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?

  • http://philippians314.squarespace.com Kim Shay

    I have found (with a house full of music loving teens and young adults) that a lot of pop music revels in exposing the ills of society, its angst and its sorrow, but very little about the solution to these ills. Even some Christian song writers are more content to write about the woes of the society without talking about the cure, about redemption. It’s no wonder young people feel like complaining about the world rather than seeking solutions in Christ.

  • SomeGuy

    I guess Katrina and the Waves’ “I’m Walking On Sunshine” is the exception that proves the rule? And Sting’s “I’m So Happy I Can’t Stop Crying” probably didn’t help the ratio any, either!

    I doubt this study corrects for the inclusion of more country music in the pop charts over the last 50 years.

  • http://nlntv.com Brian Kelley

    It would be helpful to have a link to this research. It is really hard to figure out anything with the info presented. It is likely true, but not having the data linked to when the crux of the post relied on it seems to me to be less than ideal.

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