Hot Time, Summer in the City

By Rob Mitchum

This is part of our Clarify Data Stories series. Check out the big issues, minus the noise at to watch artists take on the issues that matter to them, like Esperanza Spalding on Climate below. And since today is Election Day — go to to find all the voter information you need to vote.

Despite its failure to appear as a topic at any of the three presidential debates this election season, climate change is already affecting our daily lives. For the third consecutive year, Earth will set a new record for hottest global temperature since scientists started collecting weather data. This summer, U.S. cities from Seattle to Miami experienced days with record high heat far above the seasonal average, sweltering conditions that could soon become the norm rather than exception.

If summers are only going to get hotter going forward, we were curious about the types of music people pick to beat the heat on days of extreme temperatures. When the mercury climbed to an unusual high (greater than two standard deviations higher than the average high temperature for that day), we found that city residents cool off with nature sounds and chili peppers, or, in some locations, by dancing the heat away.

Music to Beat the Heat

By the raw numbers, people listened to the same music on hot summer days that they listened to the rest of the season — lots of Drake, Rihanna, and Desiigner. But one hit song that pops out as potentially weather-motivated is Major Lazer’s Bieber-featuring “Cool Water,” which held the top spot on hot August nights in D.C., Massachusetts, and Minnesota this summer.

Top songs on days with temperatures higher than two standard deviations above average. Data: Spotify, NOAA. Graphic: Diego Garcia-Olano.

To get beyond the usual pop suspects, we looked at the artists and songs that were listened to the most on the day of an extreme high temperature relative to the rest of the summer in that city. Aggregating the top 10s for each city this way produces a nice heat-related coincidence, with the Red Hot Chili Peppers coming in at #2. But for the most part, this list most reflects artists who had the good fortune or marketing sense to drop an album or single right before the hottest summer days, including Gucci Mane, Nick Jonas, Green Day, Rae Sremmurd, and PARTYNEXTDOOR.

Top artists by number of tracks streamed in cities experiencing extreme high temperatures. Data: Spotify.

However, if you’ve looked closely at the above two graphics, you may have noticed some less likely summer superstars. “Artists” such as Rain Sounds, Nature Sounds, Sleep Baby Sleep and Meditacion Musical all saw streams spike on days of extreme heat, with tracks such as “February Rainfall,” “Office Air Conditioners,” “Cold Circling Wind,” and — most distressing of all — “Soothing Brown Noise Waves.”

Meditacion Musical seems like a weird outlier; for mysterious reasons, it filled out the top 10 in Los Angeles on June 20th, a day that topped out at 101 degrees, 22 degrees over the average high temperature for that date. But the other ambient noise tracks appear in multiple cities, on dates from all three months of summer. The number of streams of these songs are not huge — nobody’s doing Drake numbers with their thunderstorm field recordings — and these are songs that people likely put on repeat for extended periods, but the timing of these tracks’ surge suggest that at least some listeners use auditory air conditioning to supplement the real kind on hot days.

Top songs “above index” (significantly higher stream count relative to other days) on days with temperatures higher than two standard deviations above average. Data: Spotify, NOAA. Graphic: Diego Garcia-Olano.

When It’s Hot, We Dance.

But just looking at the hottest days out of context might miss more general effects of temperature on listening habits. We picked five large cities from our dataset — Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington DC — and looked at the top tracks streamed each day for the entire summer, graphing their musical characteristics against that day’s high temperature. In the graph below, you can see general upward trends for all three of danceability, energy, and valence as the weather heats up.

Average danceability, energy, and valence for each day in Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington DC, against high temperature for that day. Data: Spotify, Accuweather.

But just as different regions of the country experience different ranges of summer temperatures, not all cities react to hot weather in the same way. For example, in the swampy environment of Washington DC, where highs this summer occasionally reached triple digits, energy and valence declined with increasing heat, while danceability increased. By contrast, in cooler locales such as San Francisco where summer weather hardly ever changes, these features stay level across temperature.

Average danceability, energy, and valence for each day in Washington DC, against high temperature for that day. Data: Spotify, Accuweather.

Many scientific models predict that, barring dramatic reductions in carbon emissions, the world will be at least 3 degrees Fahrenheit warmer by the year 2100. Depending on your location, those three degrees might make a big difference your musical preferences, bending your mood downward and your desire to dance upward if your city is already flirting with 100 degree highs in summer months. But never fear — if it’s too hot to go outside and the A/C isn’t working, we’ll always have Rain Sounds.