Lyrics for Billboard No. 1 singles have average reading level of an 8-year-old

Country music came out on top with an average reading level of 8 and a half over the last 10 years, while rock and pop tied at 8

Roisin O'Connor
Tuesday 19 May 2015 11:57
Top row left to right: Katy Perry, Beyonce, Chad Kroeger. Bottom row left to right: Kanye West, Eminem, Carrie Underwood
Top row left to right: Katy Perry, Beyonce, Chad Kroeger. Bottom row left to right: Kanye West, Eminem, Carrie Underwood

The music that dominates the charts is not known for being particularly profound, but a new study has revealed lyrics in pop, rock and country are becoming increasingly dumbed down.

Andrew Powell-Morse analysed the reading level of 225 songs that spent three or more weeks at No. 1 on Billboard''s pop, country, rock and hip hop charts.

He notes that the study did not look at the meaning of each song, metaphors, or how the words connect with the artist’s personal story, but the results are still very illuminating.

In 2014, the average reading level of a Billboard No. 1 single was between 7 or 8 years, and has seen a fairly worrying decline over the last decade.

Country music came out on top with an average reading level of 8 and a half, while rock and pop tied at 8.

Powell-Morse puts this down to the general lack of words like "oh" and "yeah" that can be repeated multiple times in rock and pop.

Syllables also play a huge factor: Country music contains words such as "Hallelujah" and "cigarettes", along with lengthy place names where country music is particularly prevalent, like Cincinnati, Louisville, Mississippi and Louisiana.

For individuals, the reading age of music gets even more embarrassing.

Eminem boasts a reading level that is a year and a half higher than Beyonce in the hip hop charts, while Nickelback actually managed to appear more intellectual than Foo Fighters on the rock music rankings.

Pop superstar Mariah Carey ranked a full reading age higher than Lady Gaga and Katy Perry, while the genre hit a record low with songs like "Boom Boom Pow" by the Black Eye Peas, which managed the reading age of a 6-year-old.

Powell-Morse also found a definite correlation between the average word count per song and average grade level, but surprisingly the songs with the shorter word count often came out on top as much as the longer ones.

Queen of country Carrie Underwood’s chart-toppers had an average length of 300 words, and a reading age of 8.7.

Perhaps less surprising was Kanye West, who appears to say a lot without really saying anything.

So who can claim responsibility for the most insipid lyrics over the last 10 years?

Of all 225 songs analysed in the studio, the highest-scoring rock song was Red Hot Chili Peppers' "Dani California" with a reading level of a 10-year-old, but Three Days Grace’s "The Good Life" took home the prize for the "dumbest", with a reading level of 3 and a half.

Other songs included are Maroon 5's catchy-for-a-bit-now-make-it-stop "Moves Like Jagger" ft. Christina Aguilera from 2011, which a six-year-old could sing along to without too much trouble, and Katy Perry's 2012 hit "Wide Awake".

The full report can be read here.

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