For many years we’ve heard people say that country music should be thankful for artists such as Taylor Swift and Sam Hunt because they bring new fans to country music who may in turn become country fans, or even start listening to more authentic country in the future. It’s the gateway drug theory applied to music, if you will. Though the idea that Sam Hunt fans would somehow start listening to Waylon Jennings, or even George Strait for that matter always seemed quite circumspect, now a new scientific study validates that doubt, while also revealing pop music fans, not country fans, are the most closed-minded fans of music.
McMaster University, a research university in Ontario, Canada, recently partnered with phone manufacturer Nokia to study the listening habits of music fans in their new Digital Music Lab. The massive project is researching around 20 million song downloads to study how we listen to music. As researchers cull through the crush of data, they have been releasing certain findings to the public that reveal interesting characteristics of listener behavior, including the “exclusivity” of music fans, meaning how likely fans of a certain genre are to have music from another genre in their listening repertoire.
The McMaster University study found that out of all music fans, pop fans were the most closed-minded out of the ten genres ranked. “Indie” fans were seen as the most receptive to listening to other genres. Country fans ranked fourth in the amount of open-mindedness towards other styles of music. The study ranked the open-mindedness of the genres’ listeners:
The study also found that fans of certain music were more likely or less likely to be fans of another genre of music. For example, classical fans were more likely to also be jazz fans, and vice versa. However metal fans were less likely to listen to jazz, and jazz fans were less likely to listen to metal.
Then there were some strange anomalies the study called “asymmetrical pairings” where one genre might like another, but that love wasn’t necessarily returned by fans of the other genre. The study found that country fans were also likely to be fans of pop, but pop fans were less likely to be fans of country. In other words, the likelihood of cross pollination of pop fans to country was less likely to happen, but a siphoning off of country fans toward pop was a greater possibility.
Of course there’s exceptions to every rule, and now that country has basically become a subset of pop, its even more interesting to ponder these findings. But the idea that more pop fans are flocking to country because country is fielding more palatable artists to pop fans may be more myth than reality, according to the McMaster University findings.