iTunes’ most played track

2014/11/04 § 1 Comment

Yesterday my friend suggested that I go to iTunes and find the single most played track at this time and ask myself, “why?”. This seemed odd to me, given that I had just suggested he write something about the person of Martin Luther – the great Protestant reformer – since Reformation Day had just come to pass. My friend is always looking for ways to be funny.

So I did it: I went to the iTunes song charts, and here’s what I found.

Song Charts

Taylor Swift’s song ‘Shake It Off’ is, at this moment in time (10:52pm), the number one song on the iTunes charts. Taylor Swift, if you didn’t know, is a country pop music artist, whose career has been wildly successful for such a young woman. Since her first album was released in 2006, Swift has won seven Grammy Awards, twelve Billboard Music Awards, eleven Country Music Association Awards, and seven Academy of Country Music Awards. Not only this, she has sold 30 million albums. This is huge. Taylor Swift is humongous. She’s also only twenty-four years old.

But more on the song: ‘Shake It Off’ debuted at number one on the Billboard Hot 100, placing it as the 22nd song to debut at number one in the chart’s history.

So, at the very least, what this data tells us is that Taylor Swift is wildly popular and successful. People like her music. People buy her music.

But, why?

Now, I’m not a statistical analyst. I don’t know the first thing about analyzing large pieces of data.

So instead of looking to draw conclusions about Swift’s music listeners, or determining broad correlations (between her music and any number of things), let us instead turn our attention to the song itself.

Essentially, ‘Shake It Off’ is a song about not being concerned about what others think of you. Stylistically the track is pop music plus saxophone. It’s upbeat and singable. The melody is simple and easy to repeat, and the percussive sax line reminds me of a specific Dave Matthews Band song.

Lyrically, I find very little worth praising in ‘Shake It Off.’ It isn’t that the track is morally deplorable, it’s just lacking significance and substance. I think I dislike Swift’s writing “voice” most of all. Of course, I am not familiar in the slightest with her backlog of material, so do not mistake this for anything other than a criticism of ‘Shake It Off.’ Phrases such as “but I keep cruising” and “players gonna play” riddle the song, giving it a verbiage so indistinct it could pass for nothing less than a musical lingua franca circa 2014.

So why do so many people enjoy this track? Why is it the most popular track on iTunes? It would seem that people enjoy this track – and Taylor Swift, generally – because they enjoy this sort of music. I know this sounds like the dumbfounded babbling of a lunatic, but it’s true: people listen to music discriminately (or not) based about their particular tastes. Now, what shapes those tastes? What gives them direction? What factors play a part in the culmination of them? These questions are perhaps some to ponder.

You know what? I’ve never listened to Taylor Swift. I couldn’t hum you a song of hers, nor could I name a track title (until now, of course). But the data doesn’t lie: Taylor Swift is beloved by many. And then some.

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