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Stop Attacking Rock, Pop Music’s Lyrics Are Getting Angrier


For years now the press and even the government has attacked the lyrical content in rock and metal music. This was never more prevalent than when Judas Priest was dragged into a Nevada courtroom on July 16th, 1990, to face charges that their lyrics had driven two young fans to suicide. Well, a team of researchers has revealed that pop songs have become angrier and sadder during the past 60 years.

A team has analyzed lyrics in some of the best-selling songs released that span the 1950s to 2016 and found that expressions of anger and sadness had increased over the years, while at the same time words that express joy had dropped. The US study team that came up with the theory looked at the lyrics of over 6,000 songs that had made the Billboard Hot 100 in each in of the decades.

The US study team that came up with the theory looked at the lyrics of over 6,000 songs that had made the Billboard Hot 100 in each of the decades.

For many years songs were ranked overall by record sales, radio and jukebox plays, but with other avenues available like streaming and social media, our music consumption has changed.

Here’s an explanation of how the calculations were made, by the way, are you sitting comfortably? This is a bit of a read….

Tones expressed in each of the songs were analyzed using what is called ‘automatic quantitative sentiment’ which took a look at each word or phrase in the song with a set of tones they express.

The combination of the tones expressed by all words and phrases of the lyrics in the song determined the sentiment of that song. The sentiments of all Billboard Hot 100 songs in each year are then averaged out and the average of each year measured whether the expression of that sentiment increased, decreased or remained the same.

Following the team’s analysis, it showed the expression of anger in popular music lyrics had increased gradually over time.

Hailing from Lawrence Technological University in Michigan, Lior Shamir, who was the study’s co-author, said: “The change in lyrics sentiments does not necessarily reflect what the musicians and songwriters wanted to express, but is more related to what music consumers wanted to listen to in each year.”

The gradual build in angrier lyrics goes as follows. Songs written and recorded in the mid-1950s were the least angry, the buildup in anger started to gather steam in the mid-1990s, songs became angrier and the increase was sharper during that time in comparison to previous years.

As well as anger, the expressions of sadness, disgust, and fear in lyrical content also increased over time, although the increase was milder compared to the increase in the expression of anger.

Another category, disgust, increased gradually, but was lower in the early 1980s and higher in the mid and late 1990s.

Lyrics are an important part of our lives, and studies have been performed on their effects on us. One study had male and female participants exposed to either misogynous or “neutral” song lyrics. After the listening session, and in what seemed like unrelated marketing study, they were asked to add hot chili sauce to a sandwich prepared for a male or female fellow participant. Apparently, the amount of added chili sauce is a valid indicator of the intensity of aggressive behavior. Anyway, men who listened to misogynous music lyrics put more chili sauce on sandwiches intended for women than did their non-misogynous-listening male peers.

Make of it what you will, but we’re wondering with the changes that are going on in the world right now, will there ever be a reversion to the lighter, fluffier lyrics of yesteryear? Probably not…..


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