Find Your Pop Music Blind Spots With This Quiz

Find Your Pop Music Blind Spots With This Quiz
Photo: Getty Images

Every day the internet forces me to confront the fact that I am much older than I think I am. Recently, this (since deleted) tweet did a nice job of it:

I was headed into my senior year of high school when a then-embryonic Beyoncé earned her first number one single while still a part of Destiny’s Child. It would be extremely charitable of you to say I “grew up” listening to Beyoncé—and the fact that someone obviously very young (but still old enough to use Twitter) finds it remarkable that a decrepit crone of 38 (Beyoncé is a month younger than me) is still relevant makes me feel older than dirt.

Well, if you too want to feel older than dirt about something music-related, there’s a fascinating research study underway that will do the job. The folks at The Pudding have engineered an online “name that tune” quiz that seeks to define “generational gaps” in music by asking users to identify 10 once-chart-topping songs while listening to a brief clip. The results are then averaged across generational cohorts to reveal which songs have endured and which ones have (perhaps rightly) vanished from the pop culture landscape.

Start off by entering your birth year. (I suppose you could lie about this, but if you do, you’ll be messing up the data—and it doesn’t seem to make any difference to how you’ll experience of the quiz.) 

Screenshot: Joel Cunningham

From there, you’ll be invited to test your knowledge of popular songs from a random decade from the 1950s through the 2000s. This is accomplished via an autoplaying music clip (which you can listen to over your computer speakers or with headphones) and a simple interface that allows you to select whether you have never heard it, think it sounds familiar, definitely know it or can sing along with the lyrics.

This one was “Return to Innocence” by Enigma; definitely “singing the lyrics.” Pure moods, baby. (Screenshot: Joel Cunningham)

All of the songs you’ll be served up are what The Pudding classifies as “top three hits in their day… massively popular.” So you probably expect you’ll know a lot of them. You might be very wrong—but if you are, you also might find you aren’t alone.

Because although taking the quiz is amusing—and don’t worry, you can do it multiple times; there seem to be a ton of clips and you can choose any decade you want after the first time through—the real fun comes in poring though the data The Pudding serves up after you are done. Using information culled from tens of thousands of iterations of the quiz, they have identified which songs are remembered or have been forgotten across four generations: Gen Z, Millennials, Gen X and Boomers.

Though you won’t be able to directly compare your own results across generational averages, there’s a lot to sort through. For example, want to know what songs only ‘90s kids understand? You can view a list of hits pretty much only Millennials remember.

Screenshot: Joel Cunningham

This was an important list for me, because it confirmed what I’ve constantly been telling every media think piece that tries to classify me—born in 1981—as a Millennial: No, I’m obviously not a Millennial, because I would’ve clicked “don’t know it” for all four of those. My memories lined up a bit better with the songs best known by my fellow Medium Olds.

So, to circle back to my original point, if you want to feel ancient (or, I don’t know, reassured of your youthful ignorance) peruse the list of songs that everyone knows except members of Gen Z. It’s fascinating. So many songs that I would assume to be universally remembered (which is not necessarily to say good) appear to be only waiting out the clock before they are tossed upon the ashheap of history: “Me and Bobby McGee” by Janis Joplin, “Cecilia” by Simon and Garfunkel, “Stay” by Lisa Loeb and Nine Stories, “MmmBop” by Hanson, Fucking “Lady Madonna” by The Goddam Beatles? What are they teaching you kids in your now exclusively online schools?

Thankfully, some things never change, and the data does confirm that there is one song that practically everyone knows: Nearly 100% of quiz-takers from all four generations can confirm that Billie Jean is not their lover.

Screenshot: Joel Cunningham

So by all means, take the quiz yourself. Contribute your data points. Marvel at the ignorance of today’s youth. Or maybe consider how culturally irrelevant you’ve become.

But no. It’s the children who are wrong.

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