Science Says Our Music Is Getting More Depressing

Wham! to Sam Smith: Pop Music Study Finds Rise in Sadness Over Past 30 Years | Billboard

A study of hundreds of thousands of popular songs over the past three decades has found a downward sonic trend in happiness and an increase in sadness, as the chirpy band Wham! gave way to the moody Sam Smith.

For the report in the journal Royal Society Open Science, researchers at the University of California at Irvine looked at 500,000 songs released in the UK between 1985 and 2015, and categorized them according to their mood. “‘Happiness’ is going down, ‘brightness’ is going down, ‘sadness’ is going up, and at the same time, the songs are becoming more ‘danceable’ and more ‘party-like,’” co-author Natalia L. Komarova told The Associated Press.

Of course, the researchers emphasize that a gradual decrease in the average “happiness” index does not mean that all successful songs in 1985 were happy and all successful songs in 2015 were sad. They were looking for average trends in the acoustic properties of the music and the moods describing the sounds.

One of the best albums I’ve ever owned is Chris Isaak’s “Forever Blue.” It’s good from end to end, but very depressing. I used to limit how much I listened to it as I went to bed because by the third day I would start becoming vaguely depressed.

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33 thoughts on “Science Says Our Music Is Getting More Depressing

  1. Some songs with a low happiness index in 2014 include “Stay With Me” by Sam Smith, “Whispers” by Passenger and “Unmissable” by Gorgon City. Some from 1985 with a high happiness index include “Glory Days” by Bruce Springsteen, “Would I Lie to You?” by the Eurythmics, and “Freedom” by Wham!

    I have never heard of Sam Smith, Passenger, or Gorgon City.

    Maybe the problem with kids today is that they’re listening to people nobody has ever heard of.

    More to the point, Glory Days is the most depressing song in the world. What is is about? A couple of alkies sitting in a bar and one of them refuses to talk about how he is doing today because he is talking about the past and how the past used to be good compared to today.

    Would I Lie To You? is similarly depressing. Here’s some lyrics for you to enjoy:
    Tell you straight – no intervention.
    To your face – no deception.
    You’re the biggest fake.
    That much is true.
    Had all I can take.
    Now I’m leaving you

    And Wham’s Freedom is a song about a guy whose… I don’t even know if she’s his girlfriend… is running around on him. Some more lyrics for you:
    Like a prisoner who has his own key
    But I can’t escape until you love me
    I just go from day to day
    Knowing all about the other boys
    You take my hand and tell me I’m a fool
    To give you all that I do
    I bet you someday baby
    Someone says the same to you
    But you know that I’ll forgive you
    Just this once twice, forever
    ‘Cause baby, you could drag me to hell and back
    Just as long as we’re together
    And you do

    You want a happy song? Here’s a goddamn happy song:

    Come up with *ANYTHING* from the 80’s that is *HALF* that upbeat.

    Even the best, seriously, the absolute best song from the last 50 years (which happens to be from the 80s) is pretty dang melancholy.

    This article is topsy-turvy. And now I’m sitting here yelling at the computer because, seriously, this is so wrong that I can’t think that the researchers have a bet that say “seriously, nobody’s going to read this and point out that these songs aren’t upbeat” “YOU’RE ON!”.


  2. Lets talk about “I Wish It Would Rain” as made famous by The Temptations.
    Sunshine, blue skies, please go away
    A girl has found another and gone away
    With her went my future, my life is filled with gloom
    So day after day I stay locked up in my room
    I know to you, it might sound strange
    But I wish it would rain, oh yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah
    ‘Cause so badly I wanna go outside (such a lovely day)
    But everyone knows that a man ain’t supposed to cry
    Listen, I gotta cry ’cause crying eases the pain, oh yeah
    People this hurt I feel inside
    Words could never explain,
    I just wish it would rain, oh let it rain, rain, rain, rain, ooo baby
    Let it rain, oh yeah, let it rain
    Day in day out my tear-stained face
    Pressed against the window pane
    My eyes search the skies desperately for rain
    ‘Cause rain drops will hide my tear drops
    And no one will ever know that I’m crying
    Crying when I go outside
    To the world outside my tears
    I refuse to explain, ooo I wish it would rain, ooh, baby
    Let it rain, let it rain
    I need rain to disguise the tears in my eyes
    Oh, let it rain
    Oh yeah, yeah, listen
    I’m a man and I got my pride
    ‘Til it rains I’m gonna stay inside, let it rain

    Rodger Penzabene wrote a large part of it, and committed suicide not long after it’s release. That’s a sad song.


    • They’d jump ahead to the upbeat grunge songs such as when Eddie Vedder was triumphantly announcing that he was still alive or Kurt Cobain talking about how he’s found a place under the lights where it’s “less dangerous”.


      • Its almost as if whoever wrote this never really listened to the music, never took classes on music appreciation. I mean seriously, what are they doing working for BillBoard? What is BB doing hiring them?


        • Billboard hired him (if he’s not an unpaid intern) to produce #content. And it worked, because we’re clicking on it and talking about it.

          But yeah, this is a pretty solid example of how when the internet says “according to science,” it’s the exact opposite of science that’s happening.


  3. Music that was happy and upbeat:

    Disco. Good, solid 4-on-the-floor time. You can dance to it. You’re *EXPECTED* to dance to it. The Bee Gees. The Village People. Abba. Good God, Abba.

    The music *HAD* to be happy. We were all going to die! And music videos as we knew them didn’t exist yet!

    Then the 80’s happened, disco died, and Christopher Cross did that damn “moon and New York City” song and we slipped into a funk that we didn’t fall out of until Destiny’s Child started singing about Independent Women and/or their butts and Pink got the party started and Jay-Z told us something about an “Izzo”.

    I suppose we had a small blip in the 80’s due to David Lee Roth being in a good mood all the dang time. Maybe.


  4. Simon and Garfunkle, The Sun Is Burning, 1964
    The Sun Is Burning

    The sun is burning in the sky
    Strands of clouds go slowly drifting by
    In the park the lazy bees
    Are joining in the flowers, among the trees
    And the sun burns in the sky
    Now the sun is in the West
    Little kids go home to take their rest
    And the couples in the park
    Are holdin’ hands and waitin’ for the dark
    And the sun is in the West

    Now the sun is sinking low
    Children playin’ know it’s time to go
    High above a spot appears
    A little blossom blooms and then draws near
    And the sun is sinking low

    Now the sun has come to Earth
    Shrouded in a mushroom cloud of death
    Death comes in a blinding flash
    Of hellish heat and leaves a smear of ash
    And the sun has come to Earth

    Now the sun has disappeared
    All is darkness, anger, pain and fear
    Twisted, sightles wrecks of men
    Go groping on their knees and cry in pain
    And the sun has disappeared

    The authors of the piece fell for one of the greatest blunders of all time, the first of which is never get involved in a land war in Asia, followed by this, never go in against folkies, when depression is on the line!


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