DM Blog

Are Pop Lyrics Getting More Repetitive?


Colin Morris, writing for The Pudding:

In 1977, the great computer scientist Donald Knuth published a paper called The Complexity of Songs, which is basically one long joke about the repetitive lyrics of newfangled music (example quote: “the advent of modern drugs has led to demands for still less memory, and the ultimate improvement of Theorem 1 has consequently just been announced”).

I’m going to try to test this hypothesis with data. I’ll be analyzing the repetitiveness of a dataset of 15,000 songs that charted on the Billboard Hot 100 between 1958 and 2017.

Measuring repetitiveness?

I know a repetitive song when I hear one, but translating that intuition into a number isn’t easy. One thing we might try is looking at the number of unique words in a song, as a fraction of the total number of words…

What an interesting technique: using compression to analyze the repetitiveness of songs over time. Great interactive visuals, and a very thorough analysis!

I’d be interested to see this technique applied to Latin music to be able to put a number on exactly how repetitive Reggaetón really is…

(Via Daring Fireball.)