Study Confirms Exactly What You’ve Been Thinking About Modern Song Lyrics


If your parents don’t vibe with today’s music and lament the loss of creative lyrics, it turns out they might be on to something. A new study published in the Scientific Reports journal examined song lyrics over the past 40 years and found some interesting trends across time and genre. 

Researchers in Austria and Germany looked at 12,000 English-language songs across the genres of rock, country, pop, rap, and R&B from 1980 to 2020. The scientists acknowledged that “lyrics can be considered a form of literary work” and broke down just how they’ve evolved over time. 

“In essence, we find that lyrics have become simpler over time regarding multiple aspects of lyrics: vocabulary richness, readability, complexity, and the number of repeated lines,” the scientists wrote. One genre that seemingly bucked the trend was rap, which saw an increase in the number of words with three or more syllables since 1980. 

That’s not the only trend they noticed; the emotional weight of these songs also has shifted. “Our results also confirm previous research that found that lyrics have become more negative on the one hand, and more personal on the other,” the team wrote. 

They also found that fans of certain genres prefer lyrics from certain eras more than others. “Our experimental outcomes show that listeners’ interest in lyrics varies across musical genres and is related to the songs’ release year. Notably, rock listeners enjoy lyrics from older songs, while country fans prefer lyrics from new songs,” they pointed out. 

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As for the trend toward simpler lyrics, the authors surmised that it could be related to changes in music consumption. This includes more people passively listening to songs as background music rather than actively engaging with the material. Overall, the field could use more research, and the team is hopeful that they’re able to inspire more studies in the future “to further study and monitor cultural artifacts and shifts in society.” 

The study, to paraphrase Bon Jovi, seemingly gave newer music a bad name. 

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