The lyrics of recent No. 1 singles average at a third grade reading level

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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.

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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.

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