, stumble across something interesting that has me researching and discovering new music to add. My music is with me all of the time, and I can identify and add practically anything I hear or read about. It is about the best time to be alive for a music lover.
 
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