The Songs of Our Times

by Bob Hughes on January 6, 2015

Bob Hughes · The ME Cycle The WE Cycle · January 06, 2015

music lyrics, pendulum Song lyrics reflect the ages in which the songs become popular, as readers of “Pendulum” know. In their book, Roy H. Williams and Michael R. Drew analyzed Billboard chart-topping songs from the 1920s onward to see how lyrics in Me or We cycles changed. And songs really did show the tenor of their times.

And now, David Taylor of the site Prooffreader, has gathered his own analysis, using single words instead of phrases (as Roy and Michael did), drawn from another site, Bullfrogs Pond. It also shows the truth of what Roy and Michael discovered in their book: what we sing is based on our current social outlook. Taylor’s chart – which you can find here — shows that in our current WE Cycle which, as you probably know, is community-minded, the most popular word in popular songs is “we.”

The next most-used words are more slangy or crude or violent – yeah, hell, fuck and die – which might represent a turn in our current cycle as society moves from inclusiveness to one that judges others based on what they’re not rather than who they are. Or it could simply mean lyrics are coarser than before and lyricists less likely to engage in witty wordplay and resort to lowest-common denominator terms. Still – this reflects our current cycle too.

If you are a fan of popular song, and you stream current playlists, you’ll probably notice how “we” has replaced certain ME Cycle words (in terms of frequency of use) such as fire, rock and disco.

You can chart word usage through a Google tool, too, and how words pop up in literature over the years. But popular music is a more potent representation of how we express ourselves in different cycles.



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