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Music Science Entertainment Technology

Is Pop Music Becoming Louder, Simpler and More Repetitive? (bbc.co.uk) 403

dryriver writes: The BBC has posted a very interesting article that investigates whether people claiming all over the internet that "pop music just isn't what it used to be" are simply growing old, or if there actually is objective science capable of backing up this claim of a "steady decline in music quality." The findings from five different studies are quoted; the findings from the fourth study is especially striking:


1. Pop music has become slower -- in tempo -- in recent years and also "sadder" and less "fun" to listen to.
2. Pop music has become melodically less complex, using fewer chord changes, and pop recordings are mastered to sound consistently louder (and therefore less dynamic) at a rate of around one decibel every eight years.
3. There has been a significant increase in the use of the first-person word "I" in pop song lyrics, and a decline in words that emphasize society or community. Lyrics also contain more words that can be associated with anger or anti-social sentiments.
4. 42% of people polled on which decade has produced the worst pop music since the 1970s voted for the 2010s. These people were not from a particular aging demographic at all -- all age groups polled, including 18-29 year olds, appear to feel unanimously that the 2010s are when pop music became worst. This may explain a rising trend of young millennials, for example, digging around for now 15-30 year-old music on YouTube frequently. It's not just the older people who listen to the 1980s and 1990s on YouTube and other streaming services it seems -- much younger people do it too.
5. A researcher put 15,000 Billboard Hot 100 song lyrics through the well-known Lev-Zimpel-Vogt (LZV1) data compression algorithm, which is good at finding repetitions in data. He found that songs have steadily become more repetitive over the years, and that song lyrics from today compress 22% better on average than less repetitive song lyrics from the 1960s. The most repetitive year in song lyrics was 2014 in this study.

Conclusion: There is some scientific evidence backing the widely voiced complaint -- on the internet in particular -- that pop music is getting worse and worse in the 2000s and the 2010s. The music is slower, melodically simpler, louder, more repetitive, more "I" (first-person) focused, and more angry with anti-social sentiments. The 2010s got by far the most music quality down votes with 42% from people polled on which decade has produced the worst music since the 1970s.

Is Pop Music Becoming Louder, Simpler and More Repetitive?

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 16, 2018 @05:10AM (#55937209)

    Because the style of music we call "Pop music" isn't popular anymore. EDM has stolen that crown, just look at what all the kids are listening to these days.

    • by Viol8 ( 599362 ) on Tuesday January 16, 2018 @05:13AM (#55937223) Homepage

      Where I live all the kids are listening to the same autotuned R&B cr@p either with some mysogynistic neanderthal with his pants down by his knees rapping out some teenage wannabe bullshit or else some wailing woman in her knickers putting it out there.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        And they listen to it at least partly because they assume it wouldn't be on the air if it weren't good. This is what happens with overcommercialization and vertical integration of art ^H^H^H alright I mean music ^H^H^H okay okay sound. The record companies own the radio stations, and it's a closed loop.

      • by mjwx ( 966435 )

        Where I live all the kids are listening to the same autotuned R&B cr@p either with some mysogynistic neanderthal with his pants down by his knees rapping out some teenage wannabe bullshit or else some wailing woman in her knickers putting it out there.

        So basically its all fronted by people who cant wear trousers properly.

        Rappers, Dubsteppers and Electronic "artists"* are cheap and require zero talent making them easily replaceable if they ever get delusions of having power over their corporate masters. As for pop stars who are little more than soft pornography with autotune... Harvey Weinstein has taken care of that, these people only get hired because they slept with enough people to make it happen, that cant happen any more.

        However Asian countrie

    • by stealth_finger ( 1809752 ) on Tuesday January 16, 2018 @06:00AM (#55937353)
      Pop music isn't written to make music, it's written to make money. The more efficiently they can get that earworm in with the flattest hook they can the better. Rinse, repeat ad infinitum.
      • "Rinse, repeat ad infinitum." - that is the most salient point. it seems since computers made making music easier, its become easier to repeat The old "ooo look that worked, lets copy it" scenario from old still applies today but so much more of it comes out today - its too easy for the talentless to make a record
      • by mwvdlee ( 775178 ) on Tuesday January 16, 2018 @07:00AM (#55937523) Homepage

        Music hasn't become worse; record labels have become more efficiënt.
        It's far cheaper to exploit starting musicians than to cultivate succesful musicians.
        It's far cheaper to dump a performer as soon as they get popular enough to start making demands and just get another one.

