Spotify, that ginormous music-streaming, data-compiling beast, takes a look at its own numbers regularly and spits out some idea of what’s what—and in an interesting recent report, the word from Spotifyland is that heavy metal fans all over the world are the “most loyal.”
Now, loyalty is what we call a qualitative judgment. You are really loyal, or you are perhaps not loyal at all. But you are not 26 loyal. What’s 26 loyal? On what scale is 26 loyal a good or bad score? As much as we need quantitative judgments to make sense of market research and level up in Dungeons & Dragons, some concepts lose their meaning when you try to express them as a number.
What Spotify did was make up a master list of the “core artists” for each genre, then track who listened to what. What they found is that listeners who showed themselves to be heavy metal fans (i.e., listened to a lot of the predefined core metal artists) tended not to listen to very much else.
Below is the bar graph. Metal fans as the highest-scoring group are given the top score of 1.0, and everyone else gets in line. Pop fans are about 77% as loyal as metal fans, folk fans are 72% as loyal as metal fans, country and rock fans have about 70% of metal fans’ loyalty.
Spotify chose to frame the results as a measure of “loyalty.” One man’s loyalty, though, is another’s closed-mindedness. And critics of the heavy metal genre—metal haters, if you will—say it’s not about loyalty or even closed-mindedness, but routine.
The “core artists” idea is iffy. The study measures not allegiance to a genre, but to the greatest hits of that genre. For the purpose of argument, you could theorize that all listeners are equally loyal to their chosen genres, but the metal listeners stick to the big-name acts while fans of pop, country, blues and jazz are more likely to listen to fringe artists within that genre.
(Drawing strict borders around musical genres is also iffy—Spotify provides playlists of what it considers to be metal, pop, etc. Be warned that depending on your settings, clicking these lists might open the spotify app: Sound of Metal playlist, Sound of Pop playlist, Sound of Rock playlist, Sound of Rock playlist, Sound of Hip Hop playlist.)
The numbers don’t lie—they’re numbers. But what those numbers mean in human language is a different story. Are heavy metal fans loyal to the genre they love,? That sounds like a good thing. Or do they cling to what’s familiar, forsaking new experiences for the zillionth listen to Master of Puppets?
We’re playing “Devil’s Advocate” here, of course. No, really, we are literally playing “Devil’s Advocate.” It’s track 4 on Day of Reckoning, the 2011 album by German thrash-metal merchants Destruction.