Tuesday, April 26, 2011

DO RE ME ME ME ME: The NYT reports today on a study which has determined, based on analysis of the lyrics to pop songs of the past 30 years, that there is a "statistically significant trend toward narcissism and hostility in popular music," noting the contrast between 80s hits like "Celebration" ("Let's all celebrate and have a good time!") and "Ebony and Ivory" and its message of togetherness and more recent hits like Fergie's "Personal" ("It's personal, myself and I") and JT's proclamation that he (not "we") was bringing sexy back. And yes, there's a reference to "the Cee-Lo Green comic ode to hostility with its unprintable refrain."


  1. Joseph J. Finn1:15 PM

    I'd like to cite the Rob Gordon axiom, if I may:

    "<span>What came first, the music or the misery? People worry about kids playing with guns, or watching violent videos, that some sort of culture of violence will take them over. Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands, literally thousands of songs about heartbreak, rejection, pain, misery and loss. Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?"</span>

  2. Meghan1:28 PM

    Well, clearly, one good "Hands Across America" will make everything better.

  3. Meghan2:36 PM

    Me too!  We were just outside of Trenton. 

  4. CArrie2:55 PM

    That was me, hands outstretched, on Sansom Street in Philly....

  5. Paul Tabachneck3:21 PM

    I think the trend has more to do with people experiencing music differently than they used to.  It's not as much of a social media anymore, since the advent of the iPod, so people can tend towards music that allows them to "step into the map," and experience something vicariously while feeling like it's theirs.  Singing along to "I-you" songs empowers the singer (Jay-Z actually talks about this at great length n his book) to feel the viewpoint as though it were theirs, and I'd be willing to bet that there's something to that. 

    As someone whose songs have been co-opted both for love and revenge, I'm torn between being appalled at our society's demise and grateful for my continued employ.

  6. Anonymous3:35 PM

    Yeah, you can't beat the uplifting message of old songs like "Under My Thumb"

  7. gtv20003:36 PM

    That was me

  8. Fred App3:53 PM

    Forty years before Cee-Lo recorded his unprintable refrain, Harry Nilsson released "Breaking My Heart," with a similar sentiment: "You're breaking my heart / You're tearing it apart / So f--- you." As the Times article itself admits, "You can find anything you want in song lyrics from any era."

  9. Anonymous6:07 PM

    I'm less concerned with the trend towards narcissism and greatly concerned over the trend towards sliding promiscuity and sexual behavior past the cencors. Songs containing lyrics such as "you spin my head 'round when you go down" and "I wanna take a ride on your disco stick" are not at all appropriate for morning radio while driving the kids to school.

    In some cases I can pass narcissism as a form of empowerment and confidence building (almost every rap song involves some sort of "I am the greatest ____ ever") but there's almost no excuse for the sexual suggestions played on pop music radio stations.

  10. I think I hit that line back in 2005 when "Laffy Taffy" came out:

    <span>"Girls call me Jolly Rancher/Cause I stay so hard/You can suck me for a long time/Oh my lord!" </span>

  11. Jim Bell12:11 AM

    Me too, but I can't for the life of me remember where.  Were any of you next to me?

  12. katiya3:35 AM

    To Guest above I see what you are saying about sexual suggestion on pop radio but I'd rather have that than the rampant violence in our culture personally...

  13. Paul Tabachneck7:38 AM

    Agreed.  Songs about f___ing > Songs about killing.

  14. isaac_spaceman9:03 PM

    I haven't read the article and therefore know nothing about the methodology, but while I apparently share many people's impulsive skepticism, there is a big difference between "I looked at the songs on the charts this week and they seemed more negative than the ones on the charts 40 years ago" and "using appropriate economic techniques, I have isolated a statistically significant trend toward narcissism and hostility."  A valid refutation of a purportedly scientific study can consist of a critique of methodology, a methodologically sound study with significantly different results, or an identical study in which the results do not repeat.  It cannot consist of anecdotal counterevidence, like "Under My Thumb" or Harry Nilsson or "Friday."   

  15. Squid2:37 PM

    When I read a sentence like, "Now, after a computer analysis of three decades of hit songs, Dr. DeWall and other psychologists report finding what they were looking for," I can't help but feign surprise.

    Psychologists!  Using computers!  Found what they thought they would!