Which musicians have the most passionate fans on social media?
In the social media age, music fandom has never been bigger! Find out which stars have the most passionate fans on Twitter and how fandom has evolved over time.
04 Feb 2020
There’s no denying that social media has transformed the face of fan culture. Just look at your own usage – do you follow any musicians online? We thought so!
Thanks to platforms like Twitter and Instagram springing up over the last 15 years, musicians can now directly engage with their fans via tweets and social media comments. And vice versa – it’s never been easier to directly message your favourite star, whether they choose to get back to you or not. In the same way, fans can bond with each other over their shared passion for their favourite bands and artists. But are all fanbases made equal?
To learn a bit more about music fandom, we looked at how the fanbases of some of the world’s most popular artists compare with each other on social media. We also spoke to Dr. Mark Duffett, an expert in popular music and fan culture, to get some insights into the world of fandom and how things have changed over the years.
The changing face of music fan culture
“Fandom is a moment of self-recognition that occurs when someone realises they feel a strong personal connection to an artist or their work,” explains Duffett.
Fan culture can be dated back as far as the 19th century when classical composers such as Franz Liszt were hot on the music scene.
“Each era of media has made fandom more accessible: sound recordings, radio, television, etc. The coming of the internet did it too,” says Duffett.
The communities of music fans on social media can create something special that people want to be a part of. An example Duffett recalled is, “when David Bowie died, the publicity around that generated a moment on Twitter where lots of people were saying, ‘I was not a Bowie fan but…’ It was like they wanted to join something bigger because so many other people were talking about him.”
Who wears the crown for the most dedicated ever?
“I found it fascinating that in end-of-decade reviews of the 2000s, commentators talked about social media platforms almost as much as they talked about music groups,” says Duffett. “We’ve seen the rise of YouTube and people filming concerts to distribute to each other. Then there are those who tweet during and after such events.”
Many credit social media for the record-breaking success that Korean pop band, BTS has experienced in recent years. As the first Korean band to break into the worldwide market, their stardom quickly spiralled to dizzy new heights, and their fan-group, affectionately known as ‘ARMY’, are constantly doing all they can to prove their passion and dedication to the band. And boy are they dedicated!
BTS fans are, by far, the noisiest on Twitter – and we’re not kidding, their fans have mentioned the band over 230 million times over the last four years. Not only that, but each of these tweets have been retweeted an average of 8.6 times. The ‘ARMY’ are certainly a loyal bunch too - the band’s 22.2 million followers mention them an average of seven times each.
Social media encourages a reaction
“Fandom has always been a kind of counter-performance,” explains Duffett. “In other words, though performers often set the tone, fans have a tendency to react and respond in public to things that their favourite artist does or says.”
Before social media, it was rare that fans would know much about a musician’s political stance, but it’s now common for celebrities to use their platforms to discuss their thoughts and opinions on current affairs.
This could be why famously controversial Kanye West and outspoken Shakira were the most likely to fall target to negative tweets among the list of musicians we observed on social media. Kanye isn’t exactly shy when it comes to expressing what’s on his mind, and Shakira recently had to defend her decision to perform at the 2020 Super Bowl, after she received backlash on Twitter for not boycotting the event over the NFL’s treatment of Colin Kaepernick, an American Football player who protested over treatment of minorities.
In contrast, Harry Styles has the happiest fan base. This doesn’t come as too much of a surprise considering he used to be a member of One Direction, who could probably rival BTS’ level of fame in their heyday.
Does music taste mould personal identity?
Individuals can identify as a fan of a musician for all sorts of reasons, from simply enjoying their music to relating to the lyrics or even what the artist stands for. And music taste can arguably say a lot about a person - or so society has told us. For this reason, while some people share their music taste with pride, others choose to hide their ‘guilty pleasures.’ I’m sure you’ve got at least one!
‘Spotify Wrapped’ is a great example of this. “While most fans do not actually need any service telling them what their music taste means for their identity,” explains Duffett, “some will no doubt appreciate it, as it lends itself to them expressing something about their music tastes to others online. On the other hand, we know that some people do not feel comfortable sharing information about their music tastes if they know others believe those tastes are uncool.”
How we got our data
The top 30 musicians and groups used in our research were selected by identifying the most popular musicians of the present and long-term. Individuals were selected from lists including the most streamed artists on Spotify of Summer 2019, the top 8 selling artists of the decade (2010-2018) and the most followed musicians on Twitter in 2019.
Data was sourced from Twitter using the social listening tool Brandwatch (data can be accessed here). By inputting each musician’s Twitter handle, we were able to track tweets that ‘mentioned’ them to learn about the sentiment and emotions expressed. Brandwatch data was based on a 10% sample of total Twitter mentions between October 2015 and October 2019. These figures were extrapolated by 10 to calculate an estimated total number of mentions over the four-year period.
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Dr Mark Duffett is a Reader in Media and Cultural Studies at the University of Chester. He is widely recognised as an expert in popular music and media fandom since the publication of his book Understanding Fandom (2013). His expert comments have also been featured in Rolling Stone, the New York Times, TalkSport Radio, and on BBC World Service.