The Economist shares data on English’s role in global pop culture

A report recently published in The Economist suggests that the English language’s dominance in pop culture — more specifically, music — may be on the way out.

Data journalists at the magazine used information from Spotify to identify several trends in how local communities across the world listen to music — while English-language music remains quite popular worldwide, its popularity appears to be declining, as local audiences begin to turn more to music performed in their native language.

Looking at the top 100 tracks streamed on Spotify in 70 different countries from 2017 to 2021, the reporters coded each according to the song’s language and genre, as well as the artist’s nationality. The researchers used an algorithm to divide the countries into three groups with broadly similar musical tastes — an English-language group, a Spanish-language group, and a “Local-language” group, consisting mainly of countries with a “strong indigenous music culture.”

Source: The Economist

In the Local-language group, which includes countries like Italy, Japan, and Russia, the decline of English is particularly clear — in 2017, a slight majority, or 52%, of the top 100 tracks streamed in these countries were performed in English. In just four years, however, local languages have taken over in these countries; English-language songs now make up 30% of the most popular songs in these countries.

Data from the Spanish-language countries shows a similar trend. But English-language songs were never quite as popular in these countries to begin with. In 2017, around 25% of the most popular songs in these countries were performed in English. In 2021, however, English-language songs made up just 14% of the 100 most popular songs in the Spanish-language group.

Still, the publication notes that English still maintains a strong degree of hegemony — 47 of the 50 most widely streamed tracks worldwide were in English. However, the development of local music industries — particularly in hip-hop and rap, which was originally popularized by English-speaking artists — has given listeners more opportunities to listen to and discover new music in their native language. 

Additionally, The Economist notes that the rise of social media networks like TikTok in recent years, has allowed songs to gain mainstream popularity in several different cultures and countries, regardless of the singer’s native language or nationality — think acts like South Korea’s highly esteemed boy band BTS or Puerto Rican rapper Bad Bunny, who’s the most streamed artist on Spotify worldwide.

Andrew Warner
Andrew Warner is a writer from Sacramento. He received his B.A. in linguistics and English from UCLA and is currently working toward an M.A. in applied linguistics at Columbia University. His writing has been published in Language Magazine, Sactown Magazine, and The Takeout.


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