Modern song lyrics highlight growing narcissism

You would be hard-pressed to find a better way to describe the psychological state of a generation than by listening to the lyrics of its most popular songs. Studies have shown that as the years have come and gone, and new songs have peaked in popularity and then fallen off the face of the planet of popular music, song lyrics have also changed. In early 2014, the Huffington Post published a series of graphs created by artist and researcher Nickolay Lamm on their website showing the frequency of key words such as “love,” “sex,” “money,” and “lonely” in popular songs over the last 50 years. For instance, the graphs show that the word “money” has been used throughout the last five decades, but has seen a significant increae in usage since the 1990s. Starting in 1990, the word “sex” became a much more popular lyric and is still increasing in usage. Conversely, the words “lonely” and “love” were much more popular from the 1960s to the 1990s, and then they dramatically decreased in frequency as lyrics.

If lyrics reflect the psychological state of a generation, what does it say about us that we have stopped using words like “love” and dramatically increased the frequency of “sex” and “body” (also found in the article)? An article titled “A Generation’s Vanity, Heard Through Lyrics” was posted on the New York Times website in 2011, and it spoke to the changing lyrics and how they reflect the morphing mental state of our generation. The article notes that Nathan DeWall, a psychologist at the University of Kentucky, who studied three decades worth of top 100 hit songs, found, similarly to the study published in the Huffington Post, that song lyrics were steadily changing. Unlike the previous study, however, DeWall discovered that as a generation, our lyrics were becoming more and more narcissistic and hostile. Words such as “I” and “me” appeared much more frequently alongside anger driven lyrics.  A study performed by co-authors of DeWall suggests that late adolescents and college students today are scoring higher on tests that measure narcissism. And as the researchers put it, songs today “are more likely [to] be about one very special person: the singer.”

It is true that song lyrics are becoming more self-involved, but is there necessarily a problem with that? In my opinion, the reason songs are becoming so much more vulgar is for that classic Hollywood “shock-value.” As more and more singers and performers make it into the spotlight, the need to shock the public with vulgar lyrics has dramatically increased. In fact, it could be argued that it has become one of the quickest ways to get noticed. So no, I don’t think there is necessarily anything wrong with the lyrics to the popular songs that litter the top 100 charts, as long as we take them for what they are: the desperate attempts of thousands of artists, each trying to outdo the other.