We’re not exactly living in happy times, and I for one don’t feel like dancing around ecstatically in my living room.

However, despite the difficult state of the planet, the shinier, decidedly more fun world of pop music is reportedly getting more upbeat, with statistic revealing how more and more tracks are being filled with joyful, life-affirming lyrics.

In sync with this unexpected brightness, pop tunes are also getting faster in tempo, with 2020’s top 20 best-selling songs averaging a tempo of around 122 beats per minute.

In 2017, mathematician Natalia Komarova, of the University of California Irvine, was surprised by the dark and gloomy nature of many of her daughter’s favoured pop songs, with singers such as Adele and Sam Smith tugging on the heartstrings of pop fans.

Komarova decided to conduct an investigation into this unusual trend. Drawing from music research database AcousticBrainz, Komarova and her academic colleagues set about examining half a million tracks released in the UK between the years 1985 and 2015.

The team looked at factors such as danceability, tonality, tempo and mood, whilst investigating song popularity and analysing the dynamics of chart toppers.

As per findings published in 2018 in Royal Society Open Science, in pop songs had indeed declined during these years, with a downward trend noted in ‘happiness’ and ‘brightness’, and a slight upward trend in ‘sadness’.

Interestingly, factors such as ‘relaxedness’ and ‘danceability’ were also seen to rise over the thirty years in question, a rend which the study authors have suggested could be related to an ‘increase in ‘electronic’ and ‘atonal’ characteristics’.

According to the study:

It was found that the use of positive emotion in songs had dwindled over time.

In particular, it was reported that popular music lyrics now include more words related to a focus on the self (e.g. singular first person pronouns), fewer words describing companionship and social contact (e.g. plural first person nouns) and more anti-social words (e.g. ‘hate’, ‘kill’, etc.).

The study also revealed that these findings correlated with an ‘overall increase in tendencies towards loneliness, social isolation and psychopathology’.


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