Modern Music: Nonsensical Lyrics and Meaningless Messages

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Issue 11, Volume 113

By Stefanie Chen 

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You turn on the car radio and it blasts at full volume with each radio station playing a vast catalog of songs. At first, things seem okay; the songs are catchy and the consistent stream of music is good enough to keep you satisfied. But, as you keep listening, you realize that there’s something off with the lyrics. Not only are some words mumbled and autotuned to such a degree that they’re nearly incomprehensible, but those that you can make out are also random strings of words that hardly count as a sentence.

Since the 2000s, music quality and intelligibility have been in steady decline, with songs containing only simple vocabulary with little to no substance and lyrics filled with extraordinarily vulgar and pointless messages. It’s not a surprise that all sorts of sounds and beats have been exhausted from decades of songwriting, making unique melodies and tunes harder to create.

A decade ago, most songs had lyrical qualities of, on average, a third- or fourth-grade reading level. While not high, the lyrical intelligibility of modern music across all genres from Pop to Country has consistently dropped. In a 2015 study by Andrew Powell-Morse, the Head of Data Analysis and Editorial Content at BestTickets, an analysis of the lyrics of 225 songs that had spent at least three weeks as No. 1 on Billboard’s Pop, Country, Rock, and Hip-hop charts found an average of a third-grade reading level. It has also been found that many individual artists have lyrics with reading levels even below that. From 2005 to 2014, Beyoncé, for example, had a song intelligence metric of, on average, “2.25” grade; Lady Gaga received a score of “2.15” grade, and shockingly, Ke$ha received a score of “1.50” grade, the lowest out of all artists on the charts. While this hasn’t stopped their songs from topping charts, people almost always listen to songs for their catchy beats or hooks rather than for the lyrical content. With lyrics slowly declining in quality, the popular songs younger generations are being exposed to a whole ensemble of senseless songs.

Not only are song lyrics becoming increasingly meaningless, but they are also becoming increasingly obscene and vulgar. Since 2000, more and more songs containing illegal or hedonistic topics such as drugs, sex, and violence have entered the Billboard Hot 100. During the week of October 15, 2017, the No. 1 most popular song on the chart was “Bodak Yellow” by Cardi B, which included themes of gun violence, drinking, drug dealing, and defiance of authorities, and the No. 2 song, “Rockstar” by Post Malone, contained even more topics of vice. “Kiss Kiss” by Chris Brown featuring T-Pain talked almost solely about the appeal of a woman’s body for the song’s entirety. Katy Perry’s song, “Bon Appetit,” had lyrics containing nothing more than sexual references and innuendos. Vulgarity in music is hardly necessary, but with weak songs needing to stand out from their older counterparts and renowned predecessors, many artists have turned to foul language and explicit lyrics to give their songs an extra punch.

The majority of the younger generations, growing up on songs that don’t advocate for anything other than self-centered desires, may grow up thinking that the frequent mention of drugs and sexual activity is normal, and in some instances, even trendy and cool. According to the study “Exposure to Degrading Versus Nondegrading Music Lyrics and Sexual Behavior Among Youth,” adolescents who listened to songs with degrading, sexual lyrics were much more likely to engage in risky, sexual behavior. Another study “Television and music video exposure and risk of adolescent alcohol use” stated that listening to explicit lyrics in music videos about drugs and alcohol abuse was a great risk factor for the onset of alcohol use in adolescents.

Songs today are almost incomparable to older songs that discuss themes ranging from self-acceptance to simply looking at the brighter side of life. Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror” expresses themes of self-improvement and change in oneself before the world. “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor contains lyrics urging individuals to stand up for themselves and inspire individual endurance. Modern songs don’t live up to even a small percentage of these heartfelt older songs, their only themes being to seemingly inspire acts of vice and malice. While the popularity of such songs has made it much harder to tear people away from the Spotify playlists of this day in age, it is still possible to improve the quality of an individual’s personal listening routines. Trying to add songs from before the 2000s from genres like Jazz, Soul, and even Alternative Rock can help cleanse and bring more quality into a listening palate, and perhaps, even include lyrics that pertain to their own lives. Maybe try songs without lyrics, such as Classical and Celtic music. With how giant and capitalistic the music industry is, trying to change all music is nothing short of impossible, but throwing back to older, more meaningful songs, might just save the younger generation from the clutches of meaningless music.