Pop music has become more depressing, claims study

More minor chords and slower tempos means a rise in sad and melancholy songs, say researchers

Pop music has become more depressing over the last over the last five decades, according to a new scientific study.

Shortly after scientists claimed to have proved that modern music is louder and more boring than it was 50 years ago, a new study published in the Psychology Of Aesthetics, Creativity, And The Arts journal suggests that songs have become increasingly sadder and more melancholy.

According to The AV Club the study, which was conducted by Glenn Schellenberg and Christian von Scheve, analysed the tempo and mode of the most popular 1,010 songs from between 1965 and 2009 taken from Billboard’s annual Top 40 lists of each year’s best tracks. They claim that happy sounding songs are usually fast in tempo and in major mode, while sadder tracks are slower and use minor modes.


According to their findings, the number of songs recorded in minor-mode has almost doubled over the last 50 years, while the number of slower tracks has also increased after reaching a peak in the ’90s. They also claim that in addition to a drop in the number of happy, fast-mode songs as well as a rise in the number of emotionally ambiguous tracks, pop songs have become longer and there has been an increase in the number of compositions from female artists.

Writing in their study, the pair state: “We examined whether emotional cues in American popular music have changed over time, predicting that music has become progressively more sad-sounding and emotionally ambiguous. Our sample comprised over 1,000 Top 40 recordings from 25 years spanning five decades.” He added:

Over the years, popular recordings became longer in duration and the proportion of female artists increased,” they continue. “In line with our principal hypotheses, there was also an increase in the use of minor mode and a decrease in average tempo, confirming that popular music became more sad-sounding over time. Decreases in tempo were also more pronounced for songs in major than in minor mode, highlighting a progressive increase of mixed emotional cues in popular music.

Schellenberg and von Scheve also propose several theories as to why pop music has become sadder, citing increasing consumerism and cultural individualism which “produces a demand for more choice”. They also suggest that consumers are more eager to show-off the “sophistication in their taste”, ensuing that traditionally jovial songs such as Abba’s ‘Waterloo’ have fallen out of fashion for sounding “naïve and slightly juvenile”.

You can read NME‘s list of the Top 10 most depressing songs ever here.