At PRISMOJI, we believe that emojis – as a “new type of language” – are a major key for understanding popular sentiment in a digital age. Specifically, emoji data science, a largely unexplored field, represents a powerful new methodology for fast, data driven journalism.
Last month, we published our first emoji analysis in VICE, looking at how people on both sides of the aisle used emojis in the wake of Britain’s exit from the European Union. For our next analysis, we wanted to shift from politics to pop culture – specifically, the heated dispute between Taylor Swift and Kanye West over a lyric from his latest album (“I made that bitch famous.”)
According to Kanye, Taylor gave him permission to use the line in his song “Famous.” Taylor, however, denies knowing she would be referenced so disrespectfully. Now, at Prismoji, we weren’t there when any of this went down. But we were curious about how this epic feud was reflected in the world of emoji. So, we examined a sample of 100,000 tweets – 50,000 each, mentioning @taylorswift13 and @kanyewest – from the past week.
What did we find?
- The emoji game of Taylor Swift fans is on point.
Above, we plot the top emojis used in tweets about the two artists. The farther left an emoji appears on the x-axis, the more likely it is to be used with Taylor as opposed to Kanye. (For example, the red heart ❤️ appears in 58 out of every 1,000 tweets about Taylor, compared to 7 of every 1,000 tweets about Kanye – hence, its emoji valence leans roughly 700% towards Taylor.)
We find a dense assortment of warm and fuzzy emojis – hearts, roses, and kisses – firmly in Taylor’s camp, while only a handful of mildly positive emojis are weakly on Kanye’s side of the fence. The fire emoji 🔥 is the strongest pro-Kanye emoji we find.
- Snake bombing by pro-Kanye forces appears to have been successful.
The snake emoji 🐍 stands in stark contrast to the mostly flowery emojis used in tweets about Taylor Swift. In fact, during the time period in question – last week – the snake emoji was actually the 3rd most frequently used emoji in association with Taylor Swift on Twitter. (See below for a simpler visualization that depicts each artist’s top emojis.)
“Snake bombing” of Taylor’s Instagram account was reported by media sources last week. Instagram apparently started deleting the snakes, but they remain alive and well on Twitter.
- Justin Bieber’s #taylorswiftwhatup dominated the Twitter conversation about Taylor and Kanye.
Early last week, Canadian pop star Justin Bieber of “Baby, Baby, Baby” fame threw major shade at Taylor Swift by posting a photo of him Facetiming with Kanye West on Instagram. The caption he used? “Taylor swift what up.”
Interestingly, #taylorswiftwhatup was the most commonly occurring hashtag in tweets about both Taylor and Kanye, suggesting this was a brilliant move on the part of Bieber. Kanye’s hashtag wordcloud is a random mess and seems to be unfazed by the controversy. Taylor’s wordcloud, on the other hand, shows a swift mobilization of her fans under the hashtag #welovetaylorswift.
We also find, unsurprisingly, that the snake emoji 🐍 as well as the face with tears of joy 😂 are “emojis of shade” and that people who use these emojis in reference to Taylor are much more likely to use the #taylorswiftwhatup hashtag compared to the #welovetaylorswift hashtag.
- Humans may have a common emoji language of #fanlove.
We wanted to extend our analysis on Taylor and Kanye to a broader assortment of pop culture celebrities. So, we looked at Beyonce, Justin Bieber, DJ Khaled, Drake, and Rihanna. (Again, same methodology as before – 50,000 tweets mentioning each artist, sampled last week.) Below, we show the top 5 emojis across the entire group.
Apart from DJ Khaled, the other four celebrities exhibit a remarkable overlap in their top emojis. Specifically, heart eyes 😍, red heart ❤️, face with tears of joy 😂, and loudly crying face 😭 appear in the top 5 emojis of Beyonce, Bieber, Drake, and Rihanna. Might these be the famed emojis of #fanlove?
Here, it’s helpful to compare these emojis with the most popular emojis of all time on Twitter, as expertly tracked by emojitracker.com since 2013. Face with tears of joy 😂 is the most common emoji on Twitter so probably isn’t a signature of anything; if anything, it appears to under-index with #fanlove. Heart eyes 😍 and the red heart ❤️ are probably good indicators of #fanlove; they are #3 and #4 overall on Twitter but for at least three of our five celebrities, they’re respectively #1 and #2.
We also find the fire emoji 🔥 might be a robust indicator of #fanlove for male pop celebrities, as it appears here for both Bieber and Drake. The honeybee emoji 🐝 rounds out the list for Beyonce (or Bey, aka Queen Bee). (Also, a LOT of people seem to be laughing at Drake – likely because of his alleged impending rap battle with Eminem.)
- Sometimes, love hurts.
What about the loudly crying emoji 😭? For four of the five celebrities in our list, it ranges from 2nd through 5th place. On emojitracker.com, it ranks 5th, so it appears to slightly overindex for #fanlove. We examined some of the most retweeted tweets for the celebrities below that included the loudly crying emoji 😭 to get a sense of what it means.
Apparently, in certain cases of #fanlove, the loudly crying emoji 😭 is used as a sign of extreme devotion. It seems to suggest not sadness or regret but a deep form of love and attachment. Who would have guessed?
- DJ Khaled is in a league of his own.
In our analysis of a common emoji language of #fanlove above, we skipped DJ Khaled because the man is in an emoji league of his own. Four of his top five emojis are unique to him – the key 🔑, the 100 symbol 💯, the folded hands 🙏, and the hands raised in celebration 🙌. Not only are his emojis different from those of the others, the association he has with the first two is incredibly strong. As seen below, fully 14% of tweets mentioning the DJ have the key emoji 🔑, and 13% have the fire emoji 🔥. These numbers are unheard of in our dataset. (In comparison, 7% of tweets mentioning Justin Bieber have the heart eyes emoji 😍, which is the best of any of the other four celebrities.)
Our analysis provides the first evidence that through viral memes such as #majorkey, #blessup, #anotherone, and more, DJ Khaled may have formed powerful associations between his own brand and certain emojis. Further research is needed to conclusively assess how novel this phenomena is compared to other popular celebrities.
By Hamdan Azhar
Enjoyed our analysis? Let us know what other cool applications of emoji data science you’d be interested in seeing. In the pipeline so far: how emojis represent emotional states (i.e. #lonely vs. #excited), how emojis encode gender, the meaning of the word bae, and more. We also have a feeling we’re not done with politics yet. Comment below with your thoughts or drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.