2 Shades of Grey

Songs from the soundtrack of your life


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Happy songs don’t do well in charts – a sign of the times?

For eleven months last year the charts were dominated by sad songs in minor keys.

Songs in major keys had only short spells in the charts. Some, like songs by Clean Bandit, DJ Khaled, and Harry Styles, lasted only a week at the top.

And it’s not just the minor key. For the first time since 2002 the average bpm of number ones fell below 100.

The research, carried out by Popbitch website and published by the American Psychological Association, concluded that “popular music has, in general, become sadder-sounding over time with an increasing use of minor keys and slower tempo”.

Another study in 2011 found that “lyrics of popular music became more self-focussed and negative over time” with the number of minor songs doubling since the 1960s.

This may be partly due to a change in formats. Vinyl 78s could hold 3 minutes of music which led to a high number of bpm. Streaming (the curse of modern charts) allows an unlimited length of song or album and s reducing the number of songs making it to the top of the charts – only 14 last year.

Popbitch refers to a 2009 study by American researchers which found that “when social and economic times were relatively threatening, songs that were longer in duration, more meaningful in content, more comforting, more romantic, and slower, were most popular”.

This is not the first research lately to identify this shift. I posted last year about this