Turn on the radio nowadays, and what do you hear? You might get a upbeat dance track or two, the odd hip-hop party banger, a few jovial pop tracks here and there, but sheesh, it’s not half a minefield of mopey, head-down weepy snore-fests, too, isn’t it? Artists like Sam Smith and Adele having a right old wailing mare of it on top of some whining strings, all at a tear-straining 1bpm. Christ, lighten up.
And, according to a trend noticed by researchers at the University of California at Irvine and reported in the journal Royal Society Open Science, it’s been on a steady downhill trajectory for the past 30 years. They looked at 500,000 songs released in the UK between 1985 and 2015, and then categorised them according to their mood.
The paper states:
“First we note that, overall, ‘happiness’ and ‘brightness’ experienced a downward trend, while ‘sadness’ increased in the last 30 or so years.”
“In particular, it was reported that popular music lyrics now include more words related to a focus on the self (e.g. singular first person pronouns), fewer words describing companionship and social contact (e.g. plural first person nouns) and more anti-social words (e.g. ‘hate’, ‘kill’, etc.).
“The authors explain these trends as being in tune with the overall increase in tendencies towards loneliness, social isolation and psychopathology.”
However, what’s interesting is that the most successful songs seem to defy that trend:
“While the overall ‘happiness’ of both successful songs and average songs has been decreasing over the last 30 years, successful songs are much ‘happier’ than unsuccessful ones.”
So Sam et al, you can actually bung out a fun song and you don’t have to worry about it not being successful - it’s worth a go.
Other trends that became apparent as a result of the research included the fact that rock music has fallen out of favour when it comes to the mainstream, compared with its ‘80s heyday, when everyone had a massive guitar and/or massive hair. This is most likely due to the fact that it’s those blasted ‘computers’ that make music now:
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“Among ‘pop’ songs, successful songs are characterized by higher ‘danceability’, and they are more ‘party-like’ and ‘electronic’.”
Also, we’re looking at female-fronted music making a marked increase in the pop stakes, compared to 15 years ago:
“In recent years, successful songs are more often sung by females. This is particularly interesting given a large debate about the role of women in the music industry, especially the issues of gender inequality, stereotypes and the sexualization of female singers.”
Com-pel-ling stuff, right there. Never really been one for sad music though, so not sure why it’s increasing (even though that’s clearly not where the money is) - I say make every song at least 140bpm and make it law that it must contain the line “Put your hands up in the air, like you just don’t care”. That’s the kinda music this buster wants to pump out his boombox.