76 Comments

IMO you could've done a little more work here, lots seems misleading or slightly wrong. Adele isn't particularly fat these days, Ariana Grande isn't hispanic as far as I'm aware, and it seems like there are quite a few women who are neither aggressively sexual nor completely asexual - in the current Billboard 100 you can make the case for Dua Lipa, Olivia Rodrigo, and TS at the very minimum.

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Sep 2, 2023Liked by Richard Hanania

Glad you mentioned the decline of the love song, something I first noticed a few years ago. The rise of female mental illness and womanism is largely to blame: the idea of a female pop star singing about adoring some guy and how she can’t live without him just isn’t on-message.

This also ties in to larger changes in sexual dynamics between men and women. In a society which enforces strict monogamy women will tend to be idolised in popular culture, hence all those mushy do-wop songs of the 50s about how your gal was the sweetest thing in the whole world etc. With a more anarchic sexual market place those sorts of lyrics sound naive and corny, as you point out, and male artists are more inclined to sing about getting pussy rather than being in love.

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Sep 2, 2023Liked by Richard Hanania

Another note: the role of the sexually alluring, highly feminine female pop star is commonly filled by anime or Japanese pop stars these days. It’s a common joke in gaming circles that women in games made by Japanese devs are pretty, while Western devs seem to intentionally make the female characters less attractive.

I think the trends you’ve noticed in female pop music reflect a general discomfort for what female sexuality is actually like. We’re only comfortable with women who exhibit a more male-typical sexuality, while more conventional women are sidelined to making angsty songs about how wronged they are by douchebag men. To be fair, I do think hook up culture is worse for more typical women than for any other group, so it makes sense to me that the women with more conventional sexuality are all unhappy.

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Sep 2, 2023Liked by Richard Hanania

Not exactly on topic (the song is 7 years old and didn't chart at all and was promoted primarily via internet critics/communities) but Mitski's Your Best American Girl is a funny one from a cultural and mental illness angle. The lyrics in a vacuum are just about an implied immigrant girl who can't get her dream "all American boy" because his mom doesn't like her. The music video is more explicitly racial, and the critical analysis tends to be oriented towards the song being a metaphor of white privilege on the whole. However, because Mitski was already known to a younger audience due to one of her songs being featured in the cartoon Adventure Time, it provides a window into the life of the school-aged female non-white incel that resonates with it.

Overwhelmingly, the most upvoted comments to the music video are not about a higher-minded ideological analysis of race and privilege, but merely venting about that one white boy who rejected them and dated a white girl instead, and how they wished they had blonde hair or blue eyes. Much as the far-right internet troll movement is mostly just male incels, Mitski makes me wonder how much of left-wing grievance has a shared origin in the inability to get laid. For whatever problems that top Billboard hits might encourage, the average kid listening to them is probably still a normie.

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So much has changed since we were kids beyond just music. I feel like this superficial analysis ignores other variables. In the 90’s you couldn’t ignore the big artists. It was a monoculture. You mistake this change with “getting old” but that’s not what it is. The not-quite-mega artists are way smaller in clout than they used to be. That’s why you don’t recognize them. Radio vs Spotify/YouTube. We are all in silos now.

In the 90’s we had weird music. Emo. Marilyn Manson. Rappers killing each other.

I’d like nothing more than to figure that the popularity of Billy Eilish is part of a broader cultural decline. But I also love some My Chemical Romance. Not sure what the difference is between them.

You pay lip service to Taylor Swift, but come on. She’s got the largest grossing tour in history, apparently a movie in the works, and largely sings about a mostly wholesome version of dating culture. And she’s gorgeous and omnipresent.

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Sep 1, 2023·edited Sep 1, 2023

I'm an old person who continues to enjoy the new music that Apple Music recommends to me each week based on my listening habits. This probably isn't the same music popular with the kids, but it is new and written/performed by people a lot younger than me.

Anyway, I've enjoyed the fact that however woke the artists may be in life, it doesn't really affect the music. 90% of songs continue to be about romantic love, for better or worse, but you can't tell from the lyrics whether anybody involved is gay or trans or using weird pronouns. No matter who is talking to whom, they all say the same thing, some version of "I love you" or "you did me wrong".

I almost never hear songs with explicitly political messaging, I've never heard "Black Lives Matter" or "Trans" uttered in a song. I'm sure such songs must exist, but it's rare enough that Apple Music can recommend me 25 new songs a week without any political lyrics.