        • by Blymie ( 231220 ) on Tuesday January 16, 2018 @07:55AM (#55937673)

          I think you've *almost* hit the nail on the head. A glancing blow, so to speak.

          It isn't that they're more efficient, but that they are wielding more control. I suspect they now write the lyrics, the music, all of it -- and merely parade anyone out front to sing the trash.

          This isn't to say that some of this didn't happen before, but I suspect that they're doing it much more directly, powerfully, and with of course the lack of understanding that any exec seems to have in the entertainment industry.

          So of course, all they're doing is formulaically copying the past...

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            I think they write the lyrics and music because the 'musicians' performing aren't really musicians at all, they're actors. The actual musicians making the music are either MacBooks or studio musicians who don't get paid much, are easily replaceable and are a dime a dozen.
        • Music hasn't become worse; record labels have become more efficiënt.

          This is the truth.

          Also, the record labels have become more consolidated and integrated with movies, television, advertising and the Internet, making it all more ubiquitous.

    • Apparently you are unaware that the "pop" in "pop music" is short for "popular"
  • by sTERNKERN ( 1290626 ) on Tuesday January 16, 2018 @05:10AM (#55937213)
    I would not be surprised to see the same trends there.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Sadder, more first person, melodically simpler, fewer chords and slower?

    I thought all pop music was supposed to be a descendent from Delta Blues - which definitely cant be beat on the above features (pun intended).

    I woke up this morning,
    with Slashdot on my mind,
    pulled the bedsheet over me,
    went back to sleep for quite some time!

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    • Rock and Roll was a tweak of 12BB designed to eliminate all those.
      Angry instead of sad (I'll fucking duff you if you touch my shoes).
      Much more complex (addition of 4-bar intros: One two three o'clock...).
      More chords (major 8ths).
      Less first person (You ain't nothing but a hound dog).
      Faster. Well yes, that too.

  • by wiretrip ( 552807 ) on Tuesday January 16, 2018 @05:21AM (#55937249)
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com] Axis of Awesome - 4 chord songs...
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Music today is made with the intent of creating a 'hit' song. Using formulas that have worked in the 80's/90's. The music that was made by garage bands, one hit wonders were created by talented artists who just wanted to make a song that 'they' liked, they weren't making it in order to 'sell' it. Manufactured 'pop' music is the easy thing to do. There is no 'formula' that guarantees a hit song. People, especially the newer generations, have gotten wise to the fact that having driving bass does not 'connect'

    • by Bongo ( 13261 )

      Don't you mean:

      Yes... yes yes... I say yes... yes yes...

      Yes but yes but yes but

      Yes... yes yes... I say yes... yes yes...

    • by Whibla ( 210729 ) on Tuesday January 16, 2018 @09:25AM (#55938121)

      We hate it, yeah yeah yeah
      We hate it, yeah yeah yeah
      We hate it, yeah yeah yeah

      You think you've found your groove
      Well, I'm here to set you stray-e-ate
      It's not that hard to prove
      Your music ain't that grey-e-ate

      We say we hate it
      And you know that it's all sad
      We say we hate it
      And you know you should feel bad

      We said it hurts our ears
      We almost lost our mind
      Not heard such crap in years
      Your drummer must be blind

      We say we hate it
      And you know that it's all sad
      We say we hate it
      And you know you should feel bad

      Oo, we hate it, yeah yeah yeah
      We hate it, yeah yeah yeah
      With a song like that
      You know you should feel bad

      You know it's come to this
      I think it's only fair
      Stop writing all that shit
      And take it off the air

