Pop music getting sadder and sadder

Feeling sad? Don’t reach for your radio – unless it’s a “Golden Oldies” channel – because over the last 50 years pop hots have become longer, slower and sadder (summary here).

Researchers who listened to a sampling of 1000 Top 40 songs from the last 50 years and found that:

Over the years, popular recordings became longer in duration and the proportion of female artists increased…There was also an increase in the use of minor mode [which most associate with gloom and despair] and a decrease in average tempo, confirming that popular music became more sad-sounding over time. Decreases in tempo were also more pronounced for songs in major than in minor mode, highlighting a progressive increase of mixed emotional cues in popular music.

Notice the tentative connection of more sad songs with more female singers! Brave researchers (or foolish!). On a more “positive” note, the study says that Lady Gaga’s fast-tempo, major-mode recordings has risen above (below?) these trends.

Lady Gaga apart, I wonder how much this downward emotional trajectory is connected with another trend, reported last year, of popular music lyrics becoming more self-focused and negative?

The researchers found the use of first-person plural pronouns (we, us, our) declined over the years, while the use of first-person singular pronouns (I, me, mine) increased. Words reflecting anger or antisocial behavior (hate, kill, etc.) became more prevalent over the 28-year period.

Conversely, terms depicting social interactions (talking, sharing) became less common, as did the use of words conveying positive emotions (love, nice, sweet). These findings mirror “recent evidence showing increases in U.S. loneliness and psychopathology over time.”

We probably didn’t need psychologists to tell us that an increasingly self-focused and negative society is an increasingly sad society. But the data source is intriguing and surprisingly revealing.

But let’s turn the spotlight on ourselves. What about the lyrics and music of Christian praise? Is it counter-cultural or simply following modern trends? If someone was to research the lyrics and music of Christian songs over the last 50 years, what conclusions would they draw? On the rare occasions that I listen to CCM on the car radio, there seems to be a generalized ”whine” in most of the songs. How much of our message is being obscured or denied by our medium?

And fellow Psalm-singers, the inspired words that we sing are balanced towards the God-focused and the positive; but do our tunes and the way we sing them match our words? Or by getting sadder, slower, and longer does our medium confuse our message?


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A black book or a black phone?

What captures the attention of toddlers and infants most at Disneyworld? The costumes? The animations? The rides? The toys?

Nope, none of these things. According to a recent study, it’s their parents cellphones! Kare Anderson, one of the researchers, comments:

Those kids clearly understood what held their parents’ attention — and they wanted it too. Cell phones were enticing action centers of their world as they observed it. When parents were using their phones, they were not paying complete attention to their children.

Among Anderson’s conclusions are:

  1. Giving undivided attention is the first and most basic ingredient in any relationship.
  2. Whatever we pay attention to has a huge effect on how we see the world and feel about it.
  3. Others know what’s the center of our attention and thus what controls our life.

I have very little memory of my grandmother on my Dad’s side, but the one thing I do remember from my vacation visits to her home in the Scottish Highlands, and from her year of staying with us in the lowlands, is that a large black book had her full attention.

When my kids look back on my life I hope they see that what had my attention and controlled my life was a black book. Not a black phone.


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God’s Powerpoint of Grace

When medical researchers want to explain their work, they usually have to produce large-scale models or graphics of the tiny part of the body they are working on. Without that, few would see or understand their accomplishments.

Similarly, in the Old Testament, when God wanted to show His work of grace in the soul, he produced a large-scale model of it, so that more could see and understand how He worked and what He could do. That’s Israel – God’s Powerpoint to display to the world who and how He saves. The nation demonstrated on a national level what God does on a personal level. Consider some of the the most important words in the whole Old Testament (Exodus 19:4-6):

  • Redemption
    • Divine Deeds: “You have seen what I did.”
    • Divine Defeat: “To the Egyptians”
    • Divine Deliverance: “How I bore you on eagle’s wings”
    • God’s deeds come before human response, the Lamb before the Law.
  • Relationship
    • Divine Destiny: “I brought you to myself”
  • Rules
    • “Now therefore, obey my voice.”
    •  In the light of all that I’ve done, here’s how to show your gratitude and keep our relationship happy and healthy
  • Reward
    • Precious: You will be my special treasure
    • Priestly: You will be a kingdom of priests
    • Pure: You will be a unique nation
    • God graciously adds three extra motivations for observing his covenant rules

God’s redemption brought Israel into a relationship with clear boundaries, which, when observed, would be amply rewarded.

Personal Powerpoint
Israel’s big mistake was to think that just because they were part of God’s National Powerpoint, that they did not need that to be personalized. However, no one ever went to heaven simply because they were an Israelite. Only Israelites that personalized the National Powerpoint did. Individuals had to experience the 4 R’s in their own souls.

In many ways, the Church is God’s Powerpoint to the world today. How can we better display God’s grace? And how can we ensure that people don’t think that just because they see the Powerpoint, or even are in the Powerpoint, that they are saved?


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