Has pop music gotten measurably “dumber” over the last decade?
A recent study conducted by SeatSmart, a ticketing site for last minute buyers, says so. Andrew Powell-Morse, the study’s researcher, claims that most songs today don’t require you to be smarter than a third grader. To reach this conclusion, Morse examined the Billboard top hits in various genres for the last ten years, tested their lyrics to find their readability score, and then surveyed whether the vocabulary selection was more or less advanced over the last ten years.
All together, he looked at 225 songs in four different genres (Pop, Rock, Country and R&B/Hip-Hop), and found out not just who the most advanced lyricists are, but also who writes at a more advanced level when it comes to men versus women. The findings are pretty interesting.
Basically, Morse has concluded that yes, lyrics are getting dumber. He goes a bit deeper into the findings by weighing male versus female artists (many of whom probably didn’t even write the song).
The most intelligent pop artists may surprise you too (or not). Mariah Carey and Adele lead the pack with the most advanced lyrics, and Kesha landed herself at roughly the level of a first grader halfway through the school year.
In the rock world, Nickelback took the top spot.
Overall, the most advanced song, as it turns out, was written by Blake Shelton, with the Red Hot Chili Peppers not far behind.
But the study is not without some naysayers. Jesse Singal of New York Magazine is crying foul, saying that the Readability Score site Morse used can’t be trusted. Morse used words like “oh” and “hey” in his lyric study, because as he says, “if you say it in the song, it’s counted as a ‘lyric,'” which is a fair point, but Singal doesn’t agree with the methodology.
On the contrary, Singal says fillers like those shouldn’t be included, because they don’t adequately reflect the lyrical content. He also tested out the Readability Score method that Morse used:
Wait, so simply adding an extra oh brings down the reading level? I was skeptical, so I went over to Readability-Score.com and entered in the super-smart sentence fragment ‘catastrophic fallibility’, which of course scored through the roof. Then I added one oh after another, turning the phrase into catastrophic fallibility oh, catastrophic fallibility oh oh, and so on. Sure enough, on all the reading-level scales the site uses except for one (thank you, SMOG Index, whatever you are), each oh really did bring down the fragment’s score, and therefore the overall “average reading level.” And when I plugged words like cigarettes or Mississippi into the system, it really did rate them quite highly.
Whether you believe one opinion or another, it’s all pretty fascinating. Do you see your favorite artist on the list?
All images courtesy of Morse and SeatSmart.