New Research Suggests That, Over The Past Five Decades, Song Lyrics Have Become More Negative, Repetitive, And Simpler

Drobot Dean - - illustrative purposes only, not the actual person

We all know that what’s popular in music is subject to change over time. But, a recent study analyzed the evolution of English lyrics in popular Western music across five key genres over the past 50 years, and the findings may shock you.

The research showed a trend towards simplification in terms of both lyrical structure and vocabulary. Plus, there has been a notable shift towards more negative and personal themes in popular songs.

Earlier studies have underscored the impact of musical lyrics on emotions, the forming of social bonds, and even the shaping of cultural identities. This demonstrated that lyrics can function as a gauge for societal sentiments, showing shifts in values, attitudes, and social conventions.

For instance, a surge in negative emotional expression in music may correspond with escalating tensions in society or a cultural pivot towards themes that are more confrontational or introspective.

Music also serves distinct psychological and social roles – like helping to regulate emotions and facilitate communication within communities. So, psychologists, sociologists, and cultural historians view the study of lyrics as particularly significant.

For the latest study, the researchers aimed to expand upon prior research efforts by utilizing more sophisticated analytical methods to investigate these shifts, as well as a larger dataset.

By assessing how lyrical intricacy, emotional depth, and thematic elements have developed over five decades and across multiple genres, the team aimed to identify discernible patterns that could enhance our comprehension of cultural evolution, as well as the function of music in both shaping and mirroring these transformations.

“Our background is in music recommender systems, where it is crucial to be able to comprehensively understand and describe users and songs. Lyrics are a part of this, and this is how we got started with this research,” explained Eva Zangerle,  one of the study’s authors and an assistant professor of computer science at the University of Innsbruck.

First, the researchers assembled an extensive dataset including 353,320 English language songs from popular Western music, covering a 50-year period from 1970 to 2020. The songs also spanned five distinct genres – including rap, pop, R&B, country, and rock – which enabled the team to analyze trends across styles.

Drobot Dean – – illustrative purposes only, not the actual person

Sign up for Chip Chick’s newsletter and get stories like this delivered to your inbox.

1 of 3