Everything you think is now proven by science


Takeaways

  1. People say pop music sucks.
  2. Science says pop music sucks.
  3. It’s all true.

If you hate pop music, don’t move to Ghana. According to Google Trends, Ghana has the highest level of search interest for the term “pop music,” just edging out the Philippines and the United Kingdom.

But shunning Ghana is hardly a surefire way to avoid the much-maligned genre of pop. Data crunchers at microBrewData analyzed annual lists of Billboard’s top 100 songs and found that pop has been a cultural mainstay since the 1950s.

Despite its persistent prevalence, pop music—short for popular music—has never been more hated. According to CBS News, “Many people are predisposed to feel nostalgia for the music and songs of their youth, but by a wide margin, even today’s younger set feels that this decade’s music is the worst.” A 2014 Vanity Fair poll found that Americans, by far, believe that this decade’s music is the worst ever produced.

So why does everyone hate pop music? Let’s see if some good ole charts can shed some light.

Reason #1: Pop Music Has a Shorter Life Cycle

Check out the top 10 all-time songs played on American radiowaves, courtesy Billboard.  You’ll notice plenty of pop favorites. If you expand the list to the top 100 all-time songs, the imbalance becomes even more apparent: There are more pop songs on that list than rock, rap, and country songs combined.

Rank, Song Title, Artist, Peak Year

1. “The Twist,” Chubby Checker, 1960
2. “Smooth,” Santana Featuring Rob Thomas, 1999
3. “Mack The Knife,” Bobby Darin, 1959
4. “How Do I Live,” LeAnn Rimes, 1997
5. “Party Rock Anthem,” LMFAO Featuring Lauren Bennett & Goon Rock, 2011
6. “I Gotta Feeling,” The Black Eyed Peas, 2009
7. “Macarena (Bayside Boys Mix), Los Del Rio, 1996
8. “Physical,” Olivia Newton-John, 1981
9. “You Light Up My Life,” Debbie Boone, 1997
10. “Hey Jude,” The Beatles, 1968

But when we shift the focus to listening longevity, pop music suddenly loses its glamor. Over time, listeners clearly place a higher value on other genres.

Why do so many pop songs appear on the Hot 100 list, but fail to prove a durable popularity over time?

According to Vox:

Longevity in the music industry is fleeting, an aspect that impacts artists from different eras and genres differently…Taylor Swift already has more weeks with singles in the Hot 100 than any other artist besides Madonna and Elton John. But a lot of that stems from her ability to release entire albums on streaming services that people use constantly, allowing more of her songs to reach the Hot 100 chart.

Shorter life cycles and rapid releases have increased the output of most music genres, particularly pop. Drake once had 17 songs on the weekly Hot 100 list even though his latest album had just 20 songs in total. Other pop artists are no different. Producing hits maintains an artist’s societal relevance, even if that eschews long-term listenability.

Reason #2: Pop Music Has Become More Repetitive

It looks like shorter life cycles have taken their toll. The Pudding recently applied the Lempel-Ziv algorithm to gauge the level of repeated sequences in popular music. According to their beautiful data analysis, “The songs that reached the top 10 were, on average, more repetitive than the rest in every year from 1960 to 2015.”

The worst culprits are nearly all recent phenomenons, adding credence to the claim that today’s music is clearly worse than the past. The most repetitive song in recent decades was Around The World by Daft Punk, which the algorithm was able to reduce by 98%, from 2,610 characters to just 61. On average, however, Rihanna is by far the biggest offender.

Reason #3: You’re Too Old For Pop Music (or You Have Kids)

Conventional wisdom says that as people get older, they stop keeping up with popular music. Now we have proof.

According to listening habits on Spotify, aggregated by Skynet & Ebert, teens listen to the most popular music. But that habit declines with age. Notably, men’s listening of pop music declines faster than women’s, and people with kids drop off even faster.

Whether the demands of parenthood and careers mean devoting less time to pop culture, or just because they’ve succumbed to good old-fashioned taste freeze, music fans beyond a certain age seem to reach a point where their tastes have “matured”.

Perhaps pop music is as crummy as usual, you’re just too old not to notice.


Learn More

  1. Why Do Pop-Culture Fans Stop Caring About New Music as They Get Older? — A.V. Club

  2. Exploring Age-Specific Preferences in Listening — Music Machinery
  3. Is Pop Music Evolving, or Is It Just Getting Louder? — Scientific American