Song Lyrics Getting Simpler, More Repetitive, Angry and Self-Obsessed—Study

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 had a tendency to become more simple and more repetitive,” Zangerle summarised. The results also confirmed previous research which had shown a decrease in positive, joyful lyrics over time and a rise in those that express anger, disgust or sadness.

You’re not just getting older. Song lyrics really are becoming simpler and more repetitive, according to a study published on Thursday.

Lyrics have also become angrier and more self-obsessed over the last 40 years, the study found, reinforcing the opinions of cranky ageing music fans everywhere.

A team of European researchers analysed 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 detailing how lyrics have become more basic, the study pointed out that US singer-songwriting legend Bob Dylan—who rose to fame in the 1960s—has 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 emphasised that lyrics can be a “mirror of society” which reflect how a culture’s values, emotions and preoccupations change over time.

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

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