Are Pop Songs Getting Dumber? (Read This Before You Answer)

Pop has always had some dummies making music. Things got pretty stupid in the 60s and 70s. This, for example, was a multi-million seller in 1968.

And let’s face it: pop is supposed to fun.  And sometimes fun equals dumb. At the same time, though, there are plenty of songs that are socially-conscious and/or spiritually/emotionally/politically deep. This track came out about a year after “Yummy Yummy Yummy” at the height of the Vietnam War protests. It hit #1 on the singles charts and sold in the millions, too.

But that’s an anomaly, just as pop hits by Bob Dylan, Simon and Garfunkel and Joni Mitchell. Generally, it’s expect that pop will be music’s empty calories. In other words, most of this music will never trouble the ghost of Dylan Thomas.

And it’s possible that pop is getting even dumber. From The Boston Globe:

[T]he media have been all over a new study titled “Lyric Intelligence in Popular Music,” whose opening sentence is “Popular music lyrics are dumb,” and whose findings have been gleefully reported by outlets around the world.

In the study, Andrew Powell-Morse, a director of marketing at ticket agency SeatSmart, scrutinized 225 songs released over the last decade that have topped the Billboard charts for at least three weeks, feeding their lyrics into an online mechanism that rates sentences on readability scales like Flesch-Kincaid. His conclusion is that the reading level of pop lyrics is on a steep downward curve — from an average grade level of 3.25 in 2005 to 2.75 in 2014.

Powell-Morse also took time to break things down: Hip-hop is dumber than country, Lady Gaga is dumber than Adele, Kanye is dumber than Drake, and the dumbest song of the decade is 2010’s “The Good Life” by Three Days Grace, with a reading level suitable for about age 6.

Oh, dear. Is this more evidence that we’re ending the era of the Idiocracy?

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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