Aug 09

Hope I Die Before I Get Polled

FT11 comments • 376 views

No more pop generation gap, claims this survey by Pew Internet. “There’s now broad agreement across the generations about one realm of American culture that had been an intense battlefield in the 1960s: the music.”

Unfortunately for Pew, its headline chart for this study – “The Generation Gap, 2009” – completely contradicts this spin. Second on the list of “things young and older people are different in” is music – ahead of moral values, religion, and indeed everything but those pesky computomators. Scroll down to the charts of which ‘iconic musical performers’ each agegroup likes and, yes, it would seem that there is broad disagreement and bafflement over many if not most of them.

So how come Pew’s analysis on this one is so odd? For the same reason so, so many surveys of music taste are failures: they insist on trying to run analyses by genre.

I’ll hold up my hand and say that I’ve fallen into this trap too – when working on a study of teenagers last year I ended up putting a bunch of genre questions in. In my case I made the typical music head’s mistake of trying to include too long a list, especially when it came to dance sub-genres. Pew go in the other direction, and boil music down to seven flavours, which is where the problems start.

65% of people listen to rock – a generational unifier, hurrah! But without caveats this could mean almost anything: The Eagles, Slipknot, Andrew WK, Elvis, Motorhead, The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart (there’s no “indie” or “pop” on the list, of course). Even more problematic is the category “R&B / Rhythm And Blues”: there is a very strong possibility that a 55-year old and a 20-year old ticking this box are simply not talking about the same kind of music, at all.

Hence the mix up, I think: music is still divisive, but often it’s the different styles cropping up within the hollowed-out macro-genres which cause that division. The lesson for Pew (and all of us): researching music tastes is a strange and difficult row to hoe.


  1. 1
    Tom on 12 Aug 2009 #

    The thing is, I think Pew are basically right when they suggest that music divisions don’t matter in anything like the way they mattered in 1966. But the survey as set up doesn’t show that terribly well.

  2. 2
    TomLane on 13 Aug 2009 #

    The Eagles. Loved by the fans hated by the critics? Most popular with the 30-49 age group, and 2nd with the 50-64 ones (behind the Beatles).
    Even the 16-29 group gives them a 20% likeability score (as does the 65+ one).
    Overall, the Eagles were 2nd in popularity, behind the Beatles.
    Also, this one for the number geeks. 4% of those surveyed have never heard of the Beatles and 3% never heard of Elvis.

  3. 3
    Tom on 13 Aug 2009 #

    The other thing about the Eagles is that they’re the least DISLIKED of any act in the survey – everything else gets at least 10% dislike, Beatles included.

    As a Brit I get inoculated at birth against The Eagles by our communist medical system though.

    If I were Madonna I think I’d be quite proud of my continued divisiveness, topping the “dislike” rankings here.

  4. 4
    unlogged moggy on 13 Aug 2009 #

    Farbeit for me to mention this, given I also wasn’t alive in 1986 but neither of us were alive in 1966, Tom. I suspect music divides meant crap-all then, too; whilst obviously there’s perhaps more paraphernalia attached to musical genres these days (genre magazines, blogs, subcultures, things to write on yr facebook page) and there’s more chance to link up to other people within yr genre interests or whatever, I bet there were plenty of old people that listened to young person’s music and visa versa.

    It’s an interesting point that the Pew thing says people think there’s a much bigger gap than there really is but as you say, definite methodology fail. And what are they counting as a ‘generation?’ *goes to wake up and then re-read*

    (ps: can I put this on Poptimists?)

  5. 5
    rosie on 13 Aug 2009 #

    As one who was there, I don’t think musical differences mattered all that much in 1966 and earlier, outside the sensationalism of the popular press. Not for most of us anyway.

  6. 6
    Tom on 13 Aug 2009 #

    Yes put it on Poptimists!

  7. 7
    Pete Baran on 13 Aug 2009 #

    Why single out music as a the artform, as opposed to TV or Film? Is it so they can make the Woodstock generalisations?

    And what’s with:

    “By the time we got to Woodstock, we were half a million strong, and everywhere there was song and celebration.”
    — Lyrics by Joni Mitchell; performed by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young (and others)

    (Where Joni is “and others”) – does it matter for a pull quote which version of the song is being quoted? And surely Lyrics and Music.

  8. 8
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 13 Aug 2009 #

    IK think the point is that Crosby Stills Innes Nash Young and Mitchell are a valid cross-section of the viewpoint of an entire generation — this isn’t just Bernard Bulter telling the world that cheese is rubbish and no one agreeing with him.

    TV and film aren’t created “of” and “by” us, they are supplied to us

    I think it’s a mistake to debate this without actually addressing the Generation Gap as Ideology which was certainly propounded by some (“Never trust anyone over 30”) (Peter Pan version: “over 12”!!) — even if you think they were silly to be saying it they were saying it.

    Also R.Daltrey’s passionate plea: “HOPE I DIE BEFORE I GET CAST IN LISZTOMANIA riding my own ENORMOUS COCK like a worm out of DUNE”

  9. 9
    Tim on 13 Aug 2009 #

    An entire generation of what? Rock fans, presumably?

    If you’d said “entire subculture” then I might be more inclined to agree but I bet there were plenty of people in the dancehalls or football stadia or at Oxbridge or [ect ect] for whom the Laurel Canyaon crew were a complete irrelevance.

  10. 10
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 13 Aug 2009 #

    It was a joke, primarily so I could Call CSNY By Their Name. Though it’s possible the person listing everyone who wrote or sang “Woodstock” did indeed think something along the lines sketched.

  11. 11
    Tim on 13 Aug 2009 #

    Oh dear – that’ll serve me right for replying to FT comments while on a cenference call with (as) THE MAN. Sorry.

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