      We say we hate it
      And you know that it's all sad
      We say we hate it
      And you know you should feel bad

      Oo, we hate it, yeah yeah yeah
      We hate it, yeah yeah yeah
      With a song like that
      You know you should feel bad
      With a song like that
      You know you should feel bad
      With a song like that
      You know you should feel bad
      Yeah, yeah, yeah
      Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah

  • Despite the attempts by the big brained and very smart among us to distance themselves from the ice cold hand that is pop music, we are one and the same species as those who produce and consume pop music. Pop music being a major facet of our culture, I believe this study reflects on us as a whole, and what it indicates is that human beings are growing isolated from one another, sad, and angry. That makes me feel bad.
    • Pop music being a major facet of our culture, I believe this study reflects on us as a whole, and what it indicates is that human beings are growing isolated from one another, sad, and angry. That makes me feel bad.

      That's a very insightful observation. Given the bad rap Facebook and the like are getting, It would be interesting to plot the rise of social media and the dumbing-down of popular music and see if there's a strong correlation. Not that I believe there's a causal relationship; rather, I think the increasing concentration of wealth and power might be the cause of both crappy music and the increasingly-superficial interactions in our society. The ruling class has gotten much better at the whole 'bread and circ

  • by swb ( 14022 ) on Tuesday January 16, 2018 @05:29AM (#55937279)

    I think pop music blows. It seems to be one "singer" who doesn't really sing, and the music is mostly some kind of beat and there's almost no melody or music at all besides the percussion beat and maybe some kind of occasional synthesizer fill in. There seems to be a side version of this, featuring only a guitar with someone who can't lift their fingers off the strings.

    And the artist? It's like "Sharyian, Featuring Gtili and Wryannn" or some other kind of "collaboration" which ranges from the featured artists' presence being almost unknowable without the credits or totally dominating the song so that you don't know it was the "main" artists' song.

    But my kid loves it, so who am I? Some old guy who thinks this younger generation is full of it? Where have I heard that one before?

    My larger take is that this is just pop music subsuming "rap" music. The kid if given the choice will also try to play the rap station, which is even worse. Lyrics totally devoid of meaning and a "beat" that's just kind of a cacophony of rhythm and noise. It makes flipping the station back to classic rock like discovering something amazing.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I think pop music blows.

      So do I. I stopped listening to the radio habitually quite a while back. Of course, I'm interested in listening to things I like to listen to. Youngsters listen to whatever is on top of the pops because that's what they all do.

      My larger take is that this is just pop music subsuming "rap" music.

      This "rap" "music" started out as (black) kids trying to do something with their life other than end up as gang fodder. (Behold the irony in "gangsta rap".) And they did that with what they had, a rhytm box and a mike on an illegal tap on a street light. You might say this is just the

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      Some time around 1990 pop music changed. Before then people would write lyrics, and write music, and find a match to combine the two. In the 90s most pop music was the music, the beat and the hook, with some lyrics tacked on. Vocals became just another instrument, they were not really there to convey an interesting message.

      It took at least 20 years to really get away from that.

      The 90s were not a good time for music, and neither were the 2000s... The cost of producing music fell dramatically, but that meant

  • Less dynamic:
    https://youtu.be/lFqNQna_-sI?t... [youtu.be]

    More dynamic:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]

  • by Sigvatr ( 1207234 ) on Tuesday January 16, 2018 @05:34AM (#55937295)
    You gain a bonus +1 to intelligence for expressing disdain for pop music or anyone who enjoys it. However, you also suffer -1 to charisma for being insufferable.
  • As it is louder, (compressed) I can not find joy listening to anything, It sounds horrible. Therefore, I know I'm missing a big chunk of good music that simply has been recorded or mastered to be listened in smartphones across the street. It is devastating when compared to a good ol day recording.
    My absolutely despised albums are two of my favourite band: The cure. Please listen (if you can) to albums called "The Cure" 2008 and "Dream" 2008. Absolute trash sounding.

