WASHINGTON — Does it seem like pop music is getting less intelligent? The numbers say it is.
Researcher Andrew Powell-Morse tells theguardian.com that he plugged in the lyrics of popular songs of the past 10 years (defined as songs that spent at least three weeks at the top of Billboard’s Pop, Country, Rock and R&B/Hip-Hop charts) into the Readability Index, which analyzes the grade level of any text you plug in. The online tool runs the text through various tests, arriving at a combined average level.
Powell-Morse found that the grade levels of songs that met his criteria for 2014 clocked in at an average between second and third grade, well below the songs of 2013, which had scored a bit higher than 2012.
He dug deeper into the data, finding that the country hits had the highest reading difficulty, at 3.3 — still not much to brag about, especially given that long words such as “hallelujah,” “cigarettes” and “hillbilly,” and place names such as Mississippi and Louisiana, picked up its score quite a bit. The highest-scoring song of his survey period, 2005-2014, was Blake Shelton’s “All About Tonight.”
Hip-hop brought up the rear at 2.6 — words such as “hey” and “ho” count against it, and even a relatively literate artist such as Eminem (an average of 3.7 over the 10-year span) couldn’t help much.
The rock band Three Days Grace managed both the third-smartest song of the past 10 years (2006’s “Animal I Have Become”) and the flat-out dumbest (2010’s “The Good Life”). Powell-Morse also cautions that the Readability Index just looks at word length and number of syllables — it doesn’t make literary judgments on, say, lunkheaded metaphors (we’re looking at you, Nickelback).
For comparison, and as an antidote to any smug boomers in the house, know that the deathless “Louie Louie. Oh, baby, I said me gotta go” clocked in at an average grade level of 1.4.