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Sad songs say so much
Data from Spotify suggest that listeners are gloomiest in February

   Around the world, the most popular tunes this month will be depressing ones
   Graphic detailFeb 8th 2020 edition
     _____________________________________________

   Feb 8th 2020
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   RESIDENTS OF THE northern hemisphere might think that their moods are worst in January. Christmas is over, the nights are long and summer is a distant prospect. Newspapers often claim that “Blue Monday”, in the third week of January, is the most depressing day. To create a quantitative measure of seasonal misery, The Economist has analysed music consumption.

   Our calculations use data from Spotify, which offers 50m tracks to 270m users in over 70 countries, mostly in Europe and the Americas. The firm has an algorithm that classifies a song’s “valence”, or how happy it sounds, on a scale from 0 to 100. The algorithm is trained on ratings of positivity by musical experts, and gives Aretha Franklin’s soaring “Respect” a score of 97; Radiohead’s gloomy “Creep” gets just 10. Since 2017 Spotify has also published daily tables of the 200 most-streamed songs, both worldwide and in each country. We gathered data for 30 countries around the globe, including 46,000 unique tracks with 330bn streams, to identify the annual nadir of musical mood. Drum roll, please.

   The global top 200 songs are gloomiest in February, when their valence is 4% lower than the annual average. In July, the perkiest month, the mood is 3% higher. The most joyful spike comes at Christmas.

   Strikingly, this February slump occurs in some countries near the equator, such as Singapore, and far south of it, such as Australia—even though their musical tastes differ. A few Latin American countries lack such a dip, perhaps because the algorithm sees Latin music as mostly happy.

   The icy north shows the biggest seasonal swings. Finland’s mood in July is 11% happier than usual. Overall, on days when a country gets one more hour of sunlight than its annual average, the valence of its streams increases by 0.6%. In contrast, wet days bring particularly downcast tunes.

   So why might some countries with long days and clear skies in February get the blues? The cause is not a deluge of mopey singles, since we found no evidence that songs released then were particularly sad. The most played tune of all—Ed Sheeran’s “Shape Of You”, with a valence score of 93 and a remarkable 2.4bn streams—came out in January 2017.

   Perhaps the global dip is explained simply by the calendar. For most people, the first weeks of a promising new year have disappeared with little sign of improvement. Anyone for some Joy Division? ■

   Sources: Spotify; The Economist

   This article appeared in the Graphic detail section of the print edition under the headline "Sad songs say so much"
   Reuse this contentThe Trust Project

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