Pop vs. Rock: Pop Owns Social Media – But Rock Rocks Streaming

With the resounding “Tool vs. Taylor Swift” battle once again shining the spotlight on the age-old “Rock vs. Pop” debate, Viberate turned to data to determine the trends in each genre. What we found is that no, Rock isn’t dead, and yes, Instagram is perfect for Pop.
Pop Owns Social Media – But Rock Rocks Streaming
Sara Mekinc

The summer of 2019 brought about two surprises. First, Tool, one of the increasingly few bands that still publicly opposed streaming their music in favour of “tangible” albums, dropped a new album after 13 years and took all major streaming services by storm. The second surprise was that Justin Bieber declared himself a Tool fan, but let’s not dwell on that mindblower for too long, as we’ll get back to it later. 

When it comes to Tool, "Invincible" seems like a fitting track title. Source: Instagram

You can bet that a band that takes 13 years to perfect an album doesn’t act on a whim. Like it or not, with their whole anti-mainstream stance and “the thinking man’s band” repute, Tool take very calculated decisions when it comes to launching new music into mainstream charts. They have that in common with Taylor Swift, and not just that. She also famously protested against streaming services by pulling her music from Spotify in 2014 while promoting her album "1989". 

But how does a “dad band” – a Progressive Metal one, nonetheless – return to the scene after more than a decade and wreak absolute havoc on all the charts?

Every single track on the “Fear Inoculum” album entered the Top 25 on Billboard’s Hot Rock Songs chart, and Tool reached more than 27M on-demand audio streams by mid-September and took #8 in the Top 10 Best Selling Albums of 2019 in the US. Without a doubt, Taylor Swift reigns supreme, as “Lover” is the #1 Best Selling Album in the US, but bear in mind that her sales were also boosted with bundle options, merchandise, tour ticket pairing, and similar marketing tactics. Tool had none of these. So what exactly hurled a Rock album to the very top of the 2019 charts? 

"Game on," says Taylor. Source: Instagram

Pop leads in online popularity.

To get to the bottom of things, Viberate examined the data of the 500 hottest artists, measuring their digital popularity on Twitter, Instagram, Spotify, SoundCloud, and YouTube. 

Data showed that the “500 Hottest” list is heavily dominated by Pop artists, accounting for 41.5% of all acts on the list. The first 12 spots are all occupied by Pop artists, with Ariana Grande taking the lead, and Taylor Swift in third place. The hottest Rock band is Coldplay, in at #33. Following closely are Linkin Park (#36) and Imagine Dragons (#37). Tool are currently positioned at #2365, which is to be expected due to the majority of their social media and streaming presence having just been established. As social media popularity goes, Pop artists are well above the 500 hottest average, as they boast an average of 14.8M Instagram followers, 10.1M Twitter followers, and 35.9M YouTube interactions.

No matter the season, Pop is always hot.

Rock fans love streaming. 

Yet, when it comes to streaming, the tables turn in Rock’s favour. Both Rock and Metal fans apparently prefer Spotify and SoundCloud, as the average follower numbers rise significantly in both cases, beating Pop by a good million. For example, the average Spotify and SoundCloud following for Pop acts is 4.2M and 0.5M, respectively, but with Rock it rises to 5.9M and 0.8M. Metalheads in particular are favourably inclined towards YouTube, too, as the average engagement reaches 30M interactions.

These results suggest that Rock fans aren't much into the visual aspect of music that especially Instagram relies on, and prefer to focus on tunes and bands as a whole, more specifically, streaming entire albums and faithfully supporting legendary acts such as AC/DCRed Hot Chilli Peppers, and Guns N’ Roses. On the other side of the spectrum, Pop tends to cater to all senses in shorter intervals, delivering vivid imagery, choreography, entertainment, and always-on social content, which brings in millions of views and fans. 

On average, top 500 artists are followed by more than 10M people on Instagram. If they are Pop stars, those numbers rise by 4M.
*monthly average, September 2019 

Streaming: the Tool of the modern trade. 

Data painted a reliable picture: Tool’s decision to join streaming services came at a ripe time, and they were smart to use it for some kick-ass PR. Streaming channels seem as if made for their 10+ minutes long tracks, and we can speculate that their return was the highlight of the year for headbangers around the world who, disillusioned by the reign of Pop, gladly jumped on the Rock-promoting bandwagon. At one point, before “Fear Inoculum” was even released, Tool was so present in mainstream media that even Justin Bieber chimed in by publishing some of their lyrics on his Instagram Stories (see, we told you we’d get back to this), and let's not forget to mention the exclusive album listening party at Burning Man. 

Penetrating the 2019 mainstream bubble without opting for additional marketing tactics takes a unique combination of smarts, confidence and experience. And Tool being a “dad band”, they just manifested our collective dad’s ultimate fantasy: showing kids that success takes more than social media likes. 




Cover photo: Icons8 (Unsplash)



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Sara Mekinc

Sara Mekinc

Content Specialist at Viberate
Avid concert-goer, a sucker for creative wordsmithery, and 100 % biodegradable. Google "melomaniac".