Pop music has got sadder in the last 30 years, says new study

There's also been a decline in rock, and a rise in female-fronted pop

A new study has found that pop music seems to have become a lot more sad on the whole over the last 30 years.

As Associated Press reports, the research for the Royal Society Open Science by the University of California at Irvine saw 500,000 songs studied that were released in the UK between 1985-2015, before grouping them according to their mood.

It found a significant shift away from the ‘happiness’ index with the majority of popular songs.


“‘Happiness’ is going down, ‘brightness’ is going down, ‘sadness’ is going up,” said co-author Natalia L. Komarova, “and at the same time, the songs are becoming more ‘danceable’ and more ‘party-like’.”

She added: “So it looks like, while the overall mood is becoming less happy, people seem to want to forget it all and dance.”

Sam Smith for NME

The report lists some of the songs towards the less ‘happy’ end of the index as Sam Smith’s ‘Stay With Me’, Whispers’ by Passenger and ‘Unmissable’ by Gorgon City, compared to happier songs from 1985 such as Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Glory Days’ and ‘Freedom’ by Wham.

Despite this increase, researchers found that sadder songs weren’t necessarily more popular, writing: “The public seems to prefer happier songs, even though more and more unhappy songs are being released each year.”


It was also noted that there was a “clear downward trend” in the success of rock since the early 2000s, with pop and dance music becoming more popular – while “successful songs are characterised by a larger percentage of female artists compared to all songs” over the last 30 years.