A Study Of Music Lyrics Reveals Our Increasing Vanity
Music has always been a cultural arbiter, and is now also the basis for a psychological study indicating where our focus and values are evolving.
The New York Times turned us onto a recent psychological study that tracked three decades (1980 – 2007) of genre-controlled hit songs to reveal ‘a statistically significant trend toward narcissism and hostility in popular music.’ The study – conducted by Dr. Nathan DeWall and a team at the University of Kentucky – validated what its commissioners hypothesized, including the below findings:the words “I” and “me” to appear more frequently along with anger-related words a corresponding decline in “we” and “us” and the expression of positive emotions songs from the 80’s were likelier to celebrate happy togetherness, mutual love, group celebration and racial harmony (‘Ebony and Ivory’ and ‘We Are the World’, for instance) today’s songs are likelier to celebrate the amazingness of a single special person: the performer (cue Justin Timberlake for single-handedly bringing sexy back and Beyoncé for inviting you to ‘watch me in amazement’)
While the methodology and scientific validity of the study’s findings can of course be questioned (and balanced by equally angry or self-absorbed lyrics from songs of decades preceding the 80s), the broader observation or insight is one that has been discussed in recent times – we seem to have become significantly more ‘me’ focused than previous decades. Just look at current relationship, divorce and marriage patterns – generally speaking, we’re not a culture that prioritizes besotted or at least mutually-satisfying partnership over chasing what makes you – and only you – seemingly happy. But the question remains – is our focus on self-satisfaction (and celebration) truly making us happier than more collectively-focused generations? Is there a middle ground between extremes, and can we find it? And how does this differ internationally? Perhaps a study of particular musical genres can pave the way.