Minnesota and North Dakota share the most popular wedding song, but can you guess what it is?
"Marry Me" or "Marry You"? "Can't Stop the Feeling" or "I Gotta Feeling"? "Lucky" or "Get Lucky"? If you're putting together a wedding playlist, the choices are endless. But if you'd like to know what others across the country are picking, help has arrived. Spotify and the author of its Insights blog, Eliot Van Buskirk, were kind enough to share data with us on all the wedding playlists made by users since the service started in 2008.
Let's start with the most basic question: Which songs are most frequently included on wedding playlists in the United States?
"Thinking Out Loud" by Ed Sheeran
"Marry You" by Bruno Mars
"All of Me" by John Legend
"Uptown Funk" by Mark Ronson, featuring Bruno Mars
"I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)" by Whitney Houston
"Don't Stop Believin'" by Journey
"Crazy in Love" by Beyoncé, featuring Jay-Z
"A Thousand Years" by Christina Perri
"I'm Yours" by Jason Mraz
"Hey Ya!" by OutKast
Ed Sheeran's "Thinking Out Loud" beats Bruno Mars's "Marry You" for the top spot. But if we expand the list from Top 10 to Top 100, Mars surges ahead. While "Thinking Out Loud" is Sheeran's only hit on the 100 most-played wedding songs, Mars has three more outside the 10, thanks to "Just the Way You Are" (46th overall), "Treasure" (65th) and "Locked Out of Heaven" (89th).
Doc Vincent, a West Virginia-based DJ who has worked at weddings for 28 years, said that when he's DJ-ing a ceremony, many couples have asked him to play "Marry You" when they're exiting during the processional. "People are becoming more modern and unique. Not everyone's getting married in a church," he said.
Different data sources can mean different findings. "Hey Ya!" was actually No. 1 in Walt Hickey's FiveThirtyEight article last year analyzing 163 reader-submitted wedding playlists.
Beyond the Top 100, let's zoom out even more to see which artists dominate the 1,000 most common wedding tunes.
Alongside Sheeran, Michael Jackson surges into first place with 13 in the top 1,000, fueled by six on the top quarter of that list. "Billie Jean" (28th), "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" (51st), "P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)" (76th), "Thriller" (138th), "Beat It" (150th) and "Love Never Felt So Good" (175th) all ring in newlywed bliss. But this count doesn't even give Jackson his full due, because we're grouping by band or artist name. If we also include his Jackson 5 hits, then "I Want You Back" (40th) and "ABC" (94th) would add to Jackson's total.
Modern weddings are partial to modern music, but they don't completely forget the past. One out of every 13 songs on the top 1,000 wedding hits was performed by one of the following artists: Michael Jackson, Queen, Frank Sinatra, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Madonna, Elvis, Otis Redding, the Beach Boys or the Beatles.
The list runs the gamut from 1950, when Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong recorded "Dream a Little Dream of Me," to March of this year, when Ed Sheeran released "Perfect" and "Galway Girl."
Of all the songs released before this decade, none checks in higher than Whitney Houston's "I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)" at No. 5. It's also the most popular wedding song for Spotify playlists built in D.C.
The lists of top wedding songs in each state tend to look similar. But more informative is which song is the most uniquely popular in each state. Here's how we get that bit of info: For every song in each state's top 500 wedding songs, we subtracted the song's rank in that state from the song's rank nationwide to find the song with the biggest gap between the two.
Here are the songs that showed up in multiple states:
Alabama "Wop" by J. Dash
Alaska "Would You Go With Me" by Josh Turner
Arizona "Just to See You Smile" by Tim McGraw
Arkansas "White Dress" by Ben Rector
California "California Love" by Tupac Shakur
Colorado "Would You Go With Me"
Connecticut "Can't Help Falling in Love" by the Jordanaires, Haley Reinhart
Delaware "Here and Now" by Luther Vandross
District of Columbia "The Way You Do the Things You Do" by the Temptations
Florida "La Gozadera" by Gente De Zona
Hawaii "Over and Over Again" by Nathan Sykes
Idaho "All About Us" by He Is We
Illinois "Lucky" by Jason Mraz
Indiana "Electric Slide" by Electric Slide Music Makers
Iowa "Fishin' in the Dark" by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
Kansas "Copperhead Road" by Steve Earle
Kentucky "Electric Slide"
Maine "Simple Man" by Lynyrd Skynyrd
Maryland "A Couple of Forevers" by Chrisette Michele
Massachusetts "Take Me Home Tonight" by Eddie Money
Michigan "Get Low" by the Ying Yang Twins
Minnesota "Fishin' in the Dark"
Mississippi "You for Me (Wedding Song)" by Johnny Gill
Missouri "Country Grammar" by Nelly
Montana "Fishin' in the Dark"
Nebraska "Fishin' in the Dark"
Nevada "Just a Kiss" by Lady Antebellum
New Hampshire "That's My Kind of Night" by Luke Bryan
New Jersey "Born to Run" by Bruce Springsteen
New Mexico "Neon Moon" by Brooks & Dunn
New York "Juicy" by the Notorious B.I.G.
