From the New Yorker
From the New Yorker
A recent study by a Ph.D. student at CalTech suggests that different pop artists have different audiences. That’s not surprising. But it also suggests that musical taste is linked to intelligence. According to Virgil Griffith’s research, students who listened to pop stars like Beyonce and Lil Wayne are stupider than students who listen to Bob Dylan, Counting Crows, or Beethoven. The Griffith methodology is somewhat sketchy, to say the least: he determined the favorite bands of college students via facebook networks and then compared each college population’s musical preferences with its average S.A.T. scores. The results are one hundred and thirty-three artists and genres connected to average test scores.
What this proves, of course, is next to nothing: scraping student-volunteered favorite bands is not exactly a scientifically valid way of associating individuals and music tastes. Students who are rewarded for academic performance may like to associate themselves with music that’s perceived as brainier. Peer pressure to like more popular music may be stronger at schools that don’t emphasize academics. Plus, S.A.T.’s measure only one kind of intelligence. Still, the list is an excellent instrument of provocation, especially because it seems a little, well, racist, or at least classist: classic rock and alternative rock tend to occupy the upper half, while country and hip-hop acts take up the bottom half.
Interestingly enough, Billy Joel has the fifteenth-smartest preference population (average S.A.T. score of 1147), while jazz (that’s right — the entire genre) has the one-hundred-and-twenty-seventh (average S.A.T. score of 946). Led Zeppelin beats Weezer, and Weezer beats Ben Harper. The top three: Beethoven, Sufjan Stevens, and Counting Crows (hey, no one ever said that intelligence was the same thing as good taste). The bottom three: Beyonce, T.I., and Lil Wayne (hey, no one ever said intelligence was the same as popular success). Read the list. Gnash your teeth. E-mail people about how manifestly foolish the study is. Enjoy. Let us know what you think — T.I. fans, remember to use spell-check.