New study examines lyrics from Beyoncé, Foo Fighters, Adele, Eminem, and others
No one would ever dare to compare the writing prowess of artists like Macklemore, Nicki Minaj, and Katy Perry to Chaucer and Ginsberg, but a new study from Andrew Powell-Morse reveals just how dumbed down the lyrics are for songs currently dominating the Billboard charts.
Powell-Morse analyzed the reading levels for 225 songs that spent three or more weeks atop Billboard’s Pop, Country, Rock, and Hip-Hop song charts.
Whereas chart-toppers in 2005 read between a third and fourth grade level, a decade later that average is declining, and fast. In 2014, the reading level of a Billboard No. 1 single averaged between a second and third grade reading level, with the bar trending downward in five of the last 10 years.
Of the four genres analyzed, country music came out with the highest average reading level (3.3), followed by pop (2.9), rock ‘n’ roll (2.9), and R&B/hip-hop (2.6).
At an individual level, the data is even more fascinating. The average reading level of Eminem is a grade-and-a-half higher than Beyoncé, while Nickelback (!) tops Foo Fighters by nearly a number letter grade. In the world of pop music, superstars like Mariah Carey and Adele rank a full number grade higher than the likes of Lady Gaga and Ke$ha.
Of all 225 songs analyzed in the studio, the highest-scoring rock song was Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Dani California” with a reading level of 5.5. Meanwhile, Three Days Grace’s “The Good Life” is the “dumbest” with a reading level of 0.8.
Below, you can find a few more infographics illustrating the data. The full report can be read here.