April 15, 2024


You don’t just get older. Song lyrics really become simpler and more repetitive, according to a study Published Thursday.

Lyrics have also become angrier and more self-absorbed over the past 40 years, the study found, reinforcing the opinions of diehard antiquated music fans everywhere.

A team of European researchers analyzed the words in more than 12,000 English-language songs across the genres of rap, country, pop, R&B and rock from 1980 to 2020.

Before describing how lyrics became more basic, the study pointed out that American singer-songwriter legend Bob Dylan – who rose to fame in the 1960s – won a Nobel Prize in literature.

Senior study author Eva Zangerle, an expert on recommendation systems at Austria’s University of Innsbruck, declined to single out an individual newer artist for having simple lyrics.

But she emphasized that lyrics can be a “mirror of society,” reflecting how a culture’s values, emotions and concerns change over time.

“What we’ve also seen 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 studied, 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 90s, then the advent of the Internet led to the algorithm-driven streaming platforms of today.

For the study in the journal Scientific Reports, the researchers looked at the emotions expressed in lyrics, how many different and complicated words were used and how often they were repeated.

“Across all genres, lyrics have tended to become simpler and more repetitive,” Zangerle summarized.

The results also confirmed previous research that showed a decrease in positive, joyful lyrics over time and an increase in those expressing anger, disgust or sadness.

Lyrics also became much more self-absorbed, with words like “I” or “mine” becoming much more popular.

The number of repeated lines has risen the most in rap over the decades, Zangerle said – adding that it naturally had the most lines to begin with.

“Rap music has become more angry than the other genres,” she added.

The researchers also investigated which songs the fans of different genres looked up on the lyrics website Genius.

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

Rock has tumbled on the charts in recent decades, and this may indicate that fans are increasingly looking back to the genre’s heyday, rather than its present.

Another way music has changed is that “the first 10-15 seconds are highly critical as to whether we skip the song or not,” Zangerle said.

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

Simply put, songs with more choruses that repeat basic lyrics seem to be more popular.

“Lyrics should remain easier these days, simply because they’re easier to memorize,” Zangerle said.

“This is also something I experience when I listen to the radio.”



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