Happy Valentine's Day from Last.fm

Monday, 14 February 2011
by andrew
filed under Trends and Data
Comments: 24

We all know Last.fm listeners are achingly hip, resolutely individualistic, and far too cynical to be taken in by the annual cards-and-roses marketing-fest called Valentine’s Day, right?

Well… perhaps not. We wondered, with years worth of data at our fingertips, if we could see whether February 14th brought out the sentimental side of our listeners.

This Is Not A Love Song

In order to listen to love songs, you have to find them first. So we started our investigation with the tags Romantic and Love Songs. Tags are supplied by listeners, so their presence alone is enough to give away the fact that at least some of you are softies at heart.

Of course, ‘Romantic’ music can also refer to 19th-century pieces by the likes of Brahms and Schubert, so we went to our database and extracted the top-scoring tracks associated with both Romantic and Love Songs.

This gave us a stack of 30 songs by the likes of Lionel Richie, Barry Manilow, Bryan Adams and Ronan Keating.

What Time Is Love?

We wanted to find out whether there were specific times when our listeners were feeling particularly loved-up. So we scanned our scrobbling logs for 2010, and for each day counted the number of listeners who’d played at least one of the love songs in our test set. 30 songs is a tiny fraction of the millions of tracks scrobbled to Last.fm every day, but even so there’s a clear spike on February 14th:

Click image for full-size version.

Put It In A Love Song

But tags are only one way of looking at the data. They tell us what people say about their music, but we wanted to turn the question around: what artists do people listen to especially on Valentine’s Day?

To answer this question, you can’t just look at the top 10 or top 100 artists. After all, Last.fm listeners’ music taste is incredibly diverse, and for the most part the overlap is made up of the latest hits. For example, here’s the top 5 tracks played on Valentine’s Day 2010:

1. Lady Gaga – Bad Romance
2. Ke$ha – TiK ToK
3. Lady Gaga – Poker Face
4. Owl City – Fireflies
5. Lady Gaga – Paparazzi

Could be any other day in February 2010 really. But by comparing people’s listening habits on Valentine’s Day to another day of the year you can see what music becomes temporarily more popular than usual when people are in the mood for love.

So, we took the scrobbling logs for February 14th for the last six years and pulled out a shortlist of the artists who made it into the top 1000 that day but not seven days later (the 21st – a relatively unromantic day).

We added up the number of times an artist appeared in the shortlist between 2005 and 2010 and ranked them by this score, breaking ties by average popularity on Valentine’s Day.

So, after all the number-crunching, here’s the Top 10 Valentine’s Day artists for Last.fm listeners:

1. Barry White, the undisputed master of romance
2. BoA
3. Pete Yorn
4. Sixpence None the Richer
5. Tiga
6. Wire
7. Sam Cooke
8. Shania Twain
9. Mandy Moore
10. Daphne Loves Derby

So there you have it. The late and lamented Barry White, leader of the Love Unlimited Orchestra, melter of the hearts of housewives everywhere and crooner of the likes of Can’t Get Enough Of Your Love, Babe, You’re The First, The Last, My Everything and It’s Ecstasy When You Lay Down Next To Me, takes his rightful place on top of your Valentine’s Day chart.

The runners-up span a vast range of tags — from Romantic and Love of course (Shania Twain, Mandy Moore and Sam Cooke), to Electroclash (Tiga) and Post-Punk (Wire); what a diverse bunch you are.

For more technical details about this post, see Andrew’s journal.
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