New Study of Song Lyrics Reveals They’ve Become Simpler, More Repetitive and ‘Me’ Focused

song lyrics study
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song lyrics study
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Photo Credit: Calum MacAulay

Researchers analyzed song lyrics across genres from 1980 to 2020 and have determined they’ve become simpler, more repetitive, and self-obsessed.

European researchers analyzed the words of more than 12,000 English language songs across multiple genres including rap, country, pop, R&B, and rock from a period of 40 years starting in 1980. Senior study author Eva Zangerle says how the music business has changed over the last forty years is impacting artist creativity.

“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 adds. From 1980 onward, there are several upheavals in music listening trends as vinyl records gave way to CDs and eventually .mp3s, all the way to the algorithmically-driven streaming habits of today.

Researchers looked at emotions expressed in the lyrics, how many different words were used, how complicated those words are, and how often a word is repeated.

“Across all genres, lyrics had a tendency to become more simple and more repetitive,” Zangerle says of the study. The study also found a decrease in positive, uplifting lyrics with a rise in lyrics that feature sadness, anger, or disgust. Another notable trend? Songs tend to be ‘me’ focused.

Zangerle notes that rap had the highest number of repeated lines moving across the 40-decade period, while also becoming more angry. Zangerle notes that the first ten to fifteen seconds of a song has become very important in whether it gets the boot in algorithmic listening.

The researchers also looked at the rates in which certain genre fans were looking up lyrics for their music. The study found that rock listeners were mostly interested in researching older songs’ lyrics, suggesting that rock fans are nostalgic for the hey-day of the genre. Meanwhile, country fans are more likely to look up a newer song’s lyrics driven by newer country artists’ music they’ve heard on the radio.

More than 582,759 songs were analyzed as part of this study, while researchers utilized the Genius website for its lyric analysis.