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Get the feeling that today’s music is kinda…dumb? You may be correct.

It’s official: Today’s popular music isn’t what it used to be. This is the conclusion of some new research into the genre. Let’s deconstruct these findings.

A group led by Dr Eva Zangerle at University of Innsbruck analyzed the lyrics of 12,000 English-language rap, country, pop, R&B, and rock songs released between 1980 and 2020. This worked out to 2,400 songs from each of those five genres. They found that lyrical poetry in the tradition of The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, and Springsteen has fallen by the wayside.

They found that lyrics have become “simpler” and “easier to understand” over the decades. Although the number of words with three or more syllables has increased in rap since 1980. I quote: “While the use of longer words has increased in rap songs, general increases in the repetitiveness of lyrics across multiple genres has led to lyrics becoming simpler overall.”

To put it another way, the readability of contemporary lyrics are at a lower grade level.

So what’s behind this dumbing down of lyrics? It might be cause people are listening to music in the background more. It might be due to the fact that songs need to be more direct and less complicated to stand out in the era of Spotify. You gotta have something simple and catchy to attract attention during those first essential 30 seconds of a song. (Streaming services don’t pay out unless you listen to at least 30 seconds.) Short attention span videos like TikTok seem to be contributing to the trend, too.

A few more findings:

  • Lyrics have become more “emotional,” “personal,” and “self-obsessed” over time.
  • The number of different words used in lyrics have shrunk, especially when it comes to rock and rap.
  • Lyrics are getting a lot more repetitive.
  • All genres have shown an increase in anger-related words.
  • Rock fans may prefer lyrics from older songs. Country fans seem to gravitate to newer tracks.
  • The only person in the study to buck this trend? Taylor Swift. (I’m not sure if the researchers looked at Tool, but they’d count, too.)

Read more here and here.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ 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.

Alan Cross has 38123 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

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