Who thinks like you about music?

This week might have struck you as being all about Prince, all about Beyonce, or neither. Whichever artist and whichever songs have been dominant in your mind, the chances are there’s a place somewhere in the world that agrees with you. Where is it for you?

It’s all about Purple Rain! Beyonce who? – you might enjoy life in Slovenia, El Salvador, Malta or Egypt.

When Doves Cry is clearly the best Prince song – you’re thinking like Australia (and also Belize, Brunei and Zimbabwe).

I mainly like Prince’s newest material – you’ll find friends in Vietnam.

It’s all about Beyonce! Prince who? – now you’re thinking like Russia, India and Taiwan.

I love tons of stuff from both of these people… – the UK, US, Sweden, France and Belgium think like you.

I like Beyonce, but would like to remember Prince with something quiet and contemplative – north and western Europe is with you, especially Denmark. I’m in this category too, which is why I made this mix for Chill. Scroll below it for more facts and maps than you might ever need to explore further…

Let me explain…

It’s been an emotional and unique week in music, with two huge surprises. A legendary artist died, focussing attention around the world on his life and work, creating seismic shifts in the music charts. In the middle of this, another legendary artist had a surprise album release which has also had a huge effect on sales charts.

I thought I’d take a snapshot of sales a few days after the initial impacts to see what I could learn about how events like these play out in different cultures. I picked iTunes to analyse because, at the time of writing, Beyonce’s album and most of Prince’s music were unavailable on the most popular streaming services. It’s probably thrown up more questions than answers, but that’s good because that gives me an excuse to listen to a lot more music now and crunch a lot more numbers later.

Where are people buying Prince songs?

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Number of Prince songs in each country’s iTunes top 100 on April 26th 2016. Hover or click each country to see its name and the number of songs.

Prince’s appeal is incredibly wide, crossing cultural boundaries and arguably defining them. In Sweden and the US, about 1 in 4 songs in the iTunes top 100 are by Prince. Most of western and central Europe, North America, Oceania and pockets of every other continent with an iTunes store are buying Prince tunes again. There are some notable exceptions, including Russia and eastern Europe, India and Japan.

What are the biggest Prince songs?

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iTunes chart position for Purple Rain (hover or click to read)

There’s a clear winner overall: Purple Rain is the biggest – and, in 15 countries, the only – song people are buying to commemorate Prince. It has made the top 100 in no less than 76 countries this week, and is the biggest selling Prince song in 62 of these countries.

A few countries have other preferences. In four (including Australia), When Doves Cry comes out top. In another four (including Mexico), Kiss has sold the most. Little Red Corvette is the biggest seller in two countries, and Vietnam throws up the interesting exception of a recent Prince song (Hardrocklover, 2015) as the country’s top choice. Mozambique prefers U Make My Sun Shine, a 2001 duet with Angie Stone which didn’t chart in the UK.

Why the differences? It could be down to local music fans’ tastes or what local media have been playing. Lots of people grew up with Purple Rain as an anthem, but by no means everyone. Sometimes a very different sounding song is needed to work on a radio playlist, and some cultures are more open than others to different sounds from Prince’s wide ranging catalogue.

Where can it snow in April?

One of the most poignant Prince tribute songs, which has been picked up in a few places, is the ballad Sometimes It Snows In April. Written for the film Under The Cherry Moon in 1986, it is so intimate and on-theme about the impact of death that fans are suggesting it was Prince’s prediction of his own demise. But, as appropriate as it is for the occasion, only a few countries have seized on it at the moment, and they are closely grouped.

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iTunes chart position for Sometimes It Snows in April

In Denmark, this is the top Prince song, and it’s number 2 in the chart. It’s also the top Prince song in the Netherlands, and charting high in Sweden, Belgium, Norway, Finland and France. Are these places where people are a bit more open than average to slow, thoughtful introspection? Or do they just have music champions or social networks which think a bit differently from the rest of the world?

Another global phenomenon

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Number of songs from Beyonce’s Lemonade album in each country’s iTunes top 100, April 26th 2016

Even in a busy chart week, Beyonce’s Lemonade album has had an instant and massive impact around the world. In 37 countries, every song from this album is in the iTunes top 100, and there is at least one song in the chart in 90 countries. It’s across every continent, including every major market.

Where have Prince or Beyonce dominated?

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Prince and Beyonce songs in each country’s iTunes top 100

This comparison is a bit cheeky. Obviously it’s not a contest. But I wanted to see if the countries where Prince hadn’t sold many downloads this week were not buying into American music trends generally.

Beyonce’s new album has been doing very well in Russia, India, Taiwan and Thailand where there are no Prince songs in the top 100. It’s had some impact in Japan, where western music often struggles to cut through. (iTunes isn’t the best measure of what’s most popular in Japan, but the dominant CD market is usually even more heavily stacked towards local pop music.)

There are 16 relatively small countries with iTunes music stores where neither Prince nor Beyonce are in the top 100 at the moment. These include Venezuela, where PSY’s Gangnam Style is currently number 1, and Nepal, which is currently most enjoying David Guetta’s Euro 2016 anthem. Local chart shows must be fascinatingly random.

But on the whole, Beyonce shows that certain artists can have a massive impact across cultures even without the advance work of a publicity campaign – or at least a specific album campaign. To be fair, one song from the album, Formation, had been given a major push through February’s Superbowl half time show. So was this the song most people wanted to buy?

Which Beyonce songs have sold best?

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Top selling Beyonce song in each country (hover or click to read)

Formation is the leading song in 48 of the 90 countries where people have been buying Beyonce on iTunes. This includes all the biggest English-speaking markets like the US, UK, Ireland and Australia. The Superbowl is seen around the world and must have had an impact on creating a demand for this song in a wide range of countries from Israel to India, Sweden, Spain, Taiwan and Japan.

But there have been no official singles so far, and at the time of writing, I gather no decision has yet been made by the record label about which song to focus on first. In nearly half the countries where the album has dropped, other songs have been picked up as listeners’ favourite buys.

6 Inch, featuring The Weeknd, comes out top in 11 countries spread around the world. Hold Up is the biggest in 10 countries, Sorry in 7 countries, and Freedom and All Night are top in 5 countries each. Daddy Lessons, Don’t Hurt Yourself and Pray You Don’t Catch Me are also top picks in some countries, which means that most of the album’s 12 tracks are doing best somewhere in the world. It might be hard to pick a single.

Different cultures might have different preferences, or it might be random. Western Europe seems fairly united behind Formation, but beyond that, it’s hard to see much consensus on which song is best.

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Top selling Beyonce song in each country (hover or click to read)

So who thinks like you about music?

Are you a contemplative European like me, a musical omnivore like the Americans, very selective in your western music tastes like the Japanese, or splendidly isolated like the people of Micronesia?

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