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Dad was right, music IS getting dumber: study of 12,000 songs from 1980 to 2020 shows how rap, country, pop, R&B, and rock got more repetitive

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Vinyl-hoarding dads have said it for years, but their claims about pop music’s decline are now backed by research.

Song lyrics really are becoming simpler and more repetitive, says a study this week in the journal Scientific Reports.

Lyrics have also become angrier and more self-absorbed these past four decades, it says, reinforcing the claims of nostalgic Boomers and Gen Xers.

Researchers analyzed the lyrics of 12,000 English-language songs released between 1980 and 2020.

Disgruntled, vinyl-hoarding dads have said it for years: pop music is in decline

Disgruntled, vinyl-hoarding dads have said it for years: pop music is in decline

Compared to the 1980s, the music of today is simpler and lyrics use fewer words. Pictured: Katy Perry performs in Las Vegas

Compared to the 1980s, the music of today is simpler and lyrics use fewer words. Pictured: Katy Perry performs in Las Vegas   

The study encompassed rap, country, pop, R&B, and rock songs.

Overall, the researchers found that lyrics became simpler over the decades.

Lead study author Eva Zangerle

Lead study author Eva Zangerle

Songs became easier to understand and the number of different words used also declined, researchers found.

Lead study author Eva Zangerle, a computer scientist at Austria’s University of Innsbruck, said music lyrics were a ‘mirror of society.’

‘What we have also been witnessing in the last 40 years is a drastic change in the music landscape — from how music is sold to how music is produced,’ Zangerle said.

Over the 40 years, there was repeated upheaval in how people listened to music.

The vinyl records and cassette tapes of the 1980s gave way to the CDs of the 1990s.

Then the arrival of the internet led to the algorithm-driven streaming platforms of today.

Rap music has become angrier in the decades since De La Soul were topping the charts

Rap music has become angrier in the decades since De La Soul were topping the charts 

Rap has seen a greater increase of repeated lyrics than other genres, the report says. Pictured: Rapper Drake performs in Atlanta

Rap has seen a greater increase of repeated lyrics than other genres, the report says. Pictured: Rapper Drake performs in Atlanta

The researchers looked at the emotions expressed in lyrics, and how many different and complicated words were used, and how often they were repeated.

‘Across all genres, lyrics had a tendency to become more simple and more repetitive,’ said Zangerle.

The results confirmed previous research which had shown fewer positive, joyful lyrics over time, and a rise in those that express anger, disgust, or sadness.

Lyrics have also become much more self-obsessed, with words such as ‘me’ or ‘mine’ becoming much more popular.

The number of repeated lines rose most in rap over the decades, Zangerle said, adding that it obviously had the most lines to begin with.

‘Rap music has become more angry than the other genres,’ she told AFP.

Researchers also investigated which songs fans of different genres looked up on the lyric website Genius.

Researchers started tracking tunes from the early 1980s, when The Police released 'Every Breath You Take'

Researchers started tracking tunes from the early 1980s, when The Police released ‘Every Breath You Take’ 

Unlike other genres, rock fans most often looked up lyrics from older songs, rather than new ones.

Rock has tumbled down the charts in recent decades, suggesting fans are increasingly looking back to the genre’s heyday.

Another way that music has changed is that ‘the first 10 to 15 seconds are highly decisive for whether we skip the song or not,’ Zangerle said.

Previous research has also indicated that people tend to listen to music more in the background these days, she added.

Put simply, songs with more choruses that repeat basic lyrics appear to be more popular.

‘Lyrics should stick easier nowadays, simply because they are easier to memorize,’ Zangerle said.

‘This is also something that I experience when I listen to the radio.’



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