• | 5:09 pm

Song lyrics have gotten angrier, repetitive, and less joyful, new research finds

The researchers share that they believe that this downgrade is a reflection of the way we consume music in the modern age

Song lyrics have gotten angrier, repetitive, and less joyful, new research finds
[Source photo: Chetan Jha/Press Insider]

A new study has found that pop music lyrics, indeed, have become simpler, easier to comprehend, and more self-centred since the 1970s.

Additionally, the structural complexity of lyrics has decreased, meaning there’s less variation within songs and potentially more repetition. 

How many times have we turned on the radio in the past few years—accidentally—and questioned the incapacitations of the musical minds of our age? Our parents were the same, our grandparents were the same, and eventually we chalked our dissatisfaction up to some sort of psychological event that looms over generations. 

We now have scientific proof that this isn’t the case, and can gloat about being right all this time. 

“Music is ubiquitous in our everyday lives, and lyrics play an integral role when we listen to music,” said the report, published in the journal Scientific Reports.

“The complex relationships between lyrical content, its temporal evolution over the last decades, and genre-specific variations, however, are yet to be fully understood.”

The European researchers created a dataset of over 350,000 English song lyrics from popular genres like rap, country, pop, R&B, and rock and extracted from them descriptors that would give information about the lyrical structure, vocabulary, rhyme, emotion, and complexity of the words used.

Then, focusing on a representative sample of 12,000 songs, the research also revealed that the proportion of repeated lines compared to unique lines has increased across genres over time and that pop music songwriters are really driving the message home. The genre showed the most dramatic rise, nearly doubling its use of repetition, while rap music also observed an even steeper increase. Interestingly however, since the 1980s, rap lyrics have seen an increase in the number of words with three or more syllables. The ratio of choruses to verses and bridges also went up. 

The researchers share that they believe that this downgrade is a reflection of the way we consume music in the modern age, as background noise rather than something to revel in or enjoy. 

By studying the ‘pronoun frequency’, researchers also concluded that lyrics have gotten increasingly personal over time, especially in rap music. 

Lyrics have also become angrier across genres, with rap again coming up at the top. Along with that, the expression of negative emotions has also increased across all genres with rap leading the charge, followed by R&B. For pop music, the researchers observed a decrease in positive emotions over the years, a section where rap music showed a moderate increase. 

This confirms previous research conducted by scientists in 2018 that also observed a decrease in positive and joyful music over the years.

The perils of modern day songwriting have been talked about by many. Spotify, the top streaming platform and one of the only ways for new songwriters to get discovered, only pays royalties to artists if the listener is engaged for at least 30 seconds. Songs are getting shorter in duration, as more artists want to tap into the play-per-pay model of streaming, and as a result foregoing structural additions like bridges and hooks. Virality on social media platforms in the form of trends is also crucial for sales, which doesn’t come easy if your tune isn’t catchy enough. 

All this to say, lyrics in the music of our age have maybe reached a point of obsolescence where if the tune is catchy and has the scope of virality, it is good to go. 

“We believe that the role of lyrics has been understudied and that our results can be used to further study and monitor cultural artifacts and shifts in society,” said the authors.


Shireen Khan is a Senior Correspondent at Press Insider. She covers lifestyle, culture, and health. More

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