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No, you’re not just getting old — song lyrics really are getting worse, according to new research

Songwriter and sound waves collage
Songwriter and sound waves collage

He may live at the top of the charts, but nobody’s putting The Weeknd up for a Nobel Prize for literature.

A new study showing a steep decline in songwriting skills over the last 40 years used folk crooner Bob Dylan’s award from the sainted Swedish institution of an example of how much music has changed.

To draw their conclusions, a team of researchers from Europe pored over the words to roughly 12,000 songs in English across a variety of genres from rap to rock to R&B, written between 1980 and 2020, The Guardian reported.

A team of experts evaluated roughly 12,000 English-language tracks as part of their study. andreusK – stock.adobe.com
A team of experts evaluated roughly 12,000 English-language tracks as part of their study. andreusK – stock.adobe.com

Their findings were exactly as anyone over the age of 40 might have suspected — lyrics have become simpler, more repetitive, angrier and more self-obsessed.

“What we have also been witnessing in the last 40 years is a drastic change in the music landscape — from how music is sold to how music is produced,” said senior study author Eva Zangerle, recommendations systems expert at the University of Innsbruck.

The study declined to name and shame any newer artists, but instead spoke of how lyrics can be a “mirror of society,” reflecting a culture’s shifting values and preoccupations.

The study, published in Scientific Reports, concentrated on emotions expressed, repetitiveness and word choice, particularly to see how often difficult or unusual words were used.

“Across all genres, lyrics had a tendency to become more simple and more repetitive,” Zangerle said.

It’s not just that you’re getting old — the quality of songwriting has changed for the worse, according to new research. Studio Romantic – stock.adobe.com
It’s not just that you’re getting old — the quality of songwriting has changed for the worse, according to new research. Studio Romantic – stock.adobe.com

The period studied saw great change in the way we relate and listen to music, the experts noted, ranging from vinyl records at the beginning of the 1980s to today’s streaming platforms and their algorithms.

Study results reinforced previous research that suggested a decline in the number of upbeat and positive lyrics over time, giving way to a rise in anger, disgust or sadness.

“Rap music has become more angry than the other genres,” Zangerle noted.

Songwriting has also come to celebrate self-obsession, the pros pointed out — words like “mine” and “me” are far more popular today.