Iconic Playlists: What Emoji Say About Music

Did you know Spotify users have made over 35 million playlists with emoji in their titles? Which artists get the most emoji? Which ones do they get? And what could the dog emoji have to do with reggaeton?

Emoji, those cute, simple images that convey thoughts on chats and social media, arguably represent the most universally understood language in the world. People everywhere use emoji to describe how they feel and what they are doing in ways that would be harder to get across with words alone.

With the 2017 emoji list now finalized, our minds are on emoji and emoji are on our minds. Out of over two billion user-generated playlists on Spotify, over 35 million have at least one emoji in their title. To learn and share some insights about how emoji relate to music based on this data, contributors to this project looked at the relationships between those emoji and the music they describe. The result: three interactive data visualizations made with Tableau Public.

Describe Artists with Emoji

Click for an interactive version where you choose the artist.

The “Describe Artists” data visualization above reveals the 10 emoji most distinctively associated with the 5,000 “most emoji-ed” artists on Spotify — that is, the emoji used to refer to each of these artists at a disproportionate rate. This explains how listeners feel about each artist, in the language of emoji. The most emoji-ed artists are at the top of the chart.

Click or tap any emoji to hear the song most distinctively associated with it, by that artist, and see a ranked list of artists most associated with that emoji, to the right. You can explore further by using the dropdown menus to pick a specific artist, genre, or emoji, and compare as many as 50 artists at once.

Some Results

In the screenshot below, we’ve selected a few artists using the dropdown menu. Daft Punk’s most distinctive emoji is the robot, fittingly reminiscent of the band’s iconic helmets and electronic sound. The robot was to be expected, perhaps, but people also think of Daft Punk as party and running, in particular on the strength of overall party favorite “Get Lucky,” but also “Harder Better Faster Stronger.”

Click for interactive version where you can choose your own artists.

Meanwhile, Romeo Santos, known as the king of bachata, has a kind of emoji sentence that might translate as “ladies all over the world love Romeo.” Meanwhile, Farruko, a popular Puerto Rican reggaeton artist who recently released a hot new single, “Diabla” (“she-devil” in Spanish), gets a , the unofficial symbol of the hottest trend in Latin music today, Spanish-language trap. The same emoji pops up alongside other hugely popular Latin artists who make similarly melodic, catchy trap music, among them Maluma, J Balvin, and Ozuna. Some of these artists have in their top 10s; in Spanish the word for dog, “perro,” sounds similar to “perreo,” a provocative dance style associated with the reggaeton genre.

David Bowie
David Bowie is disproportionately associated with the lightning emoji.

David Bowie’s most representative emoji is , reflecting his look on the cover of 1973’s iconic album, Aladdin Sane, pictured to the right. He also gets space-related emoji such as the rocket ship, galaxy, and star emoji, probably due to space associations like his Ziggy Stardust (alien rockstar) and Major Tom (astronaut) characters.

People disproportionately describe Adele with , and maybe due to heart-wrenching love songs such as “Make You Feel My Love” and “Hello.”

In the below screenshot, we’ve filtered Describe an Artist by genre with the dropdown menu. The most emoji-ed country artist on Spotify is Luke Bryan, who gets plenty of country-flavored emoji, as you can see. Other top country artists get similar emoji – lots of cowboy boots, horses, tractors, flags, and cows:

Click for interactive version where you can choose your own genre.

Emoji Showdown

Click for interactive version.

Who is the moreartist, Lady Gaga or Madonna? Let’s find out. “Emoji Showdown” lets you discover how people feel, emoji-wise, about nearly 200 included artists. Pit their distinctive emoji against each other to understand how they differ musically, and in how fans perceive them.

The emoji towards the top of the graph are most frequently associated with the artist. The horizontal axis shows how distinctive each emoji is to one artist vs. the other, with emoji trending hardest one way or the other appearing towards the left and right edges.

Click for interactive version where you can choose your own artists to see how they stack up against each other emoji-wise.

Some Results

Has Lady Gaga taken over Madonna’s goddess status among the gay community? Gaga is slightly more frequently described with -themed emoji, but it’s almost a tie, given how close they are to the dividing line in the middle. Towards the middle: a heart right above two men, and two dads and two daughters, both of which skew towards Madonna.

We could be looking at a generational difference here, with older Madonna fans more associated with children — they also refer to older tracks, using the bride emoji for her 1984 hit “Like a Virgin,” released in 1984. Meanwhile, Gaga draws younger fans, according to our emoji research, with the young female singer and jack-o’-emoji.

Emoji can also help compare two massive stars of the lively European Electronic/Dance scene: Kygo, known for his slower beats and chill vibe, against Calvin Harris’s stronger, faster, more run-friendly power style.

Kygo is associated with tropical house music, which is why you see the palm tree, sunset, boat, sunshine, and his home country’s Norwegian flag. On the right side of the chart below, Calvin gets lots of emoji from the workout and party crowd. He takes partying, muscle, weightlifting and running, due to how his music sounds compared to that of Calvin Harris.

It’s like you can see their acoustic differences reflected by emoji:

Share an Artist

To share a specific artist’s emoji on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or wherever else, you can choose from any of the top 5,000 most emoji-ed artists on Spotify for a shareable image, by using the Share icon, circled below:

Click for an interactive version where you choose the artist.

Methodology

Everything you’ve seen so far is built on the concept of distinctiveness, not popularity. Lists based on popularity tends yield little variation, and we believe that it is more meaningful, in this case, to identify and visualize the unique emotional connection between artists and fans. The most popular emoji are interesting, but the distinctive ones really get at the emoji that uniquely define an artist.

Here’s exactly how we calculated the distinctive emoji for each artist. For each association between emoji and artist, we measured whether it is expected or unusual using pointwise mutual information (PMI). Given a pair of outcomes (e.g. 🔥 and Gucci Mane), PMI takes the observed frequency in which they occur together and compares it to the expected probability of their combined occurrence if they were completely independent. In this example, 🔥 occurs a lot on its own, but it appears way more on playlists including Gucci. So “🔥+Gucci Mane” ends up with a high PMI score.

On its own, PMI tends to overstate the importance of pairs with very unusual items. This means that rarely-used emoji can end up with high scores, but it’s essentially just noise in the data. To compensate for this, we multiply each pair’s PMI score by the square root of its total number of appearances. So the top scoring emoji for each artist are those that are both distinctive relative to other artists and popular among listeners of that artist.

Contributors

  • Blog post: Christine Hung
  • Data visualization: Aliza Aufrichtig, Skyler Johnson, Edward Lee
  • Editor: Eliot Van Buskirk
  • Special thanks: Athena Koumis, Andrew Maher, Kenny Ning, AJ Ramos, Angie Romero, Parth Shah, Yang Sui

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