Researched Suggestions for Writing the Next Hit Song in America

A new study published in the Journal of Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity and the Arts suggests that the most popular songs in American culture these days are increasingly about oneself, especially one’s angry or antisocial behaviour (DeWall, C. Nathan; Pond, Richard S., Jr.; Campbell, W. Keith; Twenge, Jean M., Mar 21 2011).

See the more complete and easier to read Miller-McCune article here.

More and more hit songs contain the word “me” rather than “we”, says the study that analyzed Billboard’s Top 100 hit songs from 1980 to 2007. Going on my own exposure to American popular music of today, rather than seeing the data, I would agree with the conclusions the popular American song has become more selfish. However, one should be careful to conclude that as maybe more songs are just written in the first person and have become more personal in nature. I know I prefer to write in the first person to be more direct rather than being selfish.

Otherwise, “use of words related to self-focus and antisocial behavior increased, whereas words related to other-focus, social interactions, and positive emotion decreased”. The current #4 song as I write this, Cee Lo Green’s FUCK YOU, featuring kids all over the video, drives the point home rather poignantly.

Do I need to be responsible to insert an explicit language warning here after I had mentioned the title in full?

I don’t think that conclusion of more angry and antisocial song lyrics among popular American songs surprises many. Just look at all the lyrical warnings and radio edits among hit songs today. Is it any wonder teenagers avidly listening to modern popular music have increased odds of a major depressive disorder (MDD)? (Medscape, Apr 8 2011)

That’s actually too small a study to draw any definitive conclusion, but I’m just saying, you know?

In a sense, I wouldn’t even call the hit songs in America today as “popular American songs” or “American popular music”. That’s because those terms, for me, refer to a golden era I nostalgically associate with a term like “Americana”, and I would call very little American popular music and/or songs of today “Americana” in any way!

But stats don’t lie if used correctly as here (only people who misuse stats lie, in case you’re wondering). More hit songs in America these days are about the self, and angry or antisocial behaviour. Theoretically, that suggests if you wrote songs with lyrics about your angry or antisocial behaviour, you have a better chance of scoring a hit song. I would bet the odds are even better in that you probably wouldn’t have to produce anything that sounds musically elegant, charming or beautiful in your song of selfish anger and antisocialism, unlike you would likely need were you to write a hit love song or fun dance song. It’s like the winning numbers of a lottery having a 7 more often than other numbers, so that were you to buy a winning lottery ticket, you might seriously consider having a 7 among your numbers chosen. That’s not a far analogy for getting a hit song, you know! 🙂

However, you can also buy into the inverse theory that a hit song isn’t like the generic songs. It has to stand out somehow. So if a lot of the hit songs are of that selfish angry and antisocial behaviour, another such song would sound just like another such song. If you buy in to that, then try writing a good old fashioned love song or hippie song about a social cause for humanity. The first, at least, never goes out of style. It might not be as good therapy, but for me, getting things out of my system isn’t as good as keeping my mind focused on the positive.

Just some thoughts for you songwriters out there, though I’ll personally confess I’ll take a pass and keep on writing good old fashioned love songs or songs of genuine affinity for humanity.

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