By Kyle Heck and Harrison Cahill
As the song played from an iPhone in a cup, listeners in Columbia, S.C. leaned in and tried to guess who was singing. Many had blank stares and shakes of their heads for answers. Only one could guess the right answer.
The song people were trying to guess was "Oceans" by the band Hillsong United. What was surprising about the reaction is that the Christian Rock band had just been tagged as the most "distinctive Top-100 band" in the state by Paul Lamere, the Director of Developer Platform for the Echo Nest, a music intelligence company.
But according to some of the reactions of Columbia residents, the music was far from distinct. Many in fact said that Darius Rucker or his former band Hootie and The Blowfish represented South Carolina's musical taste the best.
"I don't have to guess, I've never heard of it," said Tyler Gilstrap.
Lamere looked at zip code data from a quarter-million U.S. music listeners who use a variety of streaming services. He then found one artist that was significantly more popular inside a state than outside of it.
As it turns out, Lamere found that Hillsong United was the 24th most popular band or artist in South Carolina. In the rest of the U.S., Hillsong United was ranked 262nd, a difference of 238 and a big enough gap to make it the state's most unique group.
Shortly after the initial release of his study, Lamere released another map that showed the favorite artist overall in each state. South Carolina got Jay-Z, along with 20 other states.
As Lamere's study skyrocketed in popularity across the country through Facebook sharing, more and more people became confused about its purpose. Hillsong United is not South Carolina's favorite artist. Rather, it is its most unique.
Lamere linked to a story on his Twitter account that explained the difference, saying the article was "a nifty antiviral story on that map."
Thursday, the Carolina Reporter asked people around Columbia what they thought the state's musician should be, and many people responded with Darius Rucker, who attended the University of South Carolina and is a native of Charleston.
When residents found out that Hillsong United made the top of the list, most were surprised. However, because South Carolina is located in the heart of the "Bible Belt," some said they could understand why a Christian band is so prevalent.