Perhaps you’ve seen headlines like this one, claiming “Science Says You’re A Better Person If You’re A Fan Of Adele.” Maybe you’ve even clinked on headlines of that ilk while thinking, “I can understand how liking a Tottenham chanteuse might indicate moral fiber.” And would that it were so. Unfortunately, it really isn’t.
A quarter-second of link-following will bring us to the origin of this soulful claim: It’s based on Google Trends search data comparing “adele 25 lyrics” with “adele 25 torrent” and “adele 25 youtube”. Google Trends can be a neat (though imperfect) gauge of the zeitgeist, but the numbers it offers can’t be parsed in a scientific way. The big takeaway from the analysis, which spread around after being initially posted on lyrics catalog Musixmatch was that Adele fans wanted to sing, not steal.
Where the logic goes off the rails — and boy does it — is the point in these articles when we make the logical leap to lyric searches being good and torrents being bad. This is not supported by the data (searching “adele 25 lyrics” doesn’t preclude you from also searching “adele 25 torrent”) nor a falsifiable statement (Better than whom? What does better mean? What if I just wanted to chant Adele lyrics while flaying the neighbor’s tabby?). Plus, the true seed freaks likely don’t just type in “torrent” into Google but stick to haunts like Pirate Bay.
The neat thing about psychological research is that there have been studies assessing personality and music taste, though not necessarily as fine-grained as enthusiasm for a particular artist. Those studies took time, effort, and quite a lot of planning. Which is all to say that we’d absolutely advocate for the creation of an Adele Studies program at a major public university.
Until that happens, let’s not pretend that liking something a tremendous amount of people enjoy makes us better than anyone else. A Google Trends analysis of NWA yields the same results. Ditto Enya.