Matt Daniels for Polygraph:
Until recently, it was impossible to measure the popularity of older music. Billboard charts and album sales only tell us about a song’s popularity at the time of its release.
But now we have Spotify, a buffet of all of music, new and old. Tracks with fewer plays are fading into obscurity. And those with more plays are remaining in the cultural ether.
The interactive charts Polygraph put together from the Spotify data are really interesting. If you’re anything like me, you’ll blow another 10–15 minutes above the time you spend reading the article playing with them.
As Daniels pointed out, we don’t really have data to support interactions that might change the trajectory of popularity, but I’d point out that some of the less popular but surprisingly long-lived songs were featured in movies or on TV programs.
Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” may owe its current place at the top of the longevity chart to Glee, and “Bohemian Rhapsody” would most likely languish in obscurity without the 20 year trailing consciousness-boost from Wayne’s World. Aerosmith’s “Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” also stands far out in the 1998 track list, which is probably due to being a featured song in Armageddon.
It’s a classic chicken-egg problem. Were these songs featured in films and TV shows because they had a lasting impact on people, or did they get a new lease on public consciousness because someone involved with making the show liked the songs and used them?
But if the songs aren’t “good” in some sense, they won’t have lasting attention. You’d have to make a damn compelling show to bring back something like “Ice Ice Baby” from (its rightfully consigned) place in 90s obscurity. After a playcount blip, I’d expect that to go right back down to baseline, unless it got meme-ified or otherwise co-opted and used ironically.