When Apple debuted its streaming music service in June, it launched a live radio station to go with it: Beats 1 is billed as “the world’s local station,” with DJs in London, New York, and Los Angeles. Anyone can listen 24 hours a day using iTunes or the Apple Music app.
To get a sense of the station’s tastes and habits, we analyzed data on more than 12,000 songs played on Beats 1 from early July to early August. The song data was collected by Callum Jones, a programmer at Nitrous, who has open-sourced his tool over on GitHub. Jones also has a Twitter bot that automatically tweets whatever song is playing.
Here are the top tracks for the month we studied—the Apple top 20:
|The Weeknd||Can’t Feel My Face||107|
|Selena Gomez||Good For You (feat. A$AP Rocky)||75|
|Julio Bashmore||Holding On (feat. Sam Dew)||68|
|The Weeknd||The Hills||65|
|Vince Staples||Norf Norf||63|
|Calvin Harris & Disciples||How Deep Is Your Love||59|
|Omi||Cheerleader (Felix Jaehn Remix Radio Edit)||58|
|Fetty Wap||679 (feat. Remy Boyz)||57|
|Rachel Platten||Fight Song||55|
|Skrillex & Diplo||Where Are Ü Now (with Justin Bieber)||53|
|Vic Mensa||U Mad (feat. Kanye West)||53|
|Majid Jordan||My Love (feat. Drake)||52|
|Taylor Swift||Bad Blood (feat. Kendrick Lamar)||51|
|Foals||What Went Down||48|
|Fetty Wap||Trap Queen||48|
Beats 1 has something that is rare in the world of digital music: scarcity. Listeners can’t choose a song and play it over and over. (They can do that elsewhere on Apple Music.) But curation doesn’t mean songs aren’t repeated. We counted 12,445 tracks but only 3,371 unique songs, meaning each track was played an average of 3.7 times. Eighteen of the 20 songs in the table above were played over 50 times.
That’s a lot of repeats, and it’s something Beats 1 has been criticized for. An initial marketing push for Pharrell’s new single Freedom led to a Reddit thread called “Beats 1 Needs to Stop Playing Freedom.” Still, over a quarter of the songs in the dataset were played only once, so there is a reasonable amount of diversity.
Then there is the issue of what these tracks say about Beats 1’s musical choices. It looks like the station is trying to occupy a space that is just edgy enough to not be called mainstream. Apple is like your friend who’s really into music but not the one who’s really crazy. The top tracks on Beats 1 tend to either pair relatively obscure artists with musical celebrity like Drake or Kanye West, or they are indie stars with increasing mainstream appeal, like The Weeknd or Jamie XX.
How varied is the group of artists? About 2,100 artists received airtime on Beats 1, or about six plays each, on average. Here are the artists that show up the most (not including cameos):
The number of songs played per day stays pretty consistent during the week but jumps over the weekends, probably because of high-track-turnover DJ mix shows that play during prime party hours.
Though Beats 1 is an eclectic mix of genres, some listeners have complained that it plays too much hip-hop. “Too much” is a matter of taste, of course, but looking at the breakdown, there is indeed more hip-hop than anything else in the repertoire. (These are the genres as iTunes defines them. Crucially, the dataset only includes genre for about half of the songs.)
Listeners have also complained about Beats 1 repeating 12-hour blocks of shows, even while billing it as a “24-hour radio station.” It is indeed on 24 hours a day, but much of that content, including DJ chatter, is not broadcast live.
Repetition goes beyond just a show being replayed after 12 hours, though. Some pairs of songs are played together several times, in the same order. These are the most frequent song pairs in the dataset.
|Rachel Platten – Fight Song||Omi – Cheerleader (Felix Jaehn Remix Radio Edit)||21|
|Rachel Platten – Fight Song||The Weeknd – Can’t Feel My Face||17|
|Silento – Watch Me (Whip / Nae Nae)||Rachel Platten – Fight Song||12|
|The Weeknd – The Hills||Rachel Platten – Fight Song||8|
|The Weeknd – Can’t Feel My Face||Omi – Cheerleader (Felix Jaehn Remix Radio Edit)||8|
|Silento – Watch Me (Whip / Nae Nae)||Major Lazer – Lean On (feat. MØ & DJ Snake)||6|
|Fifth Harmony – Worth It (f. Kid Ink)||WALK THE MOON – Shut Up and Dance||6|
|The Weeknd – The Hills||Major Lazer – Lean On (feat. MØ & DJ Snake)||6|
|Beck – Dreams||Gallant – Weight In Gold||6|
|Omi – Cheerleader (Felix Jaehn Remix Radio Edit)||Drake – Back to Back||6|
|WALK THE MOON – Shut Up and Dance||The Weeknd – The Hills||6|
|Fetty Wap – Trap Queen||Selena Gomez – Good For You (feat. A$AP Rocky)||6|
|WALK THE MOON – Shut Up and Dance||Rachel Platten – Fight Song||6|
|Skrillex & Diplo – Where Are Ü Now (f. Justin Bieber)||Selena Gomez – Good For You (feat. A$AP Rocky)||5|
|Miguel – face the sun (f. Lenny Kravitz)||Halsey – New Americana||5|
|Selena Gomez – Good For You (f. A$AP Rocky)||Major Lazer – Lean On (feat. MØ & DJ Snake)||4|
|Wiz Khalifa – See You Again (f. Charlie Puth)||Fetty Wap – 679 (feat. Remy Boyz)||4|
|Ed Sheeran – Photograph||Fetty Wap – Trap Queen||4|
|Vic Mensa & Skrillex – No Chill||Robyn & La Bagatelle Magique – Set Me Free||4|
|Selena Gomez – Good For You (f. A$AP Rocky)||The Weeknd – The Hills||4|
The song data also challenge Apple’s insistence that Beats 1 is “a truly global listening experience.” Nearly every song is in English and produced by artists from the US, UK, or Canada. Apple’s one and only radio station has proven to be popular so far, but imagine how many more listeners it might get by capitalizing on Asia’s K-Pop explosion.