Spotify recently revealed that metalheads are the most loyal music listeners. Why are people so surprised?
Every diehard metalhead alive and breathing knows that A. heavy metal is the law, and B. other genres pale in comparison, but it's always nice to see some quantifiable data to that effect, outside of what you and your friends howl at one another during especially spirited bouts of Kreator worship. Spotify threw heshers a bone recently by releasing a slew of figures that detail by exactly how wide a margin heavy metal is ruling the streaming airwaves. The study sought to determine which genre's fans were the most loyal—i.e. returned most frequently to their favorite artists. As Spotify noted, "To create a measure of genre loyalty, we divided the number of streams each core artist had by their number of listeners. All of the charts are normalized against the genre with the loyalest fans." Surprise! Metal was the clear winner. From Portugal to the United States to (of course) Norway, metal holds down a spot in the top ten—and usually top five—most loyally listened to genres in every country included in the study. Metal also takes the overall global genre loyalty crown, leaving pop to trail behind as a distant second and folk, country, and hip-hop to founder in the dust. As Mashable notes, Spotify calculated their data around sets of core bands for each genre, with metal's champions comprising Metallica, Slayer, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Sepultura, Pantera, Cradle of Filth and Anthrax. It's not exactly surprising to hear that a lot of people are using Spotify to listen to classic tunes from Slayer and Papa Het and that metal listeners are especially likely to revisit favorite artists, but what is at least a little jarring to see how thoroughly flummoxed some folks are about it.
Image via Spotify
Given metal fans' fierce loyalty to their chosen genre and propensity for making physical purchases, it makes perfect sense that they'd be spending the most time pressing replay on old Iron Maiden songs. As the label personnel interviewed in the Mashable piece noted, metal labels have been selling cassettes and vinyl for years, metal shirts and embroidered logo patches are de rigeur attire, metal festivals regularly draw fans from every corner of the globe, and there's still a multitude of metal print magazines and fanzines circulating in a world that's gone mostly digital. While fans of most other genres are drawn to shiny new artists, metal fandom is generational; new recruits are encouraged to appreciate the bands that came before and build up chronological knowledge while still keeping abreast of current developments. That widened musical net funnels directly into more sales; when someone's buying up the new Mefitic record, they're probably also beefing up their Blasphemy collection or finally grabbing that Hellhammer box set. Metalheads are completists, and metal as a genre is incredibly diverse; there are thousands upon thousands of metal bands out there to whom fans may pledge fealty, and they do so with an (economic) vengeance.
This approach isn't entirely unique to metal fans, but they definitely take it further than nearly any other demographic. It's not as easy to be a metal fan as it is to profess your love for Taylor Swift or Makonnen, and metalheads' extreme devotion to their chosen scene is often a response to societal pressure. When the whole world is telling you that the music you love is stupid, evil, or unlistenable, you're either going to tamp down your interest and keep your tastes to yourself... or you're going to deck yourself out in band shirts, go to shows played by and attended by like-minded individuals, and make your allegiances known at every possible opportunity.
That same Mashable piece did its best to make sense of the notion that, not only does metal still exist after "the heyday of the genre in the 1980s and 1990s," but more people than ever have fallen under its spell, to which I can only say: big fucking duh, dude. It's tempting to write off pieces like this as mere white noise—as something that doesn't affect our community, and has no bearing on our own relationship to metal—but its implications are grave. In 2015, years after the New York Times started covering doom and car companies started throwing shows with Absu and Napalm Death, mainstream media and mainstream society in general still doesn't take metal seriously as an art form, and we're still seeing articles that introduce the genre with the same kind of condescending marveling with which they'd approach a newly-discovered Amazonian tribe. "Believe it or not, heavy metal fans still exist in this modern age, practicing their strange customs and tribal rituals far from prying eyes..."
Photo by Josh Sisk
As Mashable exclaims while hitching up its dad jeans, "What may be surprising to many mainstream listeners who long ago traded Skid Row and Def Leppard for John Legend and Taylor Swift, heavy metal has maintained a vibrant and diverse—and very global—scene thanks to those dedicated fans." I can understand the necessitation of writing for a broad audience, but to assume that people need to be reminded of the global reach of a genre whose most famous figures hail from far beyond the United States border (Black Sabbath? Enslaved? Sepultura? No? Okay.) shows just how deeply ingrained the perception of heavy metal as nothing more than a brief flash of permed, be-Spandexed, Sunset Strip-dwelling 80s guitar wankery runs.
As this Spotify data shows, metal is a global business, and metalheads are everywhere. The mainstream media and greater music industry are only hurting themselves by ignoring and belittling this rich vein of hugely dedicated, internationally-based fans, most of whom are more than prepared to shell out as much cash as they can on merchandise, print magazines, and physical music. Metal doesn't need them, but as streaming services continue doling out pennies and sales of physical music continue to fall, they just may find that they need metal... and it sure can't hurt for them to treat it—and by extension, us—with a bit more respect until that fateful day comes.
Kim Kelly is defending the faith on Twitter: @grimkim