Posts Tagged coolness

The Coolness Index

Some artists just are not cool – your mom likes ABBA, so there’s no way you are going to listen to them, even if you think Mamma Mia is rather catchy.  Likewise  you may think High School Musical’s ‘Bop to the top’ is mucho gusto, but you don’t want anyone to know it.  Coolness is hard to quantify, ephemeral and transient (and of course, very subjective); some artists like Miles Davis and the Velvet Underground will always be totally cool – while some fade in and out of coolness (Elvis, Stevie Wonder,  Neil Diamond, Sting), and some artists – well, it is hard to tell if they were ever cool (Miley Cyrus, Creed, and Nickeback come to mind).

Imagine if there was an objective measure for coolness  – a number that could be attached to each artist that indicated how ‘cool’ the artist was.   We’d be able to do all sorts of interesting things with such a ‘coolness index’.  We could make a ‘music makeover’ playlist that would take you from Miley to Miles in 12 songs  (consider it a 12-step  taste recovery program) or we could create a music rehab playlist that takes you  from Amy Winehouse to Kate Nash.  But of course, the concept of cool  is too hard to nail down.  Is Johnny Cash cool? Michael Jackson? Prince?  Context, demographics, locale  all play a role.

It may be too hard to tell whether an artist is cool, but we have all sorts of ways to tell that an artist is definitely not cool.  For instance, if lots of listeners  really don’t want people to know that they are listening to a particular artist, then that artist is probably not too cool. Luckily, there’s an interesting source for just this kind of data.   Recently, the researchers at Last.fm published a list of the ‘most unwanted scrobbles‘.  This is a list of  tracks that were most frequently deleted by the Last.fm community from their scrobbles in the last month. These are the tracks that Last.fm listeners didn’t want people to know that the listened to.  Here’s the first page of the most unwanted scrobbles:

notcoolKudos to Last.fm for publishing this data. It’s a great source for the uncool.  Collecting all the artists from the pages we can build a list of artists that have frequently had their scrobbles deleted:

Lady GaGa
Britney Spears
Katy Perry
Rihanna
Paramore
Coldplay
Taylor Swift
Beyoncé
Avril Lavigne
Marc Seales, composer. New Stories. Ernie Watts, saxophone
Alexander Rybak
Black Eyed Peas
Kings of Leon
Muse
My Chemical Romance
Linkin Park
Korn
Miley Cyrus
Jason Mraz
Metro Station
Leona Lewis
Green Day
Evanescence
Amy Whinehouse
Oasis
Nelly Furtado

This list rings true as set of ‘uncool’ artists (with the exception Marc Seales, who happens to have a  piece of  music, called ‘Highway Blues’,  that can be found in most ‘Sample Music’ folders on most Windows XP computers, and is likely  frequently scrobbled because of this).  Ideally this list should be normalized for popularity – naturally artists that have more listeners will be scrobbled more and consequently be deleted more too. but there’s not enough data in this list to normalize properly so we’ll make do with an unnormalize list.  I find it  interesting how many female acts are on the list. Is it not cool to listen to female artists?

Another approach to find the uncool  is to look for artists that have been tagged as ‘guilty pleasure’ on sites like Last.fm.  For these artists,  by applying the ‘guilty pleasure’ tag people are identifying artists that they are embarrassed to be listening to.  Here’s a list of the top 100 popular artists that have been frequently tagged with ‘guilty pleasure’ – for this list I’m normalizing the data so popularity doesn’t factor into the list order:

Katy Perry
Ashlee Simpson
Spice Girls
Lindsay Lohan
Mandy Moore
Jessica Simpson
Backstreet Boys
Hilary Duff
Metro Station
Britney Spears
Justin Timberlake
Taylor Swift
Rihanna
The Pussycat Dolls
Kelly Clarkson
Christina Aguilera
Fall Out Boy
Take That
Avril Lavigne
Ricky Martin
Girls Aloud
Fergie
Neil Diamond
McFly
Robyn
The Veronicas
Ace of Base
ABBA
Cline Dion
Chris Brown
All Time Low
Kanye West
Gwen Stefani
Good Charlotte
P!nk
Usher
blink-182
R. Kelly
Nelly Furtado
The Get Up Kids
Madonna
Timbaland
Beyonce
New Found Glory
Natasha Bedingfield
Akon
Jem
Ciara
Robbie Williams
Paramore
The Wallflowers
Michelle Branch
Taking Back Sunday
Creed
Savage Garden
The All-American Rejects
Simple Plan
Shania Twain
Sugababes
Tegan and Sara
Everclear
Sugarcult
The Starting Line
Brand New
Destiny’s Child
Cyndi Lauper
Mariah Carey
Westlife
Maroon 5
Melanie C
Jennifer Lopez
Michael Jackson
Kelis
Tears for Fears
Alkaline Trio
Dashboard Confessional
Vanessa Carlton
Lily Allen
Bowling for Soup
Jet
50 Cent
Trivium
Cher
Eve 6
Sean Paul
Kylie Minogue
Howie Day
Sophie Ellis-Bextor
My Chemical Romance
Third Eye Blind
Saves the Day
Bryan Adams
Blondie
Boston
John Mellencamp
Simply Red
Whitney Houston
The Corrs
The Calling
Motion City Soundtrack

There’s overlap between the two lists:  Avril, Britney, Katy, Nelly, Taylor, Rihanna, along with the Disney crowd. Again, there seems to be an anti-female coolness bias on the list. It is hard to be cool and female.

The ‘most unwanted scrobbles’ and the ‘guilty+pleasure’ approach to the coolness index only get us so far. They can help us identify music that people are embarrassed to admit that they enjoy.  But they only give us one end of the coolness spectrum.  We can find what is not cool, but we can’t find out what is cool.  We have in effect an ‘Uncoolness Index’.  Still, knowing which artists are uncool can be helpful for all sorts of things.   If we are building a playlist for that party, we can turn on the uncool filter to make sure that Ricky Martin or Robbie Williams won’t sneak into the mix.  Likewise, if we are building a recommender, we can use the Uncoolness index to decide how cool the user is and recommend music that’s slightly less uncool than what they are used to listening to.

Next steps are to figure out how to learn not just what is uncool, but also what is cool, so we can build the true ‘coolness index’ and be able to tell how cool any artist is.  I think that is going to be a harder problem, but I have some ideas …

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