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Delving into Genres with the Google Music Timeline

As part of the step-by-step plan to Google’s world domination, the search engine-cum-multinational corporation has launched a new music service called Google Play. To give us a gentle nudge towards these new services, the techies over at Google HQ have disembarked their Wi-Fi buses and formulated a Music Timeline. Essentially, an interactive graph that traces music history according to Google Play users. While this research pool may highlight a few minor limitations, the opportunity to spend our lunch breaks tracing the (non-existent) emo revival was a worthwhile exercise in nostalgia trippin’ nevertheless.

Here’s what we discovered from a brief step into a statistical past:

Alternative/Indie – AC


Like spending an extended period of time with the Screaming Trees back catalogue, there’s not a great deal to be surprised about here. While the former – being the umbrella term it is – occupies a sizeable chunk of listening habits throughout, the latter slithers in and out of popularity, carving out a niche in the mid-80s (largely thanks to C86, you’d assume) before growing through the decades as we see everyone from Olympian K teens to Doherty fanboys embracing what’s, again, a bit of a blanket concept.

Sonic Youth: An epitome of the ‘their older stuff was better’ mindset.


You might expect the Youth’s listeners to peak around 88’s sprawling masterwork Daydream Nation, or perhaps around 1991: the year punk broke – the period slap bang in between the ever-cool quartet’s most commercial outings, Goo & Dirty. No, according to Google, the group’s most beloved work is found during their mid-80s Reagan underground years: Bad Moon Rising, Evol and Sister. Surely you’ve not all got too cool for the candle-covered indie zeitgeist of ’88?

Flight of the Conchords: Too Many Dicks (on the Dance Floor)


It doesn’t take a statistical genius to see that Flight of the Conchords were dead in the water after their eponymous 2008 debut. By the time their 2009 follow-up, I Told You I Was Freaky, dropped they’d disappeared off the radar. Since then, business time seems to have dried up for the prince(s) of parties, with The Lonely Island largely assuming their comedic crown and the kiwi duo going on to work on The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and Men in Black 3.

Hip-Hop/Rap - JE


Predictably, the genre started its rise to prominence during the early 80s and continued down a skeletal beat-ridden path, peaking in the late 90s (what with the likes of Biggie, Tupac et al. waxing lyrical from the corners, trying to feed their baby daughters) before beginning its millennial ascent to the now pop-cultured genre. If there was any speculation that this is the golden age of hip-hop, Google have just served up a smug slice of QED.

East Coast vs West Coast

East Coast or West Coast? B.I.G. or Pac? NY or Cali? It’s that age old question that rendered countless diss tracks, shootings and hip-hop aggravation. Let’s see what results the Google Timeline could search on the matter:

West Coast is the best?


East Coast is the best?


Progressing through the 80s, the West Coast proved to be the overriding force with the likes of Ice Cube and Cypress Hill generating more ownership than the purveyors of adidas tracksuits, Run-DMC. Moving into the 90s, the shift turns in favour of the East Coast, with DMX, Biggie and Lauryn Hill fronting a second wave of Hip-Hop appreciation. Naturally, the power of K.Dot ensures an East Coast triumph for those contemporary listeners. But I’m sure we can account some of that as an ethereal Illuminati-type force.

In conclusion:

Who is the GOAT?

Now, this is a topic that needs far more attention than a couple of Google graphs, so let’s set some basic ground rules before it gets all heated. To garner the most up-to-date Google stats, it was decided that to be up for the title of Google GOAT, you had to have released an album this year. Thankfully, this was the year that all the big dawgs hit the studio and churned out their personal nomination for AOTY. The unanimous Notion poll decided that the three contenders up for the heavyweight title of GOAT (Greatest of ALL Time) are: Kanye West, Jay Z and Eminem.





Jay Z?


In terms of longevity, it’s a toss up between Eminem and Jay Z, both of whom are sleeped on during the early 2000s. But it would hardly be fair to judge Kanye before he released an albums, would it? Yeezy finds bravery in his bravado and asserts the most consistent period of fandom between all of his album releases, with 4 peaks as opposed to Jay’s 1.5 and Eminem’s 3. Sorry Stan’s, but the title is going to have to go to Mr. West.

Jazz – KT

Quincey Jones

Taking a quick look at Quincy Jones’ entry in the Google Music Timeline reveals further problems RE Google’s attempt to approximate all this “data.” He was a phenomenal bandleader in the late 50s and early 60s, and the graph does a good job of representing this accurately; but the music he made in the late 70s/early 80s for Michael Jackson isn’t reflected in all this colouration at all. Google need to step up their algorithm game: if there were a way to incorporate the success musicians had as producers and sidemen, then this would… still be a very impressive waste of time indeed.

Whilst people have been complaining that the data is based on statistics aggregated from Google Play Music (and specifically user libraries—who are they anyway?), the real problem is that the data will still be based on how record companies have decided to market their artists. One great example to take is John Coltrane: once he had completed his meteoric rise to fame in the early 60s, jazz labels began to release records he was featured on as a sideman—in the early 50s—as though he were the bandleader. Like Quincy once said, “there is music, and there is the music business. If I were to survive, I would have to learn the difference between the two.”

[Words: Alex Cull (AC), James Embiricos (JE), -Khalid Tetuani (KT).]

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