Speaking of Billboard: "What Makes Popular Culture Popular? Product Features and Optimal Differentiation in Music" Askin & Mauskapf 2017:
In this article, we propose a new explanation for why certain cultural products outperform their peers to achieve widespread success. We argue that products' position in feature space significantly predicts their popular success. Using tools from computer science, we construct a novel dataset allowing us to examine whether the musical features of nearly 27,000 songs from Billboard's Hot 100 charts predict their levels of success in this cultural market. We find that, in addition to artist familiarity, genre affiliation, and institutional support, a song's perceived proximity to its peers influences its position on the charts. Contrary to the claim that all popular music sounds the same, we find that songs sounding too much like previous and contemporaneous productions - those that are highly typical - are less likely to succeed. Songs exhibiting some degree of optimal differentiation are more likely to rise to the top of the charts. These findings offer a new perspective on success in cultural markets by specifying how content organizes product competition and audience consumption behavior.
...We hypothesize that hit songs are able to manage a similarity-differentiation tradeoff. Successful songs invoke conventional feature combinations associated with previous hits while at the same time displaying some degree of novelty distinguishing them from their peers. This prediction speaks to the competitive benefits of optimal differentiation, a finding that reoccurs across multiple studies and areas in sociology and beyond (Goldberg et al. 2016; Lounsbury and Glynn 2001; Uzzi et al. 2013; Zuckerman 2016)
...Products must differentiate themselves from the competition to avoid crowding, yet they cannot differentiate to such an extent as to make themselves unrecognizable (Kaufman 2004). Research on consumer behavior suggests that audiences engage in this tradeoff as well. When choosing a product, audiences conform on certain identity-signaling attributes (e.g., a product's brand or category), while distinguishing themselves on others (e.g., color or instrumentation; see Chan, Berger, and Van Boven 2012). This tension between conformity and differentiation is central to our understanding of social identities (Brewer 1991), category spanning (Hsu 2006; Zuckerman 1999), storytelling (Lounsbury and Glynn 2001), consumer products (Lancaster 1975), and taste (Lieberson 2000). Taken together, this work signals a common trope across the social sciences: the path to success requires some degree of both conventionality and novelty (Uzzi et al. 2013)
If it's worth saying, but not worth its own post (even in Discussion), then it goes here.