Why Is Pop Music So Sad?

Feature

Friday, February 22, 2013

Pop music's not what it used to be. That’s what every generation of no-longer-kids says about what the kids are listening to, but fogey clichés aren’t necessarily wrong.

A study published in the Journal of Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts tracked the mood of pop songs over five decades of Billboard charts, and it confirms that pop has changed in substantial ways. Far more of today’s hits are now in minor keys (which most of us hear as sadder or more complex) — more than half, as compared to just 15% in the 1960s.

(Scroll down to see the results)

The study, by Glenn Schellenberg and colleagues, found that the average beats per minute fell in those decades as well. Even in uptempo dance music, minor keys are far more frequent, creating a mixed or ambiguous mood.

Why is this happening? Our reporter called up two experts, music writer Chuck Klosterman and Alice Cooper, heavy metal icon and now radio host. Cooper thinks songwriter ego bears some of the blame. “Bands that want to sound like they’re deep and serious cannot play in major keys — they want to go to minor keys to make them sound more mysterious. I think that we have really gotten away from the fun of rock music and we’ve gotten too emotional about it.”

(Originally aired: September 7, 2012)


Comments [2]

zg00geeleeg00gz wu88uw dub from Nampa, ID

I have noticed this too, and I was born in 1988! I hated music on the radio. It was all metal and sad emo crap. I hated it. I don't know why but dubstep doesn't have that same "whiny oh poor me and my life is so sad nothing will get better!" sound. I do love the brooding tempo and wobble bass! Part of it I have found is due to the nature of the slightly off key sound of the grinding bass and synth leads used in that kind of music. Just enough to keep it from making my cry, but still feel the mood.

It's an interesting thing that my friend should send me this as I am currently investigating going into writing dubstep (as well my own dubstep influenced style, I call "wubbuw dub" or stylized as "wu88uw du8"). Since I hate those sad songs, I thought in my music have a mixture of major and minor keys.

When it comes to sounding sad more, I have found in large part it's due to our bad mood diet. It makes us feel sad, so we are more in tune with sad music so we'll listen to it more and thus make more of it.

I do have to point something out. The commenter who said it takes little talent is wrong. It can take YEARS of practice and studying to make electronic music. Once you stop comparing one genre of music to another you'd see there IS great talent and skill involved!

Watch this video THEN do the math: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eNwBwYXS3f8

Have a musical day everyone and let the bass cannon kick it!!!

Nov. 06 2014 08:00 PM
shane from seattle

Current pop music is basically the "crack cocaine" of music. Producers scientifically identify what listeners like and accept with using the bare minimum of talent. After the song is over in 2 to 3 minutes,,the listener is left feeling hollow and needing more,,what they dont know is that they will never get that original feeling the got when they heard the pop song for the first time. Only unless those listeners somehow go way back and listen to Stevie wonders innervisions or the likes, will they ever get that true fix they are longing for.

Mar. 14 2013 07:54 PM

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