William Poundstone, Photo: Russel Taylor

William Poundstone

Head in the Cloud

Taste Freeze

Why don't you listen to The Chainsmokers? Because you're old.

Posted Sep 20, 2016

Evan-Amos, Wikimedia Commons
Source: Evan-Amos, Wikimedia Commons

The Chainsmokers' "Closer" is the #1 song on this week's Billboard Hot 100.  If you're under 25, there's a good chance you're sick of hearing "Closer." If you've over 35, the odds are that you have no idea who the Chainsmokers are. 

Age 33 is the point of no return when it comes to popular music. By about then, most people stop listening to top 40 hits at all. This is one of the findings of Big Data. It's even earned a name: taste freeze. Add it to the list of awkward aspects of aging with funny names. Mom jeans, dad bod, taste freeze.

Taste freeze doesn't mean that 30-somethings stop listening to music, obviously. Nor does it necessarily mean that older people start listening to "Oldies" stations (though that's a particularly extreme symptom). What happens, according to data assembled by the music streaming service Spotify, is that musical tastes diversify. Some older listeners discover alternative music, classical music, world music, or jazz. They follow new songs by the aging pop stars of their youth (U2, Lady Gaga, Beyoncé) but not by younger artists.

I did a survey for my book Head in the Cloud in which I asked Americans of all ages to identify artists from photographs. Only 56 percent of those 30 and older could identify Kanye West, which seems incredible given the amount of attention he receives. But 74 percent of the same age group recognized Snoop Dogg, whose first album was in 1992.

Taste freeze has probably always existed, but streaming has enhanced it. Today we’re all DJs. We create playlists to share with friends who are the same age and like exactly the same things. 

Another fun fact: According to Spotify, becoming a parent ages your musical tastes the equivalent of four years.