Why Is Pop Music So Sad?


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)

    Music Playlist
  1. We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together
    Artist: Taylor Swift
    Label: Big Machine Records, LLC
    Purchase: Amazon
  2. Wide Awake
    Artist: Katy Perry
    Album: Teenage Dream: The Complete Confection
    Label: Capitol
    Purchase: Amazon
  3. Wooly Bully
    Artist: Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs
    Album: 20th Century Masters: The Millenium Collection: Best Of Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs
    Purchase: Amazon
  4. (I Just) Died in Your Arms
    Artist: Cutting Crew
    Album: Broadcast
    Label: VIRGIN
    Purchase: Amazon
  5. Lollipop
    Artist: Lil' Wayne
    Album: Tha Carter III
    Label: Cash Money
    Purchase: Amazon
  6. Dance Yourself to Death
    Artist: Alice Cooper
    Album: Flush the Fashion
    Label: Rhino/Warner Bros.
    Purchase: Amazon
  7. Boom Boom Pow
    Artist: The Black Eyed Peas
    Album: The E.N.D. (The Energy Never Dies)
    Label: Interscope
    Purchase: Amazon
  8. Les Danaides: Act V: Pere barbare, arrache-moi (Hypermnestre)
    Composer: Salieri
    Artist: Andrea Martin
    Album: Salieri: Danaides (Les)
    Label: Dynamic
    Purchase: Amazon
  9. Mitridate, re di Ponto / Act 2 - "Son reo; l'error confesso"
    Composer: Mozart
    Album: Mozart: Mitridate, Re di Ponte
    Label: Decca
    Purchase: Amazon
  10. Barbie Girl
    Artist: Aqua
    Album: Aquarium
    Label: Geffen
    Purchase: Amazon
  11. The Dick Van Dyke Show: Theme from the Dick Van Dyke Show
    Album: TV Theme Library: Classic TV - A to Z
    Label: R.B. Puddin
    Purchase: Amazon
  12. Thinkin Bout You
    Artist: Frank Ocean
    Album: Channel Orange
    Label: Def Jam Records
    Purchase: Amazon
  13. Brother Louie
    Artist: The Stories
    Album: 70s Radio Hits
    Label: Goldenlane
    Purchase: Amazon


Ike Sriskandarajah

Comments [1]

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

Leave a Comment

Register for your own account so you can vote on comments, save your favorites, and more. Learn more.
Please stay on topic, be civil, and be brief.
Email addresses are never displayed, but they are required to confirm your comments. Names are displayed with all comments. We reserve the right to edit any comments posted on this site. Please read the Comment Guidelines before posting. By leaving a comment, you agree to New York Public Radio's Privacy Policy and Terms Of Use.