Have you noticed that popular music has changed over the years? Songs of 2019 are noticeably different from the music of the 1960s or 1970s. If you listen closely, it is not just the music that has changed, but also the lyrics.
A new study, conducted by data scientists at Lawrence Technological University in Michigan saw them using quantitative analytics to study the change in lyrics of popular music over seven decades, from the 1950s to 2016.
The results showed that the expression of anger and sadness in popular music has increased gradually over time, while the expression of joy has declined.
The research paper, published in the Journal of Popular Music Studies, saw Kathleen Napier and Lior Shamir analyse the lyrics of over 6,000 songs of the Billboard Hot 100 in each year.
The study saw the tones expressed in each song being analysed by applying automatic quantitative sentiment analysis.
The sentiments of all Billboard Hot 100 songs in each year were averaged, and the average of each year allowed to measure whether the expression of that sentiment increased, decreased, or remained constant.
The analysis showed that the expression of anger in popular music lyrics has increased over time. Songs released during the mid-1950s were the least angry, and the anger expressed in lyrics has increased gradually until peaking in 2015.
The analysis also revealed some variations. Songs released in the three years of 1982-1984 were less angry compared to any other period, except for the 1950s. In the mid-1990s, songs became angrier, and the increase in anger was sharper during that time in comparison to previous years.
The study found that expression of sadness, disgust and fear also increased over time, although the increase was milder compared to the increase in the expression of anger.
Disgust increased gradually, but was lower in the early 1980s and higher in the mid and late 1990s. Popular music lyrics expressed more fear during the mid-1980s, and the fear decreased sharply in 1988. Another sharp increase in fear was observed in 1998 and 1999, with a sharp decrease in 2000. The study also showed that joy was a dominant tone in popular music lyrics during the late 1950s, but it decreased over time and became much milder in recent years. An exception was observed in the mid-1970s when joy expressed in lyrics increased sharply.
The study shows that the tones expressed in popular music change over time, and the change is gradual and consistent, with a few exceptions.
Since researchers analysed the most popular songs in each year, the study does not show that music changed, but in fact that the preferences of music consumers have changed over time.
While music fans preferred joyful songs during the 1950s, modern music consumers are more interested in songs that express sadness or anger, the study shows.