Popular Music is NOT Popular.

Four Surprising Facts
about the Unpopularity of American Pop Music

Article by David Gasten
Posted October 23, 2013

Matrix Morpheus meme: 17% of Americans have been to The Club

Here in the United States as I write this, it seems that Autotuned club music (aka EDM) is everywhere.  When you walk into a store or a mall, you’re greeted with the sound of narcissistic robots singing "Me-a-pa-pa Me-a-pa-pa" and the sound of thump, thump, thump behind them.  It’s on the radio, in TV and movie adverts, everywhere.  You would think, based on what you see, that everyone around you wants to be at “The Club” 24/7.

But what if I told you that only 17% of Americans have ever been to “The Club”? Would you believe it?  Considering the omnipresence of club music, probably not.  But it’s true, within a margin of 4.1%.

On May 6-7, 2013, Public Policy Polling, a political polling firm that brings us many of the political polls that we hear about during the election cycles, conducted a two-day music survey that gauged the popularity of current and past music and music celebrities.  The information revealed in this survey demonstrates that current “popular” music really isn’t that popular after all.

Here are four surprising facts what they found.

1. Only 17% of Americans have ever been to “The Club”—even once.

Hip hop clubs, twerk clubs, "The Big House." Call them what you want, but the people who go to them—or have even been to them at all—are a small minority. On Day One of the poll, PPP asked this question: “Have you ever been to the club, or not?”  Only 17% said “Yes”.  75% said “No”, and a mere 8% said “Not Sure”.

In the 18 to 29 age range, which “The Club” is marketed to, it’s still a minority.  Amongst people aged 18 to 29, only 31%—less than one third—had been to “The Club”.   A full 69% said “No,” and 0% said “not sure”, which demonstrates the almost complete saturation of awareness of club culture within this set. So although pop music is geared heavily to club culture as though it were a vast majority, only a minority of even the target market is participating. [PPP Day 1]

2. Rap is not popular. Only 19% of Americans like Rap Music,
while 50% of Americans say Rap Music is their least favorite music genre.

With hip hop seemingly blaring out of every car stereo, and the common belief that older music genres have to be mixed with hip hop to make them “popular” (check the current jazz charts for examples), you would think that Americans have an overwhelming love for hip hop and cannot get enough of it.  Think again. 

When asked, “Do you have a favorable opinion of rap music?”, a full 68% of Americans said "No". Only 19% said “yes”, and 13% said “Not sure”.  Amongst the 18 to 29 age range (again, the industry's main target audience), it was still a minority: 54% (over half) had an unfavorable opinion of rap, 35% had a favorable opinion, and 11% said “Not Sure”. Amongst African-Americans, the number who had a favorable opinion was 42%, and the number that had an unfavorable opinion of rap music was 45%. Amongst Hispanics, that number was 27% favorable and 58% unfavorable, and amongst whites it was 14% favorable and 75% unfavorable.

The same poll listed nine music genres, and asked Americans to pick their least favorite genre. Of the nine listed, a full 50% of Americans chose “rap” as their least favorite music genre; country music came in at second with 15%, and dubstep was third with 11%.  On the flip side, the poll listed the same nine genres, and asked Americans to list their most favorite.  Only 1% voted rap to be their favorite music genre. [PPP Day 1]

3. Only 5% of Americans think that the years 2000-now have the best music.

It's not that I'm old, your music really does suck.

As the industry turns a deaf ear to the public outcry for better quality music, phrases like this one grow in popularity. Do a search engine query for "It's not that I'm old, your music really does suck," and you'll be surprised how many times this phrase comes up, complete with t-shirts, bumperstickers, and other memorabilia for sale that are emblazoned with the phrase.

Even amongst those who like the music of today, the majority consensus is that older is better. When asked “Which decade has the best music: The 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, 90’s, 2000-2009, or the current decade?,” a measly 2% said 2000-2009, and 3% said “Current Decade”.  The best performing decades were the 1950’s, 1960’s, and 1970’s, with ratings of 18%, 32%, and 25% respectively overall. [PPP Day 2]

Amazingly, amongst the 18 to 29 age range, the 1950’s did the best, coming in at 31% or almost one third.  The 90’s did second best with them at 25%.  2000-2009 and the current decade scored 13% each with that age range, which follows the pattern of people liking the music they grew up with. However, in comparison, each of the other age ranges ranked the music of their own youth in the 22% to 41% range.  [PPP Day 2] So even amongst those who will remember the music of 2000-now for nostalgic reasons, the nostalgia is only about half as strong for them as the respective childhood music is for their age superiors.

4. There’s more people that dislike many current music celebrities
than there are people that like them. 

Particularly damning for current music celebrities is the fact that despite the strong awareness, many are not really that popular. In fact, current celebrities' unpopularity is often greater than their popularity, sometimes by a ratio of two (or even three) to one.

Here is a list of current music celebrities with their favorability ratings, followed by their unfavorability ratings.

Criswell Predicts meme: bad pop music in 2014.

Rhianna...(Favorable) 30% / (Unfavorable) 39%
Chris Brown...13% / 57%
Justin Bieber...20% / 54%
Lady Gaga...29% / 50%
Jay Z...25% / 44%
Madonna...36% / 51%
[PPP Day 1 and 2]

Current celebrities that keep a more positive image tend to do better with the public overall:

Adele...(Favorable) 54% / (Unfavorable) 18%
Taylor Swift... 53% / 27%
Justin Timberlake...52% / 24%
[PPP Day 1]

But even these are low compared to the favorability of a few of the biggest music celebrities from days gone by:

Elvis Presley
...73% / 14%
The Beatles...76% / 15%
The Beach Boys...74% / 16%
The Rolling Stones...61% / 26%
[PPP Day 2]

We are in a situation where Album Sales in the United States for the year 2013 look like they will dip under 300 million for the first time in the history of Neilsen Soundscan history (Update: They did. US album sales were 289.4 million in 2013 and 257 million in 2014). Only streams and vinyl have been on the rise. And yet no one asks if part of the problem may simply be that American music audieces don't like the music and the celebrities that are being offered to them. This is always the white elephant in the room that no one in the industry will dare to address. But how exactly does the music industry expect to sell current music if the market doesn't like what they have to offer?

It is unfortunate that we don’t have even more scientific polls like this one to help us follow the real popularity of current "popular" music.  You would think that in determining what music was the most popular and therefore the most profitable, polls like this one would be foundational in understanding what the public does and doesn’t like.  However, it seems that public polling is almost completely absent from popular music. We are supposed to just believe that whatever is being handed down from on high is what everyone likes, when the facts tell a very different story, as evidenced by this poll.

But in the meantime, you now have some proof that when you go into the store and hear Autotuned club music, that you not alone in not liking it.  Not only are you not alone, you are also in the majority. And you are, as of now, in on the fact that the emperor really isn't wearing any clothes.


Public Policy Polling Music Poll, conducted May 6-7, 2013:

Day One [PPP Day 1]: http://www.publicpolicypolling.com/pdf/2011/PPP_Release_Music_050913.pdf
Day Two [PPP Day 2]: http://www.publicpolicypolling.com/Day2MusicPoll.pdf

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