Data Visualizations
from SeatSmart

Lyric Intelligence In Popular Music: A Ten Year Analysis

Popular Music Main Image

Popular music lyrics are dumb. No really, I’m not just saying that. As easy as it is to mock the quality of lyrics today, there’s some real science behind looking at how dumb they truly are.

That’s why I set out to answer the big questions. Which genre is the most sophisticated? (Prepare to be disappointed.) Which artists are the dumbest? (Prepare to be surprised.) And, can any hit songs be comfortably read by a 1st grader? (Yes, they can.)

How exactly did I go about this?

I turned to the Readability Score. It uses writing analysis tools like the Flesch-Kincaid grade index and many others to create an average of the US reading level of a piece of text. I plugged in song lyrics (punctuation added by me, since most songs lack it altogether) and out of the machine popped out average grade level, word count, and other very interesting metrics.

All told, I analyzed 225 songs in 4 different datasets, resulting in 2,000+ individual data points. How’d I choose them? If they spent at least a few weeks (3+) at #1 on the Billboard charts for Pop, Country, Rock, and R&B/Hip-Hop for any given year, they made the list.

While the results are certainly enlightening, it’s important to note that this data doesn’t touch on the meaning of a song, the metaphors, how the words connect with the artist’s personal story, etc. to create deeper meaning. These numbers are fun and interesting, so just enjoy them.

What did the data tell us?

Is We Really Getting Dumber?

Well, this research is, if nothing else, great news for third graders. They may have a long way to go in terms of unlocking the deeper meanings of great literature, but hit music lyrics are right in their zone.

Did you miss that? Yes, I said third graders. Because only 2005 and 2006 would have given a reasonably competent third grader a tough time. Sure, we know hit music lyrics aren’t the peak of sophistication, but who knew the bar was this low?

Well, the bar is actually getting lower. These averages have really been on the decline over the last 10 years. And keep in mind that we’re looking at all the data from Pop, Rock, R&B/Hip Hop, and Country combined to show the overall trend.

So it’s clear we’re on the way down, but if you’re wondering “Was it men or women dragging the music down?” you’re not the only one. I was just as curious to find out.

 Who Wins the Battle of the Sexes?

The short answer is that everybody is getting dumber, it’s not really a gender thing.  Overall, my data showed that men talk more (higher word count), but women have slightly more intelligent things to say (higher average grade level).

Let’s take a look the average grade level over time to see how men and women fare.

It looks like hit music in general has settled on some formulas: Men should stick to roughly a 3rd grade reading level and women shouldn’t sing rock songs at all (more about that later).

What does it all mean exactly? Well, women seem to be a bit smarter than men, except for when they’re not (i.e., 2008-2009). Ultimately, the genre and the artist matter much more than the gender.

Granted, it’s not exactly a team effort. Certain artists do more than their fair share to bring their gender and genre group down or up through the years. So now it’s time to break down this data a bit more by genre and see who really sets the standard for dumb.

A Deeper Look into Genres

Does Country really have the “smartest” Lyrics?

Yes, yes, it does. In fact, if you average out all the hit songs in each category for the last 10 years, you get:

Average US Reading Level by Grade:
Country: 3.3
Pop: 2.9 (tie)
Rock: 2.9 (tie)
R&B/Hip Hop: 2.6

There are a lot of reasons for this. Remember that I mentioned that word length plays a role? Well, Country is the only genre generally devoid of words like “oh” or “yeah” repeated 20 times in a row. Sorry everyone else, but if you say it in the song, it’s counted as a “lyric.”

But it’s also about the syllables. Country music is full of words like Hallelujah, cigarettes, hillbilly, and tacklebox. Add to that long place names like Cincinnati, Louisville, Mississippi, and Louisiana, and Country has a serious advantage over the competition.

Unfortunately for Pop and R&B/Hip-Hop, places like L.A. and New York just don’t score that many points. But take a song like Dani California, and you’ll see that throwing in the word “California” more than a dozen times can make a real difference.

In 2007, Rock and R&B/Hip-Hop both plunged with the help of songs like “Buy U a Drank” by T-Pain (which just made it above a 1st grade reading level) and “I Don’t Wanna Stop” by Ozzy Osbourne (a more respectable 1.6 average grade level).

Then, in 2009, it was Country and Pop’s turn, when they each hit their own record lows with the help of songs like “Boom Boom Pow” by the Black Eyed Peas (2.0 grade level) and “Then” by Brad Paisley (which wasn’t much higher at a 2.2 grade level).

Was it the housing boom and bust that got people in the mood for listening to the simpler songs in life? Hard to say, but what’s for sure is that the people have spoken. No matter what the year and the economic situation, they do not want to listen to anything a third grader would find challenging.

Looking at the overall trend, it seems things have leveled off since 2010, with all four major genres resting comfortably into the 2nd-3rd grade range and R&B/Hip Hop ranking last in 5 of the past 10 years. Sorry 1st graders, but you’ll have to settle for R&B and Hip Hop from 2007.

Still, besides those grade level averages, how do elements like word count play into