Are Pop Song Lyrics Getting More Repetitive?


Pop artist Rihanna ranks high among a recent analysis of lyrical repetition in popular music. Christopher Polk/Getty Images
Pop artist Rihanna ranks high among a recent analysis of lyrical repetition in popular music. Christopher Polk/Getty Images

I don't know about you, but sometimes when I'm working under the hood of my car, doing some biceps curls at the gym or mowing the lawn in my backyard, I find myself humming "Call Me Maybe." Sure, the only lyrics I know are the ones Carly Rae Jepsen sings in the chorus, but I'm fairly certain those are the only words she sings throughout the entire song. Now there's at least some research out there to support my hunch. Maybe.

Pop music is getting more repetitive, according to a comprehensive analysis by Colin Morris published on The Pudding. Morris studied Billboard Hot 100 hits dating back six decades, from 1958 to 2017. And while he may be a self-described "unemployed programmer and deep learning enthusiast," Morris says he knows a repetitive tune when he hears one.

Morris used compression analysis to gauge just how much lyrical repetition some of our most beloved popstars take part in. For those of us who spend more time listening to music than sitting behind a computer, that means he used an algorithm to review lyrics and calculate just how much they could be hacked down by eliminating repeating terms. Morris analyzed repetition not just of individual words but also repeated lyrical sequences. Using a three-year rolling average, he found that repetition in song writing is most definitely on the rise, and recently reached its peak in 2014, with an average tune from that year compressing 22 percent more efficiently than one from 1960. Poke around on Morris' findings and you can search his visualized data by artist, decade and genre.

Who are the repetition culprits? Pop artists like Beyonce, Michael Jackson, Madonna and One Direction ranked high, though Rihanna ruled supreme thanks to all of her hard work, work, work, work, work. Arists like Ray Charles, Connie Francis, Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra ranked low for repetition.

Although Morris deemed Daft Punk's 1997 hit "Around the World" the most repetitive pop song in the last 60 or so years – notching an (un?)impressive 99 percent compression rate – he also found that four of the top 10 most monotonous jams came from our current decade.

Not on the list? "Call Me Maybe."

Roy Orbison, pictured here in 1964, was one of the least repetitive lyricists in the analysis of pop tunes.
Roy Orbison, pictured here in 1964, was one of the least repetitive lyricists in the analysis of pop tunes.
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