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Can Technology Predict The Grammys?

The Grammys are here, and, like any proper competition, everyone has an opinion on the should-be winners. Among others, Spotify issued a list of its official predictions based on an analysis of its user’s artist and album listening statistics. But can the Internet predict who will win?

Social Music Places Its Bets

At last year’s Grammys, Spotify’s streaming trends, collected from its 24 million active users, correctly predicted both the “Record of the Year” and “Album of the Year” categories. However, Spotify incorrectly guessed the winners for “Best New Artist” (Fun beat out The Lumineers) and “Best Pop Solo Performance” (Adele’s “Set Fire To The Rain” took home the award). But its correct prediction for “Best Country Song” with Carrie Underwood’s “Blown Away” put Spotify at three correct picks out of five.

Claiming 80% accuracy is not particularly impressive, especially considering how Spotify presumably cherry-picked those categories for the wide margins apparent in their streaming trends.

First, here are Spotify’s 2013 Grammys predictions (correct picks in bold):

  • Record of the Year: Gotye “Somebody That I Used to Know”
  • Album of the Year: Mumford & Sons “Babel”
  • Best New Artist: The Lumineers
  • Best Pop Solo Performance: Carly Rae Jepsen “Call Me Maybe”
  • Best Country Song: Carrie Underwood “Blown Away”

Now, here are Spotify’s 2014 Grammy predictions (with Spotify’s commentary):

  • Record of the Year: “Radioactive,” Imagine Dragons—“There were no blurred lines in this category – the hit from Imagine Dragons has one-third more streams than Robin Thicke’s summer smash, which came in second on Spotify.”
  • Album of the Year: “The Heist,” Macklemore & Ryan Lewis—“The Heist has over 40 percent more streams than Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories, and more than three times as many as the other three nominees combined.”
  • Best New Artist: Macklemore & Ryan Lewis— “This pair is the clear favorite, beating Kendrick Lamar by 70 percent and fellow newcomer Ed Sheeran by nearly triple the number of streams.”
  • Best Pop Solo Performance: “Royals,” Lorde—“The race for Best Pop Solo is close, with Justin Timberlake’s Mirrors and Katy Perry’s Roar duking it out for second place.”
  • Best Pop Duo/Group Performance: “Get Lucky,” Daft Punk featuring Pharrell Williams & Nile Rodgers—“Daft Punk did get lucky with 20 percent more streams of this hit than runner-up Blurred Lines.”

This year, Shazam also got its Grammys bets in, choosing its picks based off of the number of times an artist, song or album was tagged by its song recognition service. Shazam, of course, is a very different offering compared to Spotify, as Shazam’s predictions gauge “how often listeners were intrigued enough by a song to use Shazam to identify it”—a measure that could favor lesser known artists and less recognizable tracks.

Here are Shazam’s 2014 Grammys predictions:

  • Record of the Year: Blurred Lines, Robin Thicke featuring T.I. and Pharrell (5.4 million Shazams)
  • Album of the Year: The Heist, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis (11.4 million Shazams)
  • Song of the Year: Just Give Me a Reason, Pink, feat. Nate Guest (4.3 million Shazams)
  • Best New Artist: Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
  • Best Dance / Electronica Album: 18 Months, Calvin Harris (5 million Shazams)
  • Best Country Album: Red, Taylor Swift (4.3 million Shazams)
  • Best Rap Album: The Heist, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis

Beyond bragging rights, it doesn’t really matter if Spotify, Shazam or any other music technology can predict the Grammys, but it is interesting food for thought. As the disconnect between Spotify’s fairly robust streaming data and last year’s award winners revealed, the Grammys are a prime example of an industry insider event that’s but a few degrees removed from the popular opinion on the Internet.

It’s no surprise the Grammys winners reflect sensibilities on the Web, especially since the Internet’s zeitgeist is more powerful than ever. If a viral video can send a total nobody to stardom, why do we still care what stodgy old insiders think, anyway? (Well, we may not, but we’ll probably still tune in for the live performances so we have something to tweet about.)

TV And Social Aren’t Oil And Water—But Don’t Mix Them

Even if the Grammys and other award shows aren’t compelling in their own right, social apps are the perfect complement to any live event thanks to millions of simultaneous viewers.

Suddenly Twitter is a conversation instead of a cacophony. And maybe you and that jerk you went to high school with will finally have something to agree about on Facebook. Beyond conversations, music apps like Spotify and its ilk offer an instant sonic reference point. If you missed the winner for “Best New Artist,” you can solve that with a quick search.

The social Web has a strange relationship with traditional broadcast events like the Grammys, sometimes putting wind in their sails and sometimes making them feel altogether irrelevant. This tension plays out in ratings: In 2009, the Grammys sunk to just 19 million viewers, a far cry from the 52 million viewers who watched way back in 1984. But a year later, the 2010 Grammys attracted nearly 26 million viewers; in 2012, taking place shortly after the death of Whitney Houston, CBS hit the Grammys out of the park, attracting almost 40 million viewers.

It’s no coincidence that 2012 is the year the Grammys decided to take social media seriously, with aggressive new social presences everywhere from Instagram and Foursquare to Pandora and Spotify. By 2013, the Grammys dipped to 28.4 million viewers—still a relatively healthy number compared to its multiyear slump where the show couldn’t reach 20 million viewers. The upward trend can be tracked on social sites too:

Beyond being big business for themselves, major award shows are big business for social networks, which see massive spikes in usage concurrent with live broadcast events. In 2012, the Grammy Awards drummed up 13 million “social media comments” on Twitter and Facebook, as tracked by social analytics firm Bluefin. The top three entertainment events that drummed up the most social buzz as of 2012 were music award shows. (That record was later bested by the 2012 election and the 2013 Super Bowl.)

Award shows clearly remain relevant for viewers and therefore have a meaningful connection to social platforms, but attempts to merge the two may find a surprising degree of resistance. Last November, the YouTube Music Awards were poised to splice social media with an award show (at last!), but the result fell flat with less than 250,000 total viewers.

The web has a complex relationship with major award shows, which tend to cling to the traditional moorings of their respective industries. But even if popular usage and social trends can’t predict this year’s Grammy winners, at least they give us little guys a way to cast our votes.

Lead image courtesy of Flickr user tarale

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