Behavior Modification

Help! Pop music really is slower and sadder than when the Beatles and Abba ruled the charts

  • Researchers say modern  music has lost the ‘feelgood factor’
  • Claim the only artist to  have carried on the tradition of ‘pure pop’ is Lady Gaga

By Fiona Macrae Science Correspondent

PUBLISHED:10:58 EST, 27  September 2012| UPDATED:11:00 EST, 27 September 2012

If you think pop music ain’t what it used to  be, you may well be right.

Research shows that today’s songs are slower  and sadder than those of the past.

And if this dreariness wasn’t depressing  enough, they also last longer.

The researchers, who analysed more than 1,000  hits from 1965 to 2009, blame the loss of the feel-good factor on modern acts  wanting to be seen as serious and complex – and on listeners who like to think  they are more sophisticated.

Researchers say that modern pop music is sadder than slower than when the Beatles and Abba ruled the charts - but they admit Lady Gaga is the excetion. 

Researchers say that modern pop music is sadder than  slower than when the Beatles and Abba ruled the charts – but they admit Lady  Gaga is the excetion.

As a result, unambiguously uplifting songs  like the Beatles’ Help! or She Loves You are few and far between.

The researchers, from Canadian and German  universities, analysed tempo and key of many of the biggest hits of the last 60  years.

In general, a fast tempo and major key makes  for a happy song, while a slow beat and minor key denotes misery.

The analysis found the proportion of songs  recorded in the minor key to have doubled, allowing sadder tones to  predominate.

Modern pop songs also tend to be slower, with  just 100 beats per minute, compared with the 116 of the 1960s, and the average  duration of a recording has increased from just under three minutes to almost  four minutes.

The study, from the University of Toronto and  Free University of Berlin, also found mismatch of a minor key with a fast beat  to have become more common.

This, said the researchers could be an  attempt to appeal to an audience that thinks it is more sophisticated than those  of the past.

They said that this change in tastes has left  up-beat hits of the past such as Abba’s Waterloo sounding ‘naïve and slightly  juvenile to contemporary ears’.

Swedish supergroup Abba were also named as one of the great purveyors of the best pop. 

Swedish supergroup Abba were also named as one of the  great purveyors of the best pop.

And modern, up-beat tunes recorded in the  major key, such as Aqua’s Barbie Girl are often dismissed as being  gimmicks.

However, there is at least one best-selling  singer who has managed to buck the trend, by recording fast-paced songs in a  major key or mode to critical and popular acclaim.

Writing in the journal Psychology of  Aesthetics, Creativity and the Arts, the researchers said: ‘Lady Gaga has  somehow managed to transcend this association.

‘Her fast-tempo, major mode recordings such  as Born This Way and Edge of Glory sound fresh while recalling or quoting  popular music from an earlier time.’

The findings chime with research released  earlier this year which concluded that today’s pop music is louder and blander  than the hits of the 1950s and 1960s.

The computer analysis of almost half a  million pop, rock and hip hop songs from 1955 to 2010, revealed today’s tracks  to be louder, which researchers said is because sound engineers and producers  are cranking up the volume at the recording stage.

The researchers singled out Lady Gaga as one of the few modern artists who can match classic pop. 

The researchers singled out Lady Gaga as one of the few  modern artists who can match classic pop.

As a result, if two tracks are turned up to  the same volume level on a CD player home, the more recent will sound  louder.

Apparently this is not due to better  recording equipment, but is an attempt to make music that catches attention and  is suitable for playing in noisy venues.

The Spanish study also found evidence that  the chords used and the changes between them are simpler, leading to the  production of music that is easy on the ear but contains little  variety.

Researcher Martin Haro, of Barcelona’s Pompeu  Fabra University, said: ‘I think this is related to the role of  music.

‘In the 1950s and 60s, music was more  artistic and for getting messages across.

‘Now it’s about dancing and relaxing … with  groups not so interested in experimenting.’

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