April 16, 2011

Today's music lovers are teenage girls and middle-aged men

A couple days ago a girl I was chatting with was deploring the glut of dopey culture that's churned out by industries catering to adolescents, such as the Twilight movies and books as well as Justin Bieber's music. She said she'd noticed most of the bad music videos on YouTube were most popular with "the tween generation;" she herself is in her early 20s. I never knew that you could find that info out on YouTube, so I did a little investigating.

First, YouTube only tracks popularity among demographic groups if there is an official music video at the band's official channel or the official channel of their record label. This makes it impossible to study popularity for anything before MTV began in the early 1980s, and for any band who never made it big enough to have their own YouTube channel as of today. But for the videos it does track, it lists the top three demographic groups who watch it, split by male vs. female and by age group -- 13-17, 18-24, 25-34, and so on by 10-year blocks after that.

Well, she was right that Justin Bieber's and Lady Gaga's videos do draw the 13-17 year-old female crowd, but it turns out that so does every other kind of music, whether present or past, and whether good or bad. I didn't compile a complete list of the roughly 30-40 videos that I checked out, but the take-home message is that if females show up in the top three audiences, it is almost always 13-17 year-old girls. It's almost never 18-24 year-olds (the only exceptions I found were T.I.'s "Whatever You Like" and Britney Spears' "...One More Time").

I found no video where 25-34 year-old females were among the biggest fans. Females aged 35-44 and, more rarely, 45-54 did occasionally make it, but it was only for older and less iconic hits -- ones that were #1s when they were teenagers, but that haven't lasted in popularity as other #1s from the same era. For example, "Like a Virgin" has one female audience in the top three spots -- 13-17 year-olds -- because it's remained popular ever since it came out, so that young girls today will have heard of it and look it up on YouTube. However, "Hungry Like the Wolf" and "Rio" are not as recognizable today, and the only female group who really digs these are 35-44 year-olds.

For male audiences, it's just the opposite. It's almost always 35-44 and 45-54 year-olds (i.e. the so-called younger Boomers plus Generation X) who make up the bulk of the video's viewers. For videos with no female audiences in the top three, then 25-34 year-old males show up, although this is less common because that third spot usually goes to females 13-17 or females 35-44. I found no cases of 18-24 year-old males making it into one of the big three audiences, and only two cases where 13-17 year-old males did -- for "Baby" and "One Time" by Justin Bieber. Although even for those two, you wonder whether those young guys aren't just going there to vote thumbs-down on the video over and over, since both videos have over 1 million and over 200,000 dislikes, respectively, in contrast to most videos that have hardly any dislikes because only people who enjoy it search it out and watch it.

To give you an idea for the strange new world of music culture that we have today, here are just a dozen songs, out of even more, whose videos are most popular among females 13-17 in all cases, males 35-44 in all cases, males 25-34 in the first 2 cases, and males 45-54 in the other 10 cases. I list the older ones just to show that this holds true for songs that were hits before the 13-17 year-old girls were even born. They also represent a pretty broad spectrum of pop music.

"It's Tricky" by Run DMC
"Don't Cry" by Guns N' Roses
"Sweet Child o' Mine" by Guns N' Roses
"You Give Love a Bad Name" by Bon Jovi
"Livin' on a Prayer" by Bon Jovi
"Like a Virgin" by Madonna
"Like a Prayer" by Madonna
"Billie Jean" by Michael Jackson
"Time After Time" by Cyndi Lauper
"Friday I'm in Love" by The Cure
"Every Breath You Take" by The Police
"Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)" by The Eurhythmics

Males in the 13-17 and 18-24 groups (i.e. Millennials), and to a lesser but still large degree in the 25-34 age group, have totally abandoned whatever interest in music they may have had, or just never got into it in the first place. Even though the average pop song is only 3 or 4 minutes long, that is still too much time to re-allocate away from leveling up their dorky video game characters and ambushing 11 year-old boys in Grand Theft Auto IV online multiplayer. Since watching a video on YouTube is completely free, and only costs you your time, this shows that young males aren't interested at all -- at least if they weren't buying albums, maybe they'd still be illegally downloading them or scrounging around YouTube. But no, they just don't care about music anymore.

I don't know what to make of the continued fascination with music among teenage girls. I keep emphasizing how less wild young people have gotten over the past 20 years, so here's a partial exception. They haven't dropped out and joined the church of video games or anything else like that. This shouldn't be too surprising since I've shown earlier, using data from IMDb, that under-18 girls are the most likely to dig Alfred Hitchcock, to love good horror movies, and to hate dopey chick flicks. I also showed that females become boring faster as they age compared to men, looking at movie preferences.

Although I didn't check for age differences within the sexes, I did find that girls are more likely than boys to love coming-of-age movies, even if the stories were only about boys. My hunch there was that modern society protects innocent people from physical harm and danger, so that unless there's a surge in the crime rate like from 1959-1992, young males have no way to feel like they're needed and appreciated by, e.g., serving their role as protectors and fighters. Young girls, however, are not protected in modern society because their threats are not physical violence but spreading gossip, ostracism, etc. So during adolescence they still feel just about as under-siege by enemies as young girls have felt for most of history.

So if you want to talk to younger people about music -- not teaching, I mean just shooting the bull -- you're more or less out of luck in talking to boys, unless you go some place like a used record store where young guys work and are hired on the basis of being interested in music. Choose teenage girls instead, who still respond to music. Hey, there are worse ways to spend your time than getting lost in a conversation about Dionysian topics with an opening flower of a girl.


  1. You did a double post.

    Since you've discussed flappers before, here's a list of their lingo. I chuckled at "strike breaker".

    MTV helped ruin music. Fortunately there is Pandora now.

  2. Maybe teenage boys being more computer savvy are more likely to download their music over P2P apps instead of re-downloading music videos through YT every time they want to hear a song.


  3. There used to be a service called dirpy, but it got shutdown. Now you can use sites like video2mpr instead, but it doesn't give the same meta-data support.

  4. You're way off base when you translate watching YouTube to loving music. You've shown that only teen girls and nostalgic men are willing to sit and watch a song. Everyone else has better things to do and just listens via streaming, iPod, or whatever.

    Also, for what its worth, you seem to have a very limited definition of music picked to specifically appeal to nostalgic guys. Where's the indie and alternative rock? County and alt. country? Hip hop?

  5. "you seem to have a very limited definition of music picked to specifically appeal to nostalgic guys."

    And yet it universally appeals to teenage girls too, against anyone's expectations. That was the point, stupid.

    "Everyone else has better things to do"

    Yeah right, like locking themselves indoors and leveling up their Pokemon characters.

    "and just listens via streaming, iPod, or whatever."

    And teenage girls and 30+ men don't have iPods, etc.? Think harder.

    As a follow-up observation, on Record Store Day last Saturday, I saw only two youngish guys the whole time. There were plenty of 30+ males, but also a good number of teenage girls, including two who were rifling through the t-shirt rack looking for something with AC/DC on it, right before they hit the vinyl section. Ditto for the audience composition for the band playing outside.

    Really warmed the heart to see young girls still being somewhat into it. And if young guys are too dorky, then that's their loss.

  6. (same anonymous responding)

    I get your point that you've found a connection between things that teenage girls do and things that somewhat older guys do. If you restrict yourself to saying those groups like music videos I'd agree. But music videos are not the only indicator of loving music and you present no data (your add on anecdotal evidence is not data) about the other methods.

    Putting it another way; I'm interested in why teenage girls and somewhat older guys prefer to watch YouTube to get their music instead of some other way to get their music fix.


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