The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The states that Americans sing about most

Placeholder while article actions load

Montana, Hawaii and Tennessee may not be among the more populous states in the nation — but when it comes to providing material to America’s singers, they more than pull their weight.

That’s what Julia Silge, a data scientist, found out when she set out to resolve what she says is a roughly 15-year debate between her and her husband: which U.S. states get mentioned most in song lyrics. Silge, who has a day job at statistics consulting firm Datassist, drew on an outside database of lyrics of the songs in Billboard’s Year-End Hot 100 list from 1958 to the present to create maps showing which states were mentioned most.

The first map she created shows the number of mentions for each state. States that appear in the most songs are shown in darker colors. Unsurprisingly, this list highlights states that are both culturally influential and have large populations — like New York and California. (Silge cautions that New York is so dark in part because some songs that include the state’s name are undoubtedly referencing New York City.)

To make her second map, however, she divided this number of mentions by the population of each state, to figure out which states were particularly influential for their size. This turned up some surprises. Southern states like Mississippi, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky turned out to have an outsized influence, as did states like New York, Hawaii and Montana. Nebraska and Maine also fared well.

Silge also created what's called a distorted cartogram, in which the area of a state has been changed to show its per capita mentions in song lyrics.

The South and Hawaii have swelled, indicating that they are mentioned a lot for their size. Apparently, few songwriters are inspired by the Carolinas, Connecticut, Missouri or Alaska.

You might also like:

Why cute baby animal photos are actually toying with your brain

What it looks like when you chart love, envy and heartbreak

There’s a mathematical reason you’re less popular than your friends