Researchers examined song lyrics across genres from 1980 to 2020 and discovered that they have become simpler, more repetitious, more self-obsessed.

European academics evaluated the lyrics of almost 12,000 English-language songs from various genres such as rap, country, pop, R&B, and rock over a 40-year period beginning in 1980. Eva Zangerle, senior research author, argues that the evolution of the music industry over the previous four decades has had an impact on musician originality.

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“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,” says Zangerle. Music listening tendencies have changed multiple times since 1980, as vinyl records gave way to CDs and eventually.mp3s, all the way to today’s algorithmically-driven streaming habits.

Researchers examined the emotions represented in the lyrics, the number of different words used, how complex those words are, and how frequently a term is repeated.

“Across all genres, lyrics had a tendency to become more simple and repetitive,” according to Zangerle. The survey also discovered a decline in positive, uplifting lyrics and an increase in lyrics expressing grief, hatred, or disgust. Another noticeable trend? Songs are typically’me’ centered.

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Zangerle observes that rap had the most repeated phrases across the 40-year span, while also becoming more aggressive. According to Zangerle, the opening ten to fifteen seconds of a song are increasingly significant in determining whether it is played in algorithmic listening.

The researchers also looked at how frequently certain genre lovers searched for lyrics for their songs. The study discovered that rock listeners were particularly interested in researching the lyrics of older songs, implying that rock fans long for the genre’s glory days. Meanwhile, country fans are more inclined to search up lyrics to a newer song after hearing newer country artists’ songs on the radio.

This study examined over 582,759 songs, with lyric analysis conducted using the Genius website.