Study: Some big hit songs from the 90s are fading from memory thanks to “song decay”

While some songs seem destined to be immortal (ref. most of catalogue of The Beatles), most hit songs will eventually fade from our memories, no matter how big they were in their day. If we were around back then, chances are we’ll carry those hits with us for the rest of our lives. But everyone else? Not so much.

The term is “song decay.” A new study from The Pudding underscores this.

“Measuring music’s popularity has always been contained to a certain period of time: peak chart ranking, awards, opening-week sales—a song’s performance at its prime.

“But for me, it’s equally important to quantify how music is passed down from generation to generation, parent to teen. In 2020, we’re amid that critical juncture for ’90s music—we can finally start asking today’s teens, “What music do you recognize from the ’90s?”

“The answer will indicate how future generations will characterize the decade. I always believed “No Diggity” by Blackstreet would be a ’90s standard, uniting the old and young crowds at weddings of the 2050s. And to test this belief, I used 3 million data points that I collected via a music quiz, which asked readers if they recognized thousands of songs that charted on the Billboard Hot 100.”

What massive 90s hits have faded from our collective memories? “Wild Wild West” by Will Smith. Ace of Base and “The Sign.” And get this: “No Scrubs” from TLC. Meanwhile, “All Star” by Smash Mouth seems cross-generational as does Cher’s “Believe” and, er, “Mambo No. 5” by Lou Bega.

The study concludes “If you take any present-day hit that’s culturally pervasive, such as ‘Old Town Road’ or ‘Despacito,’ we’d expect that someone born today, in 2020, will probably not recognize it twenty years from now. In short, there’s a good chance they’ll interpret your karaoking of Lizzo, Drake, or the Jonas Brothers in 2040 as an obscure act…”

You can read the entire report here. Meanwhile, if you’re a parent, you have some work to do when it comes to teaching your kids about “good” music.

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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