    • by wbr1 ( 2538558 )
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

      This is much of why. Dynamics are gone for many recordings and 'remasters'/reissues. I think one of the reasons I like Tool is that they pay close attention to dynamics. They are rhythmically great, and lyrically great, but Adam Jones is not a very new idea driven guitarist.

      When dynamics are gone, and all is compressed (dynamically) together, it gets very tiring to my ears, very quickly.

  • All Of The Above (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mentil ( 1748130 ) on Tuesday January 16, 2018 @05:54AM (#55937333)

    I imagine polling people in the '00s they would say that the pop music from the same decade was the worst ever produced. If anything, pop music since 2000 has had no identity. If the 80s was the decade of New Wave, and the 90s the decade of Alternative Rock, the 00s was an eclectic mix. There was the Nu Metal movement, which turned out to be short-lived; a resurgence in some 90s acts like Green Day/Gwen Stefani; and a growing broader interest in rap/hiphop thanks mostly to Eminem.

    However, the biggest influences were the double-whammy of American Idol and Britney Spears causing Idol singers to be the primary marketed form of pop music. Many of these Idols even write their own music; however, the likelihood of being beautiful, marketable, skilled at singing/playing an instrument, AND being a talented songwriter is very low, causing song quality to fall low on the priority list. People will buy anything if it's marketed right, ya? In the old days, Idols like Elvis had their songs written by other people who were actually good at doing so; sure, many of the British Invasion bands wrote their own songs, but not all. Artists back then had more raw skill, so their songs had more complex compositions to show it off. On the flipside, recent music tends to be overproduced, with too many studio musicians, and editors inserting synthesized sounds with computer software (as opposed to standing at a synthesizer keyboard, pressing keys in realtime.)

    Thanks to the Internet, there's better awareness of older music. If you want to listen to some obscure song by some obscure band from 40+ years ago, a quick trip to Youtube and you can hear it in seconds. As opposed to scrounging through used record stores for hours to find a song you've never heard before. That means current acts have to compete for mindshare with all this older music. It's also much easier to listen to music produced in other countries; I never even heard of J-Pop until the Internet put it at my fingertips (although if you check Amazon Japan, much of it is crap that sounds suspiciously like American pop.)

    Considering how many more ballads were aired on radio in the past, I'm surprised songs have slower tempo nowadays on average. Perhaps that's due to increased prevalence of rap and hiphop, which tend to be more down-tempo. Dance tracks are probably more common, and seem about the same tempo as they were. The Loudness War has been well-documented. I imagine songs have lyrics that are sadder and more focused on self due to end of the civil rights era and increased wealth stratification leading to increased individualism, and more prevalence of rap/hiphop which tend to have a more negative tone.

    Lyrics are more repetitive, I predict, because the hook is repeated more. More often lately, it's just repeated over and over and over, the song having an A-B-B-B... ad nauseum structure. Ok I got it, you want a catchy hook to easily market the song. But you know what songs I like most? The ones WITHOUT any identifiable hook... because the entire song is amazing despite it having multiple differing sections.

    But wait, it gets worse! Major music labels decide what acts to pick up based not only on subjective listening, but also by algorithm. They now use algorithms that compare their songs to existing hit songs. If it's close enough to what sold before, then they get a second chance. In other words, they're (at least sometimes) selecting for musicians that ape what came before, ensuring it sounds same-y and not original. With the steadily decreasing music sales, the labels are likely getting increasingly conservative, even less likely to sponsor acts that break the mold (i.e. established genres) too much. That's why this decade has the same Idol domination of last decade; airbrushed airheads and smooth douches singing love songs. Every time I hear a new song I like that I hadn't heard before... it turns out it was from last decade, or a cover of one. Go figure.

    • by Nidi62 ( 1525137 )

      I imagine polling people in the '00s they would say that the pop music from the same decade was the worst ever produced. If anything, pop music since 2000 has had no identity. If the 80s was the decade of New Wave, and the 90s the decade of Alternative Rock, the 00s was an eclectic mix. There was the Nu Metal movement, which turned out to be short-lived; a resurgence in some 90s acts like Green Day/Gwen Stefani; and a growing broader interest in rap/hiphop thanks mostly to Eminem.

