The Rise of Joni Mitchell in Popular Culture

My initiation into Joni Mitchell’s music was through a Youtube clip from Parenthood of Lauren Graham and Mae Whitman singing the Circle Game, as their characters contemplate motherhood, growing up, and change. Ever since, I started noticing how more and more music directors started referring to Joni to accompany their characters in pivotal moments of heartbreak, reflection, love, and longing. In this project, I look at how Joni Mitchell’s music has been used over time in visual media to confirm my observation that there is a rise in Joni Mitchell’s popularity in pop culture.

To do this analysis, I scraped IMDB and manually pulled from several other web sources to consolidate a list of soundtrack credits, categorizing them into three broad categories (TV Series, Movies, TV Performances), and eight subcategories (Long-Form TV series, Mini-Series, Movies (Fiction), Documentaries, TV Movie, Shorts, Talk Show, TV Special).

Joni's songs credited in visual media

The trend line is a 5 year moving average of the total number of songs credited to Joni in visual media

When examining data around the number of references, there is a clear trend line that is rising over time, indicating that more music directors are using her music in their films/shows. Since 1985, the number of mentions has steadily been increasing with a short dip between 2005-2010.

5 Year Moving Average by Category

When the moving average is broken by category, it can be seen that in the initial years of her career, there is a concentration on TV performances on shows like the Johnny Carson show, and the Dick Cavett Show where she performs her music live. Her music was first credited in documentaries and non-fiction stories about the Woodstock festival, featuring her song, Woodstock. In her second wave of popularity (between 1990-2005), her music was featured in several movies like You’ve Got Mail, Love Actually, and Practical Magic - movies that have their own loyal fanbase. The third wave of popularity shows a spike in the number of mentions Joni Mitchell has credited to her. This wave is primarily carried by TV-Series - Parenthood, This Is Us, Million Little Things, After Life, and other family-based dramas. This wave is supplemented by another rise in the Movie category - with box office hits like Steve Jobs and CODA featuring Joni Mitchell’s music at the center of its plot.

Which songs have had the greatest cinematic appeal?

Despite having written over 270 songs over 40 years, a very select list of her songs has repeatedly been used over the last 5 decades. When it comes to the songs that have stood the test of time, “Both Sides Now”, and “The Circle Game” take gold and silver, with “Woodstock” trailing not too far behind. “River” and “Big, Yellow Taxi” found their fanbase and gained momentum in the mid-1990s.

As I looked through this data, what struck me was the appeal of the song, “Both Sides Now,” featured in all the genres, and across time. As I expand upon this project, I would am curious to dive deeper into this song and understand what makes a song stand the test of time.