For those just joining us: as part of our current exhibition Come as You Are: Art of the 1990s, we asked folks to send us playlists of their favorite 90s jams, so we could record them onto cassette tapes for our visitors to listen to on real-honest-to-goodness Sony Walkmans. We’ve received 75 submissions to date, from our friends over at KUTX, besties from Austin, Blanton staff, and even some artists in the show. In the almost three months that Come as You Are has been open to the public, hundreds of visitors have checked out tapes to listen to. If you submitted a playlist, thank you—you are a bright star in the universe. If you haven’t, there’s still time–submit your playlists to blantonmixtapes.tumblr.com.
Now that we’re a few months in, it seems like a good time to reflect on what the project tells us. What can one say about the music of the 90s? It wasn’t all grunge. In fact, it wasn’t even mostly grunge. Sometimes it was about telling people “how we do it.” Sometimes it was about standing up to the twin menaces of diggity and scrubs (this was in stark contrast to the 80s, when such things were widely tolerated). The 90s were about changing our mind every few minutes: we were about the Arsenio Hall Show until we were suddenly about “Dr. Feelgood” for some reason, and then we decided to impeach Clinton. Briefly, MC Hammer removing the “MC” from his name seemed important enough that your local newspaper might report on it. It was as crazy as things could possibly get before Reddit existed.
I decided that we could use the Blanton Mixtape Project to help us understand the music of the 90s a little better, by using data to cut through the noise, as it were, and answer three really important questions:
- Which artist from the 90s still matters the most to us?
- Hey, remember The Breeders?
- Did Liz Phair sell out after or before the release of the album “Whitechocolatespaceegg”?
The answer to #3 is “before.” To find totally legit scientifical answers to the other two questions, I consulted the experts at the Blanton Data Center For Music Policy (90s Division), who crunched some numbers for me. I think the answers they came up with will surprise you. Their methodology involved looking at what songs, artists, and albums were most consistently represented on the mixes our friends sent to us, and then sending that data to me to interpret recklessly. We’ll look at each set of results separately.
We first looked at the songs that showed up the most often on the tapes submitted. A clear consensus didn’t emerge here, as even the most popular song only showed up on six tapes (out of 75 received). I’ll just chalk this up to the fact that friends of the Blanton know their music, and tended to go for deep cuts over the big hits. That said, these seven songs showed up the most often:
- TLC, “No Scrubs”
- The Breeders, “Cannonball”
- No Doubt, “Just A Girl”
- Sixpence None the Richer, “Kiss Me”
- Blackstreet, “No Diggity”
- Ginuwine, “Pony”
- Liz Phair, “Stratford-On-Guy”
They also asked me (politely, I might add) to stop trying to skew the results by submitting mix tapes consisting entirely of the Melvins song “Hooch” 30 times in a row. I told them to stick to their jobs and to stop telling me how to do mine.
You will note the presence of The Breeders’ “Cannonball” as well as a pre-sellout Liz Phair in the top seven. Just pointing these things out.
To identify favorite artists, we looked at the total numbers of unique submitted songs from each artist. Here we were hoping to identify artists who might not have had a big hit that everyone knows, but who still consistently showed up on the mixes we received. This meant that TLC didn’t show up in this list (they appeared on 13 mixes we received, but only 4 songs), but Nirvana (16 appearances with only one repeat: “Heart-Shaped Box”) did. Most of these artists therefore didn’t show up in the “favorite songs” category (with one exception that the observant reader might note). Here are our favorite artists:
- Nirvana (15 unique songs)
- Guided By Voices (11 unique songs)
- Yo La Tengo (11 unique songs)
- Radiohead (10 unique songs)
- Björk (10 unique songs)
- Smashing Pumpkins (9 unique songs)
- Nine Inch Nails (8 unique songs)
- Modest Mouse (8 unique songs)
- Stereolab (8 unique songs)
- Notorious B.I.G. (7 unique songs)
- The Breeders (7 unique songs)
- Tribe Called Quest (7 unique songs)
- Portishead (7 unique songs)
- The Offspring (7 unique songs)
- Pavement (7 unique songs)
After this, it gets a little crazy, with Beck, the Spice Girls, PJ Harvey, Built to Spill, Cat Power, Sleater-Kinney, Beastie Boys, Sonic Youth, Weezer, and the Pixies each getting 6 unique songs each. It gets more entropic from there. I think we can also see that friends of the Blanton like them some YLT and GBV.* I also can’t explain why Jay-Z isn’t on this list, despite several High Priority e-mails I sent to the data team demanding an explanation for this omission. I guess you guys who submitted mixes just let us down. That’s the only explanation. So, nice work on that.
Also, The Breeders.
The last part of BDCMP’s research involved determining which albums were the source of the most songs on our mix tapes. Here are those albums, in order:
- The Breeders, Last Splash
- Portishead, Dummy
- TLC, Crazysexycool
- Radiohead, OK Computer
- Notorious B.I.G., Ready to Die
- Christina Aguilera, S/T
- TLC, Fanmail (This is the album with “No Scrubs” on it)
- Nirvana, Nevermind
- Beck, Odelay
TLC shows up twice! And look, there’s The Breeders again, at the top of the stack. So, based on this completely sound statistical study, we can safely say that The Breeders is every single person’s favorite artist of the 90s, or at least that “Cannonball” on its own is more popular than most other artists’ entire catalogues. Clearly, The Breeders are as beloved as they ever were.
In conclusion, the Melvins’ “Hooch” is totally awesome.
I hope you’ve appreciated this science-based dive into data with us. We’re happy to publish this data in any science-type journals that might request it, for a nominal fee. And if you haven’t submitted your 90s mixtape playlists to us yet, make it happen! See you soon at the BIanton!