      I'd kill to get some nu metal back on the radio. These days almost every song on "alt" stations has to have a banjo or mandolin. Fortunately the alt station I listen to here has started to play some good stuff like Hybrid Theory-era Linkin Park and some Foo Fighters. Can't even remember the last time I heard something like Slipknot, Disturbed, Papa Roach, or even Chevelle or Shinedown on the radio. It's like they've been trying to kill rock music.

  • What about the pop music from the 50-ies? Or even before that. If you take a short enough time, you will see a trent.

    And music in the 'past 10 years' was always bad. Because listening to music will be connected to memories and often nice memories. You will stop listening to music you do not like and perhaps even listening to music that you previously not like.

    I clearly remember when the 80-ies where shit music. I remember the Boom-boom-boom of repative music of the New Beat.

    Correlation is also not causation

  • Compression (Score:5, Insightful)

    by kbg ( 241421 ) on Tuesday January 16, 2018 @06:23AM (#55937417)

    No the problem is compression or the loudness war:

    https://www.cnet.com/news/comp... [cnet.com]
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

    When people say that music used to be better in the old days, that is actually true, it was better in the old days. Music in the old days had more dynamic range. Today it's just loud and flat.

  • While the OP is probably right, it is not something new. In the 80s and before, there was Rock 'n Roll and Disco. While Disco was very repetitive, most songs had a kind of storyline. A good song has a chorus that is a little bit ambiguous, so that it still fits if the last verse has a "twist".

    In the 90s, the guitar was re-discovered, but all storylines were stripped, and that music was called Grunge. While the instruments of Grunge and Rock 'n Roll are the same, they couldn't be further apart.

  • by umafuckit ( 2980809 ) on Tuesday January 16, 2018 @06:47AM (#55937473)
    Whilst I find it somewhat interesting that music is more egocentric now than before, the declining quality of pop music is of no concern to me at all. I don't even need to listen to anything new. As the article states, it's now possible to listen to whatever you like on the internet and there's more excellent music already recorded than I will ever have a chance to hear. So I don't really understand why people complain that modern pop music is crap. If it's crap then just don't listen to it.
  • The big question is WHAT is pop music, The line on what defines it is pretty wide now a days.
  • The fourth study is picked out, so let's start there. Of course the 'current' era is the 'worst', I bet that will be the result whenever you carry out a study like that. Previous decades have natural selection, only the strongest survive and all the pap gets forgotten / never played again. But the decade you're living in is a) not finished so you have limited scope to pick hits from, and b) unfiltered, you get all the good and bad mixed together. So of course it feels worse.

    In the UK there's a radio program

  • Todays pop music is written by algorithms. [youtube.com] And it doesn't sound too bad. Because we listen to music so much repetetive and meditative ambient/trance like, 'boring' music has become the norm.

    The progressive pioneers of Electronic music showed us what would be coming [youtube.com], now it's here and part of the mainstream.

    This is simply a classic evolution of artistic style. A song from 1920 sounds naive and childlike to us today, the sounds we listen to would sound like industrial noise to someone from that era. This is n

  • Down the list (Score:2, Interesting)

    by AHuxley ( 892839 )
    1. Pop music has become slower. Pop music is not music made by a computer to get repetitive beat to become some other genres.

    2. Sound consistently louder. Invest in a better studio that will make music as the talented artist instructs. If the artist cant tell the studio what they want due to lack of skill, the studio will just make the product loud.

    3. When pop music became worst. Artists did not face a Vietnam draft. See Vietnam on TV. The computer change of the 1980's that still needed classic
  • by geekmux ( 1040042 ) on Tuesday January 16, 2018 @07:02AM (#55937533)

    Pop music is not created anymore. It is manufactured, based on a known recipe of repetitive beats, a breathy oversexualized, Autotuned voice track crooned by a pop star that is valued more for their looks than their talent.

