The New York Times Analyzed Americans' YouTube Habits—How Does It Look Locally? | Music Feature | Indy Week
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The New York Times Analyzed Americans' YouTube Habits—How Does It Look Locally? 

Last week, The New York Times' data-focused digital vertical, The Upshot, published an article about the online music listening habits of Americans. Josh Katz looked at a year's worth of streaming data from YouTube and organized it into color-coded maps. The resulting visuals make for a fun exploration of taste—and speak to some interesting local trends, too.

Katz translated a significant chunk of his data into fifty artist-based maps. Many of those names are, of course, today's biggest pop stars: Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, plus a few less-expected names like Shakira, Metallica, and Linkin Park. The data is organized like a heat map—the more popular an artist is in a given area, the deeper pink the region is colored.

Hip-hop artists Kodak Black, Migos, Chris Brown, Lil Uzi Vert, Drake, and DJ Khaled all showed strong popularity across North Carolina. Fayetteville native J Cole, whose overall support appears strongest on the West Coast, still makes a strong showing on his former home turf.

The maps also demonstrate how the Triangle is a bit of a bubble when it comes to taste: Katy Perry, Ed Sheerhan, and The Chainsmokers have small, medium-pink blips around the Triangle, but their popularity fades dramatically outside of the area. And others didn't even fare that well. Except for a stripe near Wilmington and a pocket in the northwest corner of the state, The Weeknd's North Carolina map is such a light pink that it's almost white. Ariana Grande, Selena Gomez, Taylor Swift, Sia, Imagine Dragons, Shawn Mendes, Maroon 5, and Panic! At The Disco are all more or less in that same boat.

The piece also features a tool where you can enter a city or ZIP code, and you get a ten-song YouTube playlist of the most-streamed songs in a specific area. It gives an even more detailed look at the breakdown of Katz's data. In some cases, different municipalities get lumped in together: Chapel Hill and Carrboro share a playlist, as do Morrisville, Apex, and Cary. Hillsborough, however, did merit its own list.

Individually, the playlists roughly confirm stereotypes about their respective areas. The lists for Cary and Chapel Hill, both suburban areas, bent more strongly toward white pop artists, especially Coldplay. The band's bland but sunny single from last January, "Hymn for the Weekend," topped Cary's list and appeared on Chapel Hill's, too (Beyoncé is a guest vocalist on the track, but she's uncredited). With her languid yet congenial voice, Adele also made both lists, but so did BTS, an all-male Korean pop group.

That's not to say that Chapel Hill and Cary have identical tastes. Cary prefers Justin Timberlake's "Can't Stop the Feeling" and Sia's "Elastic Heart" over Chapel Hill's predilection for songs by Ed Sheerhan and former One Direction heartthrob Zayn Malik.

Raleigh, Durham, and Hillsborough also boasted fairly complementary lists. Given that they're both bigger cities, it's not surprising that Raleigh and Durham's lists were similar, but it's unexpected that quiet Hillsborough had more in common with those areas than its Orange County neighbors. All leaned strongly toward varying strains of hip-hop and R&B. Hillsborough's playlist featured heavy doses of Rihanna, plus Lil Yachty, DJ Khaled, and Lil Uzi Vert, with Rae Sremmurd's "Black Beatles" bringing up the rear. Khaled also got some love in Raleigh, but the capital city seems to like Gucci Mane, J Cole, and Migos more.

Durham YouTubers seem to enjoy more female artists, including Beyoncé, Rihanna, and Nicki Minaj (Chris Brown rears his head as an unfortunate outlier, too). But the Bull City's most-streamed music video might come as a surprise: the eighteen-minute Martin Scorsese cut of Michael Jackson's "Bad" sits at the top of Durham's list. Jackson also made Raleigh's list, though his appearance was much lower.

The data collection period ran from January 2016 to April 2017, which explains why G Yamazawa's runaway local hit "North Cack," which was released in early May, didn't make the cut. Surprisingly, no country artists made it to the regional-specific playlists, either. Do Luke Bryan and Florida Georgia Line fans simply prefer Spotify or some other streaming platform?

Of course, the Times' analysis isn't a referendum on Triangle music tastes; not everyone does the majority of their music listening on YouTube alone, and there are plenty of artists whose work doesn't rack up hundreds of thousands of regional hits. But if you've ever felt afraid to admit your love for the mega-"Bad," fear not: there are, apparently, a lot of y'all.

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