Music has been one of the most popular forms of entertainment since the beginning of time, some of us use music as a form of therapy, others as a huge part of their career, and some of us just listen to it for our own enjoyment. Now, researchers from Lawrence Technological University in Michigan, who have studied the lyrics of more than 6,000 songs from the Billboard Hot 100 say that we all love to wallow in the sounds of extremely depressing tunes these days, more so than at any other point in history.
According to the study, the results which included a thorough analysis of songs from 1951 to 2016 that showed that, decades ago, pop lyrics used to spark a lot more joy and overall happiness in listeners, around the time major artists like Buddy Holly, who had multiple Billboard hits in the ’50s and ’60s, who were at the time known for singing joyful, wholesome songs about love interests.
However, over the years, the Hot 100 songs have increasingly included many different types of genre of music and of course, it now more than ever before includes lyrics that shows signs of “anger, disgust, fear, sadness and conscientiousness” according to the researchers. Interestingly, there were certain periods that saw spikes of happy or depressing lyrics, although the overall trend has moved away from “joy, confidence and openness” in tone. Additionally, the period of time between 1982-1984 proved to be the least angry of any other musical times in history that was analysed by the research, besides the 1950s.
Chart-topping songs released during the mid-1950s took the crown for the least angry, except for a two year period between 1982 to 1984, where it appears that musicians made the cheeriest music of all.
Some of the greatest and more positive hits in these years included famous tracks such as ‘Come On Eileen’ – Dexys Midnight Runners (1982), ‘Ebony & Ivory’ – Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder (1982), ‘Let’s Dance’ – David Bowie (1983), ‘All Night Long (All Night)’ – Lionel Richie (1983), Karma Chameleon’ – Culture Club (1983), ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go’ – Wham! (1984) and ‘What’s Love Got To Do With It’ – Tina Turner (1984).
Between the years of 1982 and 1984, where lyrics were recorded at the happiest, music fans across the globe played witness to two major ’80s tracks that included the likes of Olivia Newton’s “Physical”, the theme from Flashdance by Irene Cara and Van Halen’s “Jump” which were proudly sitting at the top of the charts.
The years 1998 and 1999 saw a sharp increase in fear and anger, with Brandy and Monica’s “The Boy Is Mine”, Elton John’s ’90s version of “Candle In The Wind” and TLC’s “No Scrubs”. However, that also changed during the year of 2000 which was seen to be another year that sparked joy despite the overwhelming fear that the millennials were going to destroy society. The sharp decrease in fear that year was thanks to upbeat, optimistic tracks like “Breathe” by Faith Hill, “Smooth” by Rob Thomas and Santana, the confidence-boosting banger “Try Again” by Aaliyah and club empowerment anthem “Jumpin’ Jumpin'” by Destiny’s Child, and clearly saw the rise of the popular girl group trend.
The 2016 Billboard Hot 100 tracks showcased the melancholy music trend is continuing on with Adele’s “Hello”, Justin Bieber’s “Sorry” and Rihanna’s “Work” that dominated radio and sales throughout the year. Although according to the study’s co-author Lior Shamir, the shift in sentiments doesn’t necessarily reflect what musicians set out to express.
According to another study of 500,000 songs released in the UK between 1985 and 2015, pop music revealed to have sonically decreased in happiness and increased in sadness.
“‘Happiness’ is going down, ‘brightness’ is going down, ‘sadness’ is going up, and at the same time, the songs are becoming more ‘danceable’ and more ‘party-like,'” co-author Natalia L. Komarova told The Associated Press.
During the study, researchers were studying the average trends surrounding music’s “acoustic properties” and the “moods describing the sounds.” The study found songs in 2014 like “Stay With Me” by Sam Smith, “Whispers” by Passenger and “Unmissable” by Gorgon City to have a “low happiness” index.
Tracks from 1985 like “Glory Days” by Bruce Springsteen, “Would I Lie To You?” by Eurythmics and “Freedom” by Wham! had a high “happiness” index. “The public seems to prefer happier songs, even though more and more unhappy songs are being released each year,” the researchers wrote.
Aside from the emotional trends, researchers discovered that dance and pop were the most successful genres of music and that there was a “clear downward trend” with the popularity of rock beginning in the early 2000s.
Research aside, it seems that current music fans just want to push aside both happy and sad emotions and just dance.