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How have song lyrics evolved over the last ten years? Let’s take a look.

If you were asked which decade provided the most articulate and inventive lyrics in its music, what would you guess? The 60s with all the protest and anti-war tracks? Maybe you’d go with the 70s, citing prog and punk. But what about the rise of hip-hop in the 90s? And where do things stand today?

A site called Cloudcover Music set out to analyze all Billboard chart songs across multiple genres over the last decade. The goal was determine how many unique words were used in each song–uniqueness (i.e. repetitiveness) being a metric of creativity and inventiveness.

To put it another way, are composers playing it safe when it comes to choosing their words or are they pushing the envelope from a lyrical point of view?

There’s a LOT of data to wade through in this report. Here are some top line results.

  • When it comes to most unique words in any song from the 2010s, the trophy goes to Eminem with 605 in his 2014 track, “Rap God.” Nothing even comes close. Em is one helluva wordsmith.
  • The least-articulate chart song of the decade was “Animals” by Martin Garrix which scored a mere five on the lyric complexity scale. That’s five words for the whole song. (Then again, dance/EDM scored the lowest when it came to lyrical complexity. Not a big deal when all you want to do is dance, right?)
  • Nicki Minaj is the most lyrical complex artist of the moment, average 194 unique words per song. Drake is second at 175. (Hip-hop/rap scored at the top of the scale. Again, no real surprise, right?)
  • To put rock into the mix, the most complex lyrics of the decade come from Three Days Grace (an average of 74 unique words per song) and the Black Keys (73).
  • Taken all together, women are slightly more articulate than men (116 unique words to 114).

There’s more worth digging into 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 38431 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

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