Song Lyrics Actually Are Getting Worse, New Study Reveals Exactly How

By April Ryder | Published

Much to the chagrin of avid music lovers everywhere, a recent study of song lyrics (over a range of genres) has shown that over the past 40 years, music has become more repetitive, and lyrics have become more simplistic. 

After researching the lyrics of more than 12,000 English-language songs from 1980 to 2020, the study proved that you’re not just getting old. Music (and song lyrics, in particular) really has degraded in the past two generations. 

No Modern Dylan

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In 2016, legendary lyricist Bob Dylan won a Nobel Prize in literature. In the ‘90s, songwriters like Alanis Morisette, Tom Petty, Sarah McLauchlan, Lauryn Hill, and Thom Yorke of Radiohead ruled the radio with song lyrics that left listeners pensive. It’s hard to imagine any of the K-pop groups or Justin Bieber ever winning an esteemed writing or literature award for their lyrical genius. 

However, as times and technology changed, so did the world’s relationship with music. The way we listen to music changed from cassette tapes in the ‘80s to compact discs in the ‘90s to the algorithm-driven streaming platforms of today. 

Music Is Made Differently Today

Music isn’t created in the same way as it was in the ‘80s or ‘90s, and music doesn’t have the same drive or focus. Of course, plenty of artists still present in today’s music scene who regularly flex their lyrical abilities with exceptional song lyrics, but the study focused more on the overall picture of music today. 

The Need For A Catchy Hook

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Overall, song lyrics are becoming more self-involved, angry, and deprecating than ever before. The most senior author of the recent lyrical study, Eva Zangerie, pointed out that musical lyrics often mirror the feelings and state of society and culture. Values, emotional expression, and mental preoccupations shift and change as time passes. 

The drastic change in how music is produced and sold over the last 40 years likely also heavily contributed to its decline. The attention span of a typical music streamer is only around 10 to 15 seconds, so those who write song lyrics and create music that they want to become popular have to find a catchy lyric or tune to lock in the listener’s attention quickly to survive in the industry. 

Simpler Words

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The emotions expressed in today’s music have less depth than in past generations. Artists are angry and disillusioned. The study also specifically looked at how much linguistic variety was used. They tracked how many different or complicated words were used in a song and how many times they were repeated during the same song lyrics while determining just how simple or complex the piece was as a whole. 

The Golden Age Of Rap Is Over

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Zangerie went on to say that during the study, song lyrics across every genre the research group examined showed a “tendency to become more simple and more repetitive.” The results of the study went on to confirm previous summations that today’s music shows a decrease in positivity and a rise in anger, disgust, and/or sadness.

Rap music, in particular, has been found guilty of being obnoxiously repetitive and simplistic. Zangerie even stated, “Rap music has become more angry than the other genres.” 

More Music Evokes Negative Feelings

If music is a sign of the times, what is our music really trying to say? The world seems to be a bit discontent, but what’s different now? There have always been economic struggles, wars, and other disastrous things to manage in life, so what’s changed enough to shift the whole vibe of music and song lyrics to a more negative space over the past 40 years? Maybe that’s a good spotlight for the next study. 

Source: Scientific Reports

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