The US is as divided about its pop stars as everything else

Won’t the real Slim Shady please stand up.
Won’t the real Slim Shady please stand up.
Image: Reuters/Jumana ElHeloueh
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It was Stevie Wonder who once crooned, “Music is a world within itself, with a language we all understand.” But Stevie Wonder was wrong.

America’s music tastes, as with its politics, actually swing wildly by region, with coastal areas tuning into entirely different artists and genres than rural states, where the bulk of white population resides, and urban cities, which are usually more multicultural and racially diverse. A set of map illustrations this week made by the New York Times (paywall) using YouTube viewership data puts the differences in stark definition.

Pop majesty Beyoncé, who is the highest-earning musician in the world, isn’t the symbol of blessed national unity that many Americans think she is. But neither is Maroon 5, or Ariana Grande, or Adele, or any of the radio-friendly stars that might intuitively seem to have nationwide appeal.

Per the Times’ maps, there are no artists among the 50 most watched musicians on YouTube that have managed to capture an even distribution of Americans—their star power, rather, comes from dense regional pockets of interest.

We see the split even within specific genres—such as rap, which is now by one measure bigger than rock: Eminem’s most loyal followers are deep in the Great Plains, for instance, while Migos has a dedicated base in the South. Selena Gomez is a decidedly West Coast phenomenon. Rural listeners in Montana prefer white musicians like Eminem and Imagine Dragons. Christian-influenced rock band Twenty One Pilots sees a spike in popularity in the religious circles of Utah.

Justin Bieber is played the most in Las Vegas, which touts a devoted electronic dance music scene. His least popular areas—no surprise here—are states like Alabama and Mississippi.

Looking at America’s music preferences, then, is actually a good way of discerning its cultural splinters. And all this is just more evidence that figuring out the world’s biggest pop star really depends on who you ask.