Music is really the one bit of culture that gives me hope for the presence of a non-woke silent majority.

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The Battle of New Orleans was in 1959, not 1979. I'm assuming a typo, but that 20 years made a huge difference in pop music.

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As a ESL speaker I can concur that words are indeed harder to understand. This is actually not limited to music, the same happens on TV and in the movies where I think actors want to be more authentic so they talk less articulate that the previous generations (who, to be fair, always looked extra fake because they go out of their ways to articulate words very clearly). Vox had a good video on it.

I'm surprised though that you agree with Max Meyer on his analysis of Swifties. In my experience, a worrying percentage of Swifties are not well, and I feel like all her lyrics are about breakups and romantic disappointments.

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“And Maroon 5 is pretty much just Nickelback?”

Had to pause reading here, trying to figure out what this means.

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Sep 3, 2023Liked by Richard Hanania

Thanks for doing this. I think popularity and influence are really hard to measure in the streaming age. According to this (https://shssoutherner.org/8869/features/from-youtube-to-billboard-how-album-sales-are-calculated/) the top selling album of 2021 was Drake's Certified Lover Boy -- 613,000 units. Which, for someone who came of age in the 80s, is miniscule -- Thriller sold 25 million copies in 1983. But if you look at how the 613,000 number was derived, it appears that it's mostly based on some very large number of streams -- most of which are not paid for -- equating to one "sale." I have an Apple Music subscription, meaning I pay a flat fee every month but can download and listen to as much music as I want. Is there a reasonable way to derive sales from what I and millions of people like me do? I'm not sure, but the music business has to try.

I wonder how much your results would differ if you looked at albums. I'm a Lana Del Rey fan. The performance of her singles on the Billboard Top 100 is underwhelming -- she's never reached #1, and her most successful single was a collaboration with Taylor Swift. Her signature song, the one she closes her concerts with, is "Video Games," which only reached #91 on Billboard (https://www.billboard.com/artist/lana-del-rey/). But of her nine albums, two have reached #1, and seven have landed in the top 3. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lana_Del_Rey_discography) She's been drawing huge crowds on tour for years, and recently was chosen to close Lollapalooza 2023 along with the Red Hot Chili Peppers. She's collaborated with just about everyone over the years, it seems, and is regularly cited as an inspiration by people coming up now. This despite getting into pretty frequent controversies over the years for being too feminine, not being politically correct enough, etc. Del Rey is basically a dinghy, or maybe a PT boat, compared to Taylor Swift's dreadnought, but she's still a very popular and successful performer. But you wouldn't know it from looking at the Billboard Top 100.

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As someone who listens to a lot of rap music, emo rap is a noticeable trend away from the braggadocio of traditional gangsta rap music. I’m not sure how many of these songs made it to the top 20, but artists like Xxxtentecion, Juice Wrld, and Lil Peep exhibit worse neuroticism than many female pop artists. Xxxtentacion is almost like a ur-example of what borderline personality disorder looks like in men.

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Born 1973, so heard a lot of 70s and then 80s music growing up. If I happen to listen to adult contemporary... a lot of the newer stuff isn't that different from what I heard growing up. Pop, way more rap/hip-hop. Alternative rock. Like some DJs said about a decade ago. One said that a 1991 album could be released today and would be totally relevant. The other replied, "Yeah, and that's the problem".

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If you want to see the "best" music, or the music music nerds are listening to and loving the most, see the Rate Your Music charts of the best albums, singles, etc. of the year. You can customize them on the right to pick years and genres; you can also search up the artists to see how music nerds view certain albums. https://rateyourmusic.com/charts/

The Grammys isn't a reliable indicator of acclaim. Some would question the Oscars and Emmys as reliable indicators, but they generally are. Rate Your Music is much better than it.

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Another change worth noting: computer analyses of music show a decline in lyrical and harmonic complexity over time, something you seem to have detected in just this small sample. Falling IQ rates likely to blame, I think.

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You listened to that current stuff so the rest of us wouldn't have to.

My tastes in pop music were formed roughly 1975-85, with a skew toward older stuff even then.

So, a lost world. The 1970s was my home planet, and it is gone without a trace.

Fortunately the Internet means all musical eras and styles are available at all times. Lately I've been playing Wagner's overtures as background music while I work. That is timeless. Glad it is so easily available.

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How can you have never heard of The Weeknd? He’s been one of the biggest pop stars of the last decade and did a Super Bowl halftime show a few years back!

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