A new study published in ‘Royal Society Open Science’ tracked all pop hits over the past 50 years. Findings include musical progression could be predicted by Charles Darwin’s theories, as well as music from the 1980’s being discovered to be ‘the most homogenous music period’ in the past half century.
The computer algorithm tracked the Billboard’s Hot-100 List for the past five decades, analyzing songs based on harmony and timbre, and collated that data to create what they’re calling a ‘fossil record’ for pop music. The quickest summation is such: the 60’s rocked and the 80’s were boring as hell. The latter finding I obviously take exception towards. Based on these findings, musicians were putting out music that all sounded the same as work from other 80’s musicians, but that’s making the supposition that in the 80’s people were only listening to 80’s music, which is bullshit. The cream of the crop rose to the top (Billie Jean, Eye of the Tiger, etc), and the rest of the air waves were filled with music from other decades.
Nsikan Akpan at PBS provides analysis on the study:
“Original formulations by Charles Darwin assumed a constant rate of evolution, where everything changes in small steps. That turned out to be slightly false, as 20th century biologists recognized that life on Earth is punctuated by bursts of very fast rates of evolution,” Mauch said.
Pop music follows the same pattern. The team highlights three years that represent musical revolutions — that is, years that sparked a boon of innovative styles and variety: 1964, 1983 and 1993.
The second landmark movement in 1983 came with the adoption of aggressive, synthesized percussion — think Phil Collins and his pulsating drum machine — and loud, guitar-heavy Arena rock with lots of chord changes, such as with Mötley Crüe, Van Halen, REO Speedwagon, Queen, Kiss and Alice Cooper. These rock bands were joined by new wave acts — like the Police and Cyndi Lauper — plus a surge of metronomic dance-pop heroes like Madonna and the Pet Shop Boys. (Michael Jackson’s Thriller dropped in late-1982) Meantime, classic country and folk lost popularity and wouldn’t return until the early aughts.
But these sounds and styles of the Reagan era flooded the music scene, pushing out genres like country and folk to the point that mid-to-late 1980s became most homogenous period in music over the last 50 years, based on the team’s computer analysis.
This theme doesn’t mean music from this era was bad, but rather it suggests “a small number of styles were very catchy and therefore dominated,” Pagel said. This catchiness may linger to this day and explain why themes from the 1980s have bounced back over the last decade.
“Rap and hip-hop saved the charts from being too bland” when these genres the mainstream via the television program Yo! MTV Raps, Mauch said. That show introduced the nation to rap, which had been popular in New York City since the late 1970s. At the same time, grunge and alternative bands diversified the rock n’ roll landscape.
Overall, the study shows that musical diversity since the 1960s hasn’t dropped precipitously, even despite the lull in the 1980s.
“These findings will disappoint social critics who blame pop music for a generalised decline of culture,” Pagel said. “These results suggest there is no danger that musical styles have exhausted all of the possibilities or that we are in any danger of running out of new music.”
Screw this computer algorithm. I say we get 99 of us together, line up, and make this computer algorithm and the study’s authors lick our 99 red balloon knots. I’m not going to allow a computer to tell me what good music is, and whether or not pop music is dead.
I call shenanigans, I’m claiming this is all poppycock and the 80’s was the best musical decade in the past 30 years. Long live the 80’s!
If you want to read the condensed version of the study you can click on over to PBS, to read the study in full click here to head on over to Royal Society Publishing.