News & Politics

Frank Isn’t on Washington’s Soundtrack?

A web site,, may have the answer to the question “What does a city’s choice of music say about the place where we live?"

Pandora prompts users to enter their favorite artists and songs, then creates a custom-made station of similar music. The goal of the site, which draws upon more than 10,000 artists, says founder Tim Westergren, is to free listeners from the tyranny of repetitive Top 40 lists.

Pandora debuted last August and has 3 million members. Because users have to enter their Zip code—registration is free—it’s a wealth of information on which cities are listening to what.

An analysis of the top artists selected in the Washington area—as well as New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, which provided to The Washingtonian —paints this story.

The area has a significantly greater appetite for hip-hop, rap, and soul, with Washington favoring three artists— Beyoncé, Mary J. Blige, and Jay-Z —who do not appear on the top lists from other cities. Mixed in with the usual suspects—genre definers like U2, Pink Floyd, and the Beatles—is a folksy, mellow strain featuring the likes of Bob Dylan, Norah Jones, and James Blunt.

Research by social psychologists Jason Rentfrow and Samuel Gosling, who have studied musical taste and personality traits, points to a correlation.

They’ve divided all music genres into four categories: Reflective and Complex (jazz, classical, folk, blues), Intense and Rebellious (rock, metal, alternative), Upbeat and Conventional (country, pop, religious), and Energetic and Rhythmic (rap/hip-hop, funk, soul, dance).

According to those categories, the Washington region’s taste in music is weighted heavily toward the last category, Energetic and Rhythmic, with 11 of the top 25 bands meeting that description. Next came Intense and Rebellious, trailed by the reflective and conventional genres.

The psychologists found that those who like energetic and rhythmic music are inclined to be extroverted and agreeable, athletic, physically attractive, and politically liberal.

Fans of the upbeat-and-conventional category (it includes country and religious music), which won only three slots on Washington’s top 25, are inclined to be politically conservative and conscientious but less likely to be open to new experiences.

One clear message in the music? The Chairman of the Board doesn’t work here anymore. Frank Sinatra appears in the top 25 of every city’s list except Washington’s.