April 23, 2024

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Simple, repetitive lyrics for decades

Simple, repetitive lyrics for decades

English songs have increasingly simple and repetitive vocabulary, and a tendency towards anger and introspection, according to a scientific study.

The old complaints may not be wrong: Song lyrics in English have become simpler and more repetitive over the past forty years, according to work published Thursday in Scientific Reports.

A study of 12,000 songs from 1980 to 2020 from various music genres (rap, country, pop, rhythm and blues, and rock) shows a strong tendency toward anger and introspection.

Lyrics can act as a “mirror of society” because they reflect changes in its values, emotions and concerns, Eva Zangerle, who works on music recommendation systems at the University of London, told AFP. Innsbruck (Austria).

“Over the past 40 years, we've seen a drastic change in the music landscape, from the way music is made to the way it's sold,” says the researcher, lead author of the study.

1980s vinyl records and cassettes gave way to the Internet and mobile music platforms that promote music based on algorithms.

Anger, disgust or sadness

The research team looked at the emotions expressed in the lyrics, the proportion of odd and complex words and their repetition. “In all musical genres, we found a tendency towards simplification and repetition,” explains Eva Zangerle.

The work confirms previous research that found a decrease in positive or happy themes and an increase in those expressing anger, disgust or sadness. And there's a growing interest in introspection in the lyrics of singers who use more “I” and “me.”

With a sharp increase in the number of repeated phrases in a song, rap is given a special place in the study. “Rap music expresses more anger than other genres,” notes the researcher.

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He also looked at searches by fans of different music genres on the lyrics site Genius.

It's easy to remember

For example, rock fans, unlike others, seek out the lyrics of older songs rather than the latest ones, clinging to the glory days of a genre that has become less popular over the decades.

Another notable change: “The first 10 or 15 seconds are the deciding factor to listen to or skip a song,” says the researcher.

In addition, today music is heard more in the background: songs with singers singing simple lyrics seem to be more popular. “These words are easily remembered because they are easy to memorize.”

“The lyrics of these songs should work very easily because they are easy to memorize,” concludes the educator.

According to the site Word Notes, which looked at the vocabulary used by singers from the '60s to the present day, is as wide-ranging as Patti Smith's, Joni Mitchell's, and Jim Morrison's. Among contemporary artists, Billie Eilish is the artist who uses the most extensive vocabulary, followed by Harry Styles and Lizzo.

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