31 May 2017

Are pop lyrics getting more repetitive?

From Jesse Mulligan, 1–4pm, 1:25 pm on 31 May 2017

Are pop lyrics getting more repetitive?

Unemployed computer programmer Colin Morris recently confirmed that the answer is yes.

Morris says he's been obsessed with pop music since the day he got his first Spice Girls album.

While many people lament that the art of lyric-writing is declining…

..it seemed to him that no-one had tested this hypothesis with data.

Although he had a clear intuition about which songs were and weren't repetitive, it was tricky to turn that into a formula, he says.

The "eureka moment" came when he tried applying compression algorithms to the lyrics.

The process was similar to putting the lyrics of a song into a text file then compressing that into a zip file and seeing how much it shrinks. He then used that shrinkage as the metric for how repetitive the song was.

Colin set about finding and testing the lyrics for 15,000 of the songs which have charted on the Billboard Hot 100 since that chart was created in 1958.

He found that over the last 59 years, songs in the top ten have been more repetitive every year – and the repetition is escalating.

First place for Most Repetitive Song was not a close contest and to anyone who has heard the song not much of a surprise – 'Around the World' by Daft Punk.

"For anyone who doesn't know it, the lyrics go 'Around the world, around the world, around the world, around the world' and so on many, many more times."

Rihanna at the the Met Ball

 Rihanna Photo: Supplied

The reigning queen of repetition is Rihanna.

"She's pop, she's popular, she's had all kinds of chart records with top tens and number one singles.

"She almost has making earworms down to a science."

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