Pop music is an interesting animal, in that it’s a genre that is defined to exist without a solid stylistic definition. Certainly, much pop music has common threads, such as relatively simple tonal and harmonic properties, in some cases a beat for dancing, and nearly always, a “catchy-ness” that allows a song to get stuck in one’s head ad infinitum. Indeed, the genre of pop music is at least partially defined by the term from where the genre’s title originated: popular. We’re looking at music that is the most popular.
How do we measure if music is popular? Album sales is a pretty easy one to use, because that provides some quantitative data that we can use as a basis for solid comparison. Sure, using album sales has its flaws — no input for Youtube views, Pandora plays, radio airtime, pirated copies, casual radio fanhood, or even concert attendance — but it gives us a place to start. Another unfortunate flaw is that it tends to prioritize older, or at least, long-established artists in two ways. First, today’s album sales aren’t what they used to be, according to the RIAA and it’s obnoxious vendetta against pirates. Second, and perhaps most crucial, it takes a while for any artist to catch up with the best-seller in their state. I mean, Lady Gaga, for all of her success (11 million albums sold in the US), has a long way to go before catching Billy Joel (80 million), but Mr. Joel has had a few more decades to sell. Lady Gaga is hopelessly unlucky there; if she’d been from Alaska, for instance, she’d been on top long ago.
Now, how do we determine what state an act represents? For solo artists, birthplaces, childhood homes, where they spent formative years, places they lived are all considerations. For bands and groups, place of formation is the biggest one, followed by places of other important milestones, and birthplaces of members. It may not be the best set of criteria, but it’s something with solid information on which to base the location.
Does taste have anything to do with this map? Yes, and no. Not my tastes, per se; I certainly wouldn’t have chosen a number of these artists if my personal tastes were the method for choosing pop artists to represent each state. But in a way, it does represent, to a point, tastes of the wider public as represented through album sales. Now, of course, these aren’t the 50 (er, 52…) most popular artists in U.S. history. I mean, look at Michigan… Madonna’s commercial success outranks the entirety of amazing Motown groups, which in the opinions of many (including myself) are musically superior to The Material Girl. She also wipes out Eminem, whose album sales would have outranked the representative artists of some 31 other states, if only he’d been from there.
- Alabama – The band Alabama was formed in Fort Payne.
- Alaska – 36 Crazyfists* is a metal band formed in Kenai.
- Arizona – Linda Ronstadt was born and raised in Tucson.
- Arkansas – Johnny Cash was born and raised in Kingsland.
- California – The Eagles formed in Los Angeles.
- Colorado – India.Arie is from Denver.
- Connecticut – Michael Bolton was born and raised in New Haven.
- Delaware – George Thorogood was born in Wilmington.
- District of Columbia – Marvin Gaye started his career in Washington.
- Florida – Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers formed in Gainesville.
- Georgia – Alan Jackson was born and raised in Newnan.
- Hawaii – Bette Midler was born in Honolulu.
- Idaho – Built to Spill was formed in Boise.
- Illinois – The band Chicago formed in the city of Chicago on the campus of DePaul University.
- Indiana – Michael Jackson was born and raised in Gary.
- Iowa – Andy Williams was born in Wall Lake.
- Kansas – The band Kansas originated in Topeka.
- Kentucky – John Michael Montgomery was born and raised in Danville.
- Louisiana – Tim McGraw was born and raised in Delhi.
- Maine – Dan Fogelberg maintained a residence through much of his later life in Deer Isle.
- Maryland – Tupac Shakur spent his teenage years in Baltimore.
- Massachusetts – Aerosmith formed in Boston.
- Michigan – Madonna was born and raised in Bay City.
- Minnesota – Prince, born raised and still lives in Minneapolis.
- Mississippi – Britney Spears was born and attended high school in McComb.
- Missouri – Tina Turner attended high school in St. Louis and got her musical career started in clubs there.
- Montana – Several members of The Decemberists were born and raised in Montana.
- Nebraska – 311 formed in Omaha.
- Nevada – Frank Sinatra was in residence in Las Vegas for a good part of the 1950s and 1960s.
- New Hampshire – The Queers*, a pop-punk band, were formed in Portsmouth.
- New Jersey – Do I have to explain this one?
- New Mexico – John Devner was born in Roswell.
- New York – Billy Joel was born and raised in New York City.
- North Carolina – Randy Travis was born and raised in Marshville.
- North Dakota – Lawrence Welk was born and raised in Strasborg.
- Ohio – Rascal Flatts was formed in Columbus.
- Oklahoma – Garth Brooks was born and raised in Tulsa and started his music career in Stillwater.
- Oregon – Elliot Smith* lived most of his life in Portland.
- Pennsylvania – Boyz II Men was formed in Philadelphia.
- Puerto Rico – Ricky Martin is originally from San Juan.
- Rhode Island – Several members of Talking Heads met in college at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence.
- South Carolina – Hootie and the Blowfish formed in Columbia.
- South Dakota – Indigenous is a Native American blues band based in the town of Marty.
- Tennessee – Elvis Presley had a longtime home in Graceland
- Texas – George Strait was born and raised in Houston.
- Utah – Jewel was born and raised in Payson.
- Vermont – Drowningman*, a hardcore punk band, was formed in Burlington.
- Virginia – Dave Matthews Band was formed in Charlottesville.
- Washington – Too ironic, this one. Home of Nirvana and Pearl Jam, but the best-selling artist from Washington? None other than Kenny G, who was born and raised in Seattle.
- West Virginia – Michael W. Smith was born and raised in Kenova.
- Wisconsin – Violent Femmes formed in Milwaukee.
- Wyoming – Spencer Bohren* was born and raised in Casper.
*- means that hard albums sales data was not available, top-selling status uncertain but inferred from artist discography and other online resources.
So, do you like your state’s representation? Are you embarrassed by it? (I’m looking at you, Misssissippi!) What do you think?