North Carolina "Electric Slide"
North Dakota "Fishin' in the Dark"
Ohio "Solarflare" by Yung Lean
Oklahoma "Copperhead Road"
Oregon "Get Low"
Pennsylvania "It Takes Two" by Rob Base & DJ EZ Rock
Rhode Island "Wagon Wheel" by Darius Rucker, Old Crow Medicine Show
South Carolina "Carolina Girls" by General Johnson & the Chairmen of the Board
South Dakota "Fishin' in the Dark"
Tennessee "God Gave Me You" by Dave Barnes
Texas "She's Like Texas" by Josh Abbott Band
Utah "All About Us"
Vermont "Under Pressure" by Queen
Virginia "Get Low"
Washington "Get Low"
West Virginia "Take Me Home, Country Roads" by John Denver
Wisconsin "Wedding Song" by Fleeting
Wyoming "Fishin' in the Dark"
Some of these songs are hardly surprising. New Jersey weddings feature disproportionate runs of "Born to Run" by Bruce Springsteen. South Carolina girls and guys get married to "Carolina Girls" by General Johnson and the Chairman of the Board. In Texas, they like "She Likes Texas" by the Josh Abbott Band.
California loves "California Love" by 2Pac. Christina Flamer, a California-based wedding DJ who goes by Christina Flame professionally, says, "The No. 1 thing that cracks me up every time is that even couples who say they don't like rap get into it. They all love 'California Love.'"
And of course, what West Virginia gathering would be complete without John Denver's "Take Me Home, Country Roads"? When Vincent, the West Virginia DJ, was asked for the wedding song unique to his home state, despite not being shown this data, he immediately confirmed Spotify's answer: "Almost 99.9 percent of weddings I do finish with 'Country Roads.' It's the unofficial theme song of West Virginia. The same thing happens: Last song of the night, the bride and groom go to the middle, everyone gathers around them, and they sing 'Country Roads.'"
But the most notable geographic disparity is on "Fishin' in the Dark." A hub of seven states from Montana to Iowa all put the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band country tune in the top 200, yet the song fails to crack the top 1,000 nationwide.
This isn't to say that "Fishin' in the Dark" is entirely forgotten outside that region. Nashville DJ Jake Burton said that in Tennessee, he's played "Wagon Wheel" often, but he also mentioned that "Fishin' in the Dark" "is especially popular with brides and grooms that like country music."
"I think that the end of the song makes it for the crowd," he added. "It goes into a double-time feel and then it ends with a sudden climax. It also helps that everyone can sing along."
"Fishin' in the Dark" isn't the only regional preference this data illuminates. Consider the popularity map for "Wop" by J. Dash, featuring Flo Rida, a mainstay of southern weddings.
In the Northeast, there's a strong preference for "American Girl" by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.
Out west, couples are more likely to hear José González's "Heartbeats" before setting off on their honeymoons.
What this data doesn't capture are regional differences within states. As Flamer, the California DJ, noticed, "In Northern California, they want to be unique. They'll get upset when I play Top 40 music. In L.A., they want to hear what's cool right now."
Whether Vincent is at home in West Virginia or traveling to Pittsburgh, Baltimore or New York for work, he encounters a couple of the same very popular first-dance selections. "'Thinking Out Loud' is a really, really big one. Etta James's 'At Last' has popped up quite a few times." Sure enough, both of those crack the top four songs contained in the most Spotify playlists labeled "First Dance":
"First Dance" by Justin Bieber, featuring Usher
"Thinking Out Loud" by Ed Sheeran
"All of Me" by John Legend
"At Last" by Etta James
"A Thousand Years" by Christina Perri
"You Are the Best Thing" by Ray LaMontagne
"Make You Feel My Love" by Adele
"I Won't Give Up" by Jason Mraz
"Better Together" by Jack Johnson
"Everything" by Michael Bublé
"Amazed" by Lonestar
"Can't Help Falling in Love" by Elvis Presley
As expected, the list contains a fair number of leisurely paced songs, though you wouldn't know it from looking at the beats per minute of the top 100 first-dance songs, compared with the top 100 overall wedding songs.
While the first-dance songs tend to be slower as a whole, many include a quick beat underneath more measured lyrics. As a good example, listen to Otis Redding's "These Arms of Mine." It's clearly written for a slow dance, but if you tap along to the beat, you'll find yourself rapidly making three taps per second. More precisely, it clocks in at 177 beats per minute, making it the highest BPM of any top-100 first-dance song.
None of this is meant to suggest that anyone should craft a wedding playlist based on the preferences of others. Songs, like weddings, are personal, and different music conjures different emotions for each of us. For instance: You may have noticed that I listed the top 12 first-dance songs instead of a more traditional top 10. I couldn't help sneaking in No. 12, Elvis's "Can't Help Falling in Love," as that was my parents' first-dance selection. Hopefully, for those of you soon-to-be-newlyweds engaged in these decisions, this data will provide some ideas for composing your own wedding memories.