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Is pop music getting simpler?

Is pop music getting simpler?

The number of people claiming all over the internet that “pop music isn’t what it used to be” is growing in numbers as we dive into the XXI century. But, is it ture that pop music has lost its fun or is a mere subjective opinion with no objective data backing this claim up?

There are actually several studies that suggest our parents might have had much more fun than younger generations. Let’s see…

CLAIM 1: Music is sadder and slower

In general, music written in minor key sounds sadder than major key chords. Even if minor and major key chords are not a foolproof measurement of happiness it was found that people preferred minor key songs with a slow tempo such as the famous song by James Arthus, Naked.

A study analyzing the biggest hits that made it into the Billboard charts from 1950 to 2010 found that more and more minor key songs and slower tunes were making it to the charts the past two decades than previously.

CLAIM 2: Music is simpler and louder

A similar study conducted by the Spanish National Research examined almost half a million pop songs between 1955 and 2010 and looked at their tone, melody and lyrics content.

They discovered that the news song had fewer chord changes and, thus, were much less melodically complex. For example, if you listen to “Leave before you love me” by Jonas Brothers and Marshmello its tune will probably remind you of some other similar tunes as “Lost love” by Air Supply, “Last Christmas” by Wham, “Can’t smile” by Barry Manilow, “Instant Crush” by Daft Punk or “Circles” by Post Malone.

Why is this happening? There has been an overall regression of music innovation. Most songs consist just of simple pentatonic scales with few chord changes  which are usually chromatic. Making the whole song predictable and boring.

Why don't musicians take risks and go “out of tune” as much as they used to? Some believe it is due to a decrease in money in the music industry that makes artists be more reluctant to take risks. Others believe it is due to a lack of in-depth knowledge about harmony.

However, no matter what the reason is, what is clear is that songs are simpler.

CLAIM 3: Music is antisocial and angry

Researchers from the psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity and the Arts took a sample of the top 10 most popular songs in America from 1980 to 2007. They found that the use of the pronoun “I” had increased over the last few years. There was also an increase of angry-sounding words  giving a growing sense of social unrest.

CLAIM 4: Music is not as good as it used to be

A poll was conducted on which decade has produced the worst pop music. People were not from any specific demographic segment, however, the answer was still unanimously. The 2010s have been the worst when it comes to pop music.

CLAIM 5: Music is more repetitive

Currently, an average song compresses 22% more efficiently than one from 1960. This means that the song is more repetitive and thus, easier to compress.

In conclusion, YES, there is scientific evidence that backs the widely voiced complaint of music getting simpler. Overall, music is getting slower, melodically simpler, louder and more repetitive.

However, even if that is true it doesn’t necessarily mean the music has become less fun. Nowadays, familiarity seems to be the new music trend, making listeners more emotionally engaged with this type of music.


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