It’s must be your age, your nostalgia for the school disco or your outdated, unsynchable iPod – but, contrary to an all-pervading view, all pop music does not sound the same.
Scientists – those objective dissecters of popular culture – reject the idea that pop is evolving into one sound. There is no evidence for a general trend towards homogenisation in the charts, they say.
A study by evolutionary biologists and computer scientists from Queen Mary University of London, in east London, and Imperial College London has thrown up some key trends and dates.
It turns out that the British Invasion of pop by bands like The Beatles in the 1960s was not a revolution but a continuation of trends. Also:
- 1986 was the least diverse year in the charts due to the proliferation of drum machines.
- 1991 was the true revolution – when hip-hop arrived on the scene.
- 2010 was the year that peak diversity was reached and there was a general move towards homogeneity.
The researchers analysis of 17,000 songs from the US Billboard Hot 100 charts, 1960 to 2010, is the most substantial scientific study of the history of popular music to date.
They used cutting edge methods from signal processing and text-mining to analyse the musical properties of songs.
Their system automatically grouped the thousands of songs by patterns of chord changes and tone allowing researchers to identify trends with an unprecedented degree of consistency.
Lead author Matthias Mauch, from the School of Electronic Engineering and Computer Science at QMUL, said: “For the first time we can actually go beyond what music experts tell us, or what we know ourselves about them, by looking directly into the songs, measuring their makeup, and understanding how they have changed.
“No doubt some will disagree with our scientific approach and think it’s too limited for such an emotional subject but I think we can add to the wonder of music by learning more about it. We want to analyse more music from more periods in more countries and build a comprehensive picture of how music evolves.”