At what age do you form the strongest attachment to particular music?

Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, New York Times:

When do the strongest adult musical preferences set in?

And:

For this project, the music streaming service Spotify gave me data on how frequently every song is listened to by men and women of each particular age.

And:

Consider, for example, the song “Creep,” by Radiohead. This is the 164th most popular song among men who are now 38 years old. But it is not in the top 300 for the cohort born 10 years earlier or 10 years later.

Note that the men who most like “Creep” now were roughly 14 when the song came out in 1993. In fact, this is a consistent pattern.

I did a similar analysis with every song that topped the Billboard charts from 1960 to 2000. In particular, I measured how old their biggest fans today were when these songs first came out.

I was about 11 when I first really latched on to music, 12 when I got my hands on my first guitar. And by 14, I was deeply immersed in what would become my forever comfort music.

Fascinating article.



  • Interesting study to say the least. I wonder if data could show how a change of music taste influences preferences. Or exposure to certain music (the echo chamber effect) plays a part. I was from the age of 10 a classically trained violinist. Most of my music exposure was Bach, Vivaldi, etc. But when I went to college, in addition to playing in the orchestra, I lived in the dorm where powerful stereos blasted out the music of the early 70s. Eagles, Pink Floyd, Aerosmith, Rolling Stones, etc. One of the most vivid memories I have from college is the silhouette of a girl I was in love with sitting on the floor listening to a Lez Zeppelin tribute band. Need I say Zeppelin is still the greatest rock and roll band ever?

    But my musical tastes have to a degree evolved over the years. It changes as each new genre comes about. But as the data shows, there’s something special about that time when your greatest attachments are made. In the end, my taste in music is a lot like Elton John’s Rocket Hour show every Monday night. Nearly everything out there no matter the flavor. But the early 70s are special. They broke me out of my classical cocoon. I may listen to Sneaker Pimps, or Garbage, or Blink-182, or George Strait. Only Rap has never taken hold on me, but that’s because of thugs and misogyny. Not the music itself.

  • Mo

    My music preferences have gone through a series of alterations after progressing through a series of increasingly eclectic gatekeepers, which included my mother, 1970s AM pop radio, 1970s FM rock/r&B/soul radio, 1980s college radio, 1970s–80s NPR, and the music writers on the staff of my college newspaper.

    What I find funny about the excerpt above is that it almosts suggests that the soundtrack to the “Guardians of the Galaxy” movies is being chosen specifically for my age group.

  • GlennC777

    I don’t think the logic here is sound. A particular song may be most popular among those at a correlated age, but it does not follow that it represents those peoples’ favorite music. A simple question to illustrate: how many people alive today were fourteen years old at the introduction of Beethoven’s fifth?

    • Ethel

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    • Mo

      I don’t know, but I’ve been told.