Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Study shows pop music is getting sadder, just like the rest of us

Photo: Joe Klamar/AFP (Getty Images)

Ah, music: A series of bleeps and bloops placed into semi-deliberate order, with an eye toward making people feel stuff in their think-meat. We generally operate on the assumption that a society’s music says something about it, good or bad, which is why it’s wearyingly depressing—but also depressingly understandable—that modern music has apparently gotten a lot sadder over the last few years.

This is per The New York Times, reporting on a recent study from The University Of California At Irvine, which analyzed 500,000 pop songs released in the U.K. over the last 30 years, and measured them on metrics like “happiness,” “danceability,” and more. According to the study’s co-author, the analysis showed that “‘Happiness’ is going down, ‘brightness’ is going down, ‘sadness’ is going up, and at the same time, the songs are becoming more ‘danceable’ and more ‘party-like’.” (Oh, and rock music has been dying since 2000, which, thanks for the tip, science)


Studies like this tend to crop up every few years, and their interpretation tends to rely on how much credence you put in algorithmically-defined academic definitions of concepts like musical “happiness.” Also, there’s some pretty clear “correlation vs causation” stuff happening here, too; that same researcher suggested that people want dancier music because they’re unhappy, whereas our experience at various clubs suggests public dancing is the clear cause of much of modern human misery itself.

Of course, the real kicker here is that all of this research only focuses on songs released through 2015 (and in England, at that), meaning it doesn’t even cover the last two years of post-Obama despair. We can only imagine how dolorous the newest tunes have gotten, and how frantic the dancing, to the point where we have to assume that today’s kids are just flailing wildly in darkened rooms to the sounds of heartbroken old widowers and children dropping their ice cream cones on the ground. (But, like, with a really killer party beat.)

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