We’re often all too quick to focus on the differences between generations. From lifestyle choices to political views, our tastes and beliefs can seem to stand in stark contrast to those who are older or younger than us, making it hard to find common ground or shared interests.
Even deciding on music the whole family will like can prove challenging. Whether you’re hosting a family reunion, attending a relative’s birthday party, or are simply taking a road trip, it’s important to have a soundtrack that can be enjoyed by all ages.
To solve this problem, we surveyed 2,000 Americans to discover which best-selling bands and musicians are loved across the generations – and which are the most divisive.
Top 10 Artists With All‑Ages Appeal
|6||The Rolling Stones||41%|
Topping our chart is iconic British pop and rock band The Beatles. A minimum of 58% of people in each individual age group stated that they like listening to The Beatles, rising to 79% amongst those aged 55+. In a close second place is Michael Jackson, who boasts a fanbase of at least 55% across every age group surveyed. Elvis Presley, Whitney Houston and Elton John complete the top five.
However, two significantly more modern musicians also made the list. Taylor Swift, who’s only been performing since 2004, takes ninth place in the ranking, while Bruno Mars rounds out the top ten.
When you have an audience of listeners across a diverse age group, it does become harder to get it right. Classics such as The Beatles are always a winner — but that’s not to say more modern music won’t go down well. The likes of Ed Sheeran and Bruno Mars have fans across the ages, so teens and grandparents might have more in common than you’d expect.
Robert Jaret, composer
The Most Divisive Artists in Our Survey
|The Four Seasons||17.5%||21.6%||31.1%||39.8%||66.5%|
|Paul McCartney and Wings||21.9%||27.2%||34.2%||49.7%||64.4%|
The Supremes, Bee Gees and The Four Seasons are all very closely-matched in our analysis of divisiveness (based on how much age groups vary from the average, using a measure called standard deviation). These older acts all scored well with the 55+ age group but popularity declined steeply for younger respondents.
Although The Beatles were named as the most universally liked group, Paul McCartney’s solo ventures didn’t fare quite as well, taking the fourth spot with a similar drop-off pattern.
These artists had — and still have — a significant fanbase, but a little bit of background context can help explain why they are the most divisive. The Bee Gees were victims of that decade’s rock-versus-disco wars of the seventies, although at different points in their career they could have easily fit into either genre. Wings was Paul McCartney’s first post-Beatles group, so they were likely victims of the backlash from disappointed Beatles fans embittered by their breakup, or those that aligned themselves with the John Lennon side of the schism that developed between the two former co-writers.
Robert Jaret, composer
While you might expect young people to favor current chart music, we found that 16-24 year olds named Michael Jackson and The Beatles as their second and third most-liked musicians – beaten to first place only by Bruno Mars.
In addition to being named the second most universally liked act, Michael Jackson has also been crowned the least divisive musician across all age groups. Hot on his heels in second place is singer-songwriter Mariah Carey, who’s been performing for more than 30 years.
Music brings people together because it truly is universal. We all experience the emotions that these artists convey. Even if we don’t speak the same language, we experience the chords, rhythm and vocals together and it draws us closer. Liking similar music is a quick way to make new friends, and different generations can enjoy the same music because good songs are timeless.
Mella Barnes, songwriter and voice-over artist
Explore the Data
The chart above plots the overall percentage of respondents who like each artist against their divisiveness scores (standard deviation across age groups). This shows how some artists are appreciated with relatively little disagreement between generations (The Beatles, Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Elvis Presley) while others are less well-loved and/or more age-specific in their appeal.
|The Rolling Stones||40.6||8.5||54.4||40.6||46.1||49.7||58.1||62.3|
|Boyz II Men||25.0||10.3||35.9||25.0||44.5||51.1||37.0||25.6|
|Paul McCartney and Wings||21.9||16.8||45.7||21.9||27.2||34.2||49.7||64.4|
|The Four Seasons||17.5||19.0||42.8||17.5||21.6||31.1||39.8||66.5|