New Study Figured Out The 12 Most Common Themes Of Music’s #1 Hits In The Past 50 Years

Wendy Stokesby:


Ever wonder what makes your favorite song so resonant? Researchers at North Carolina State University wondered the same thing, and pored over hit songs of the past 50 years to find out why they made their listeners tick. Their study discovered 12 key themes that show up most frequently in big radio hits.

The research team put together a list of every No. 1 Billboard “Hot 100″ hit from January 1960 to December 2009. Then, they ran a textual analysis of the songs’ lyrics via a computer program. The top themes?

  1. loss
  2. desire
  3. aspiration
  4. nostalgia
  5. pain
  6. breakup
  7. rebellion
  8. inspiration
  9. jadedness
  10. escapism
  11. desperation
  12. confusion

Tellingly, certain timeframes saw more of particular themes: the ’60s and ’70s churned out lots of songs focused on rebellion, while in the ’00s our popular songs evoked desperation and inspiration. The list offers a pretty wide range of feelings, but not too many of them are happy!

The motivation behind the research isn’t too happy either — they’re trying to find out how to make you buy more music by engineering what will be timely/popular in the future. According to Dr. David Henard of NC State, “People are exposed to a barrage of advertisements and they often respond by tuning out those advertisements. We wanted to see what we could learn from hit songs to help advertisers break through all that clutter. We also wanted to see if there were specific themes that could help companies engage with consumers in a positive way via social media.” Yes, an in-depth study of some of the greatest cultural markers of our time essentially comes down to devising a method to get more retweets. Facepalm.


oRIGINAL BY Claire Hannum

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