    Labels don't employ singers or artists anymore. They employ entertainers, because a good portion of revenue comes from touring, where only the best lip-syncing dancers fill sold-out stadiums and pretend to belt out their most popular tracks for two hours. The Loudness Wars confirmed that the quality of the recording no longer mattered; it merely needed to be loud enough for radio airplay.

    What is sad is finding Profit always being the #1 priority, which is why pop music is manufactured to fit into a proven revenue model. The fact that it's become simpler and more repetitive tends to show how lazy you can be to entertain the simple masses. Johnny Crooner and his iPad "band" can probably crank out a Top 10 hit in less than an hour these days, and rip off (a.k.a. "sample") a dozen hit songs doing it.

  • Short for *Popular*
    Hence selling as many as possible, otherwise it's not *pop* music, no matter how hard it tries to be.

    If the selection doesn't make you happy, there's a plethora of genres out there that you can look into.

  • With the exception of groups like Postmodern Jukebox and other live-recorded artists, most music today is written with software. Loop-based software. The way it works is you first define a "groove", a short, typically 4-bar pattern that's as catchy as you can make it. Now take those 4 bars and repeat them 32x, add 1 or 2-bar patterns as occasional transitions, and presto, you have a "pop" song.

    The problem is that software makes it so easy it entices people without real skills to write. This is similar to when laser printers and WYSIWYG editors first came on the scene, and suddenly everyone was a typographer and a graphic artist. *shudder*

    You still have to have real talent as a songwriter. The software makes it "easier", not "better". Stevie Wonder can do it, for example. The vast, vast majority of other people cannot.

    • by JBMcB ( 73720 )

      Here's Aphex Twin making the track Vordhosbn using ProTracker, a 90's tracker-style app, which were the forerunners of the modern loop based software tools like Live and Fruity. Even the rhythm isn't the same across any two bars. The problem isn't the software, the problem is the person using the software.

      https://vimeo.com/223378825 [vimeo.com]

  • ...that by 2100 pop music could be compressed to reach near nil length!
  • Punk music became louder, simpler and more repetitive before it was cool.

  • by walterbyrd ( 182728 ) on Tuesday January 16, 2018 @08:08AM (#55937737)

    Santana, Eric Clapton, Fleetwood Mac, Boston, Led Zeppelin, Van Morrison, among many others.

    • by EvilSS ( 557649 )

      Santana, Eric Clapton, Fleetwood Mac, Boston, Led Zeppelin, Van Morrison, among many others.

      I'd consider most of those falling into the Rock category, not pop. 70's Pop would be more Jackson 5 or the Osmonds.

  • Making it easier for AI to compose music by making the target easier to hit. Headlines of AI composers hit 10 years early.

  • What passes for pop music today sucks because it has stopped being about music; it is all about making money off the "artist" who actually isn't. There are few actual bands and many "groups" are more dancers than singers. The singers don't actually have to be good, relying on autotune instead. The music is usually recorded in advanced by a team of musicians who don't go on tour, the music and lyrics written by a handful of people behind the scene looking for the right combo to get the next number one song.
  • by AdamD1 ( 221690 ) <adam AT brainrub DOT com> on Tuesday January 16, 2018 @09:37AM (#55938193) Homepage

    It's worth noting that much of the top-5 songs in the past 10 - 15 years have all been written by the same tiny handful of songwriters.

    Obviously Max Martin tops this list, and has been writing #1's since at least 1997. He has dominated the pop charts even more in the past decade. He has either written or co-written most #1 pop songs you can think of for the past 5 years. He also produces the songs he writes for the singers that release them. Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande, Justin Timberlake, Katy Perry, Maroon 5, P!nk, Kelly Clarkson - every single one of them had a #1 with Max Martin in the past few years - and some (Timberlake) since the beginning of their careers.

    Whenever I hear that a song by Katy Perry is a "dis track" against Taylor Swift I just go "They're written by the same guy!" In fact he might be suggesting these tracks to specific artists with that kind of press in mind.

    Martin himself might be single-handedly responsible for the actual stats this article outlines.

    And when it's not Max Martin, it's one of his protegés, e.g.: Dr. Luke.

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