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Nirvana’s ‘Smell Like Teen Spirit’ Is By Far The Most Popular Song Of The 90’s On Spotify


Spotify playcounts for songs of the 90’s (Matt Daniels)


Matt Daniels, editor at Polygraph magazine has made an attempt to measure the popularity of old music. We have charts for current music but how do we know how much the current generation is listening to hits from the 70’s, 80’s or 90’s?

Of course there’s Spotify these days, and Daniels used this precious tool to produce the graph above and a few others, examining the popularity of the songs released from 1990 to 1999. Should we be surprised? Nirvana’s ‘Smell Like Teen Spirit’ is by far the most popular song of the 90’s getting more than 50 million play counts! Let’s hope Courtney Love doesn’t get any of this money.

‘Iris’ by the Goo Goo Dolls gets a good mention too (really?), as do ‘Wonderwall’ by Oasis and ‘Under the Bridge’ by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, but it’s nothing compared to the score for ‘Smell Like Teen Spirit’, a track that never reached the Billboard Top 5 when it was released in 1992!

Daniels observed some limitation of his data though:

‘The data is skewed, since playcounts include people of all ages. Technically, we should normalize the data with Spotify users only born after 1995. They’re the incoming generation with little bias towards the music (they didn’t grow up with it), and they’ll influence whomever is around in 2050. Spotify’s user base already skews young, and the data more-or-less represents a generation in their mid-20s.’

Daniels also studied the rappers for a larger time bracket (1986-1999), and if there is not a big winner, Blackstreet’s ‘No Diggity’ (who is he?) and Dr. Dre’s ‘Still Dre’ are both winners at 30,000,000 playcounts followed by B.I.G.’s ‘Juicy’ at 25,000,000. Where is Tupac? Quite below actually!

Daniels also made a popularity graph for five decades, from 1950 to 2005, and this time, Nirvana is not number one, beaten by Eminem! Here is the top ten and a few surprises as I would not have expected to see the Killers and Linkin Park there:

1. Lose Yourself — Eminem, 2002, playcounts 59,039,765

2. Mr. Brightside — The Killers, 2005, playcounts 54,367,533

3. Numb — Linkin Park, 2003, playcounts 52,969,898

4. Don’t Stop Believin’ — Journey, 1981, playcounts 50,855,135

5. Smells Like Teen Spirit — Nirvana, 1991, playcounts 50,657,282

6. In The End — Linkin Park, 2001, playcounts 43,025,894

7. Hey Ya! — OutKast, 2003, playcounts 41,296,582

8. Billie Jean — Michael Jackson, 1983, playcounts 40,732,708

9. Seven Nation Army — White Stripes The, 2003, playcounts 39,559,321

10. Fix You — Coldplay, 2005, playcounts 38,912,539

There are plenty of graphs on this page, and as more and more data on popular music are made available, expect more and more of these studies.



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