Open thread: Youtube algorithms and music

July 11, 2015 • 1:17 pm

by Grania

Youtube has collated me a list called My Mix: Synthpop. My first thought was “I don’t listen to synthpop” and then “I don’t actually know what synthpop is”. I don’t think Youtube does either. But nevertheless, it ever so often puts together lists of stuff that I have listened to and gives them a name, and more often puts together lists of stuff it thinks I might want to listen to (usually not an entirely successful endeavor, but you can’t blame an algorithm for trying, right?)

So what does Youtube call Synthpop?

Stromae for one. He’s more Electronic Hiphop, but whatever. Even if you don’t speak French you might enjoy him. He’s from Belgium and his lyrics are clever, full of puns and double entendres as well as a satirical commentary on society. The videos have English subtitles so you can get the gist, you may need a French speaker to get all the puns though.

Tous Les Mêmes (You’re all the same)

Then there’s Ta Fête (Your Party) which always makes me grin because Stromae manages to look exactly like a 21st century Tutankhamen. Or at least, what Tutankhamen wishes he looked like.

susan stclair tut


Youtube also included his Ave Cesaria which is an homage to Cape Verde singer Cesária Évora and is about as far away from “synthetic” or “electronic” as you can get, as well as being beautiful. Also check out Formidable (ceci n’est pas une leçon) which is the funny stream of consciousness as a man stumbles home drunk after seeing the object of his desire get married to someone else.

Other items to turn up in my list:

An A Capella group Pentatonix, who in fairness do mimic pop without a single instrument.

Walk Off The Earth, similarly couldn’t be called synthetic or electronic even if you squinted.

and lastly Superfruit – two-fifths of Pentatonix who if they sing, do it with a piano and a microphone. Here they are doing a list of contemporary hits as if they were Broadway anthems.

What I am surprised didn’t make Youtube’s “cut” is any of the Electronic Swing I have been listening to. This is Twenties and Thirties style jazz reworked by the likes of Parov Stelar which has spawned a new (old?) dance genre. Try All Night to see if you like it.

It’s proven so popular that it has even ended up in advertisements.

The one thing the algorithm does is never insert any classical tracks into the mix. Those get filed tidily into different mixes.

Otherwise, it would seem anything goes.

Have you had any strange items pop up in Youtube?

26 thoughts on “Open thread: Youtube algorithms and music

  1. I pretty much ignore suggestions made by algorithms (or should I say algorhythms. same for amazon suggestions. they seem only to be able to tell me what I already new I wanted, or already own.

    as for fun music in French, I’ll take Max Boublil any day!

  2. I must not be doing YouTube right or something. Or I’ve given the algorithm schizophrenia. In any case, I enjoyed most of your picks, esp the first. Just the right mix of music and camp.

  3. I still can’t get away from Steven Wilson’s Hand.Cannot.Erase. His latest. SW is probably my favorite musician…from Porcupine Tree to his ‘solo’ work it is solid through and through. Beautiful and sublime, my kind of music…plus guitar mastery.

    I haven’t heard of the artists utube picked for you here and will delve into them. I like all styles of music, though not too familiar with a lot of European artists (other than the UK/Ireland), so this is appreciated.

    1. Wow, thats’ really good stuff. Fantastic music that you can just sit and listen to. I’m buying it later.
      The earlier stretch of it really reminded me of Emerson Lake and Palmer, which is interesting.

      1. I’m glad you had a listen…it gets better and better…many layers of sound. I agree that some of his sound is reminiscent of EL&P. He was also influenced as a kid by Pink Floyd and Donna Summers…strange combo, I know. As well as King Crimson, Yes, Opeth. If you like this, you’ll probably like all his solo work and possibly Porcupine Tree. Give it a try.

        1. I like Wilson too. I was surprised to find myself loving an artist this much in adulthood. Wilson is definitely one of kind and his music seems to reach more and more people nowadays. When I fell for his music a couple of years ago, I looked up inteviews from his past. Not only is his music fantastic, he’s also a die hard atheist and his views on religions align very well with the commentariat on this website! He dismisses religion as a bunch of fairytales. And I fistpumped when I heard him say that people should read Hitchens. To me, Wilson is the wisest musician since Zappa.

  4. I delete my cookies, so YouTube has a hard time figuring out what I want. It really wanted me to watch something called ‘PewDiePie’ for a while. I refused.

    1. Ha! Pewds is the biggest Youtuber in the world in terms of subscribers, so that’s why he was probably offered to you. But unless you are interested in gaming and an almost surreal take on games all delivered up in a Swedish accent; then it won’t hold any appeal.

      1. Not unless he’s pining for the fjords. The aggressive manner in which YouTube insisted I HAD to watch those videos RIGHT NOW by putting them on the front page, on every search, on the related videos, as recommendations and the next video coming up pretty much guaranteed that I stayed on YouTube for no longer than I absolutely had to.

  5. I got really depressed a few years ago when amazon thought I might like a Barry Manilow album:-(. I have never bought snything remotely like his manner of schlock.

    1. lol

      YT keeps trying to convince me that I want to listen to Vivaldi.

      It shows that these algorithms are very superficial, although it’s perhaps the best they can do. I search for a lot of Bach and Handel on YT. The algorithm seems to think I simply like music, any music, from that era.

      The difference between Bach and Vivaldi, in terms of the richness, profundity, and intelligence of the musical content itself is the difference between that hill over there and Mt. Everest.

    2. Getting pretty weird when you are insulted by a math/program equation…Amazon is trying too hard to read your mind.

  6. I can read these posts while listening to youtube.My latest is Lovely Day by Bill Withers over and over again.Yes i like eminem,he be an angry boy and not playing but makes me move. You can really listen to any popular song and might do it now .Were up all Night to get Lucky by well can’t think of his name but you probably know.

  7. Thanks for sharing. Great dancing videos. I liked the first Stromae…clever and fun to watch and listen to.

    Check out (found it through Krugman’s bl*g):

    San Fermin Jack Rabbit

    And if you are an American with kids and think that hard work is not necessary to get through life, check this video out:

    Eddie Van Halen, Smithsonian

    I am not a huge fan of VH, but some people in this country forget 1) we all came from somewhere that was not America, 2) imagination and creativity are part of all innovations.

  8. I still think you can’t beat the eBay algorithm. My favorite example: I occasionally buy a specimen bank note or specimen bond. I know to expect to appear soon in the “recommended for your consideration” list a great deal on a “pass-through cabinet for urine specimens.”

  9. Since they do sound recognition for the big media holders, I wonder if they also have other sorts of comparisons for “you might like”? Or is it just by people listening to both?

    Somehow I am reminded of when I ordered in 2000 or so Jaegwon Kim’s _Supervenience and Mind_ from – it was about the first thing I ordered. I got recommended “clean underwear” by the “people who bought x also bought y” thing.

Leave a Reply