Thu, May 17, 2018 - Page 7 News List

Study of pop music over 30 years finds sadness

SINGING THE BLUES:Researchers at a US university looked at the mood of half-a-million songs released in the UK between 1985 and 2015


A study of hundreds of thousands of popular songs over the past three decades has found a downward sonic trend in happiness and an increase in sadness, as the chirpy band Wham! gave way to the moody Sam Smith.

For the report in the journal Royal Society Open Science, researchers at the University of California at Irvine looked at 500,000 songs released in the UK between 1985 and 2015, and categorized them according to their mood.

“‘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,’” coauthor Natalia Komarova said.

Of course, the researchers emphasize that a gradual decrease in the average “happiness” index does not mean that all successful songs in 1985 were happy and all successful songs in 2015 were sad. They were looking for average trends in the acoustic properties of the music and the moods describing the sounds.

Some songs with a low happiness index in 2014 include Stay With Me by Sam Smith, Whispers by Passenger and Unmissable by Gorgon City.

Some from 1985 with a high happiness index include Glory Days by Bruce Springsteen, Would I Lie to You? by the Eurythmics, and Freedom by Wham!

“The public seems to prefer happier songs, even though more and more unhappy songs are being released each year,” the researchers wrote.

They also found the most successful genres of music were dance and pop, as well as a “clear downward trend” in the success of rock, starting in the early 2000s.

The overall mood shifts in the songs’ musical features mirror other studies that have examined lyric changes over the years. “So it looks like, while the overall mood is becoming less happy, people seem to want to forget it all and dance,” said Komarova, who wrote the report with Myra Interiano, Kamyar Kazemi, Wang Lijia, Yang Jienian and Yu Zhaoxia.

They also found that the “maleness” of songs — the frequency of male singers — has decreased over the past 30 years.

“Successful songs are characterized by a larger percentage of female artists compared to all songs,” they wrote.

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