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Taylor Swift has another rap conflict

The 2016 Grammy Award nominations were released Monday, with multiple nods going to top stars like Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran, Drake, and Nicki Minaj.

Quickly following the announcements came the usual deluge of Internet and data "analysis" of the news. Trouble was, a lot of the data weren't right.

The radio platform iHeartRadio, run by iHeartMedia (formerly Clear Channel Communications), provided CNBC.com with detailed data spreadsheets purporting to show the most popular tracks around the country throughout 2015. The data came from iHeartRadio's digital streaming platforms, which reached an impressive 70 million registered users as of June.

The Grammys are the perfect time to roll such data out to learn something about regional variation in musical preferences. There's a valuable lesson about the quality of data, and making sure to ask basic logical questions about what you're getting.

In a blog post based on the original (aka wrong) data, iHeartRadio said Ed Sheeran took home the honor of "most-thumbed up" track of 2015 with "Thinking Out Loud." Taylor Swift's three big songs relegated her to second, third, and eighth place. (Update: the original iHeartRadio blog post was taken down. The link above is a cached version.)

More impressive in the original data was that Drake's "Hotline Bling" was the most-thumbed up track in 26 states in 2015. That would be amazing because the song only came out in July and didn't really catch on until the colorful video was released in October. Here is exactly what the blog post said about Drake:

Although the track didn't premiere until mid-2015, with the unforgettable music video coming out just weeks ago, the last-minute addition of Drake's "Hotline Bling" surprised and delighted the ears of listeners across the country, leading it to become the No. 1 most thumbed song of 2015 across more than 20 states!

But this didn't make sense to us. Sure Drake's song was popular, but how could it be the top song in half of all states even though it was only hot at the very end of the year?

More weirdly: how could Drake's song be No. 1 in half of the states but not appear anywhere in the top 10 songs nationally.

We asked iHeartRadio to look into what we noticed and indeed, there had been a mistake in the data gathering. After a couple days, we finally heard back. Here's an email from a company spokesperson:

You are really good at your job. With your questions below, you unearthed an error in the data that was the result of a single extra word in a long, long query. Our data team manually had to go through to find the discrepancy. Hotline bling actually does not make the thumbed up song of the year in any state. They apologized for the error and below is the corrected data.

The company sent us an updated version of the data, which shows a totally different picture of the nation's musical taste. Drake wasn't that hot. Taylor Swift would have been robbed again, but we saved her. Now she claims the top song in almost every state.

The new data included the actual number of "thumbs up" and "thumbs down" by state. Of note is that Ed Sheeran's "Thinking Out Loud" is the "most thumbed up" track in only one state — Hawaii. We find it is extremely unlikely that his track was actually the top track in the nation overall. IHeartRadio has not yet responded with further clarifications about the rest of its data set. We can't check that against its original report, but we're hoping to find out soon.

Of course, the new data set only included raw "thumbed" numbers for the top track in each state, so it's possible that "Thinking Out Loud" had enough second-ranked "thumbs" to overcome Taylor Swift's "Style," but that seems unlikely.

So who cares? It's clearly not going to make a difference for your life whether Virginians like Drake or Taylor Swift.

But it does matter for a lot of people. For one thing, advertisers looking to buy time on iHeartRadio would be disheartened to know that they could be spending millions trying to reach one demographic when they might be just shouting into the void. For another, concert planners and promoters depend on data like this to create touring routes.

In recent years, the music industry has seen a big shift in the way it makes money: less from track sales and more from concerts. The concert industry grossed more than $5 billion in 2013, according to The Wall Street Journal.

With money like that floating around, a band (or its promoters, managers, record labels, etc.) really wants to know where its fans are. Data like this can tell them exactly where the people are who want to hear their music. Old-school radio couldn't do that. New-school digital streaming has that potential, as long as there aren't errors along the way.

Last year there was a burst of partnerships between music and data. Beats Music acquired Topspin, Spotify bought the Echo Nest and Shazam signed a data partnership deal with Warner Music Group. Shazam CEO Rich Riley told Businessweek that the company's location-specific data are what record labels want to know, and it even allows them to predict big hits within just a couple days of user data.

We can use big data to learn insightful things about how Americans consume media, but there are limits. One major limit that we'll always have to contend with is human error. We have all made mistakes — even us included — so this isn't about one company's mistakes. This is about asking the right questions, trying to check if information doesn't add up, and sometimes being doubtful about what you read. If we caught this simple error from a major company who wasn't even trying to push any agenda, imagine what else is out there?

Taylor Swift, we had your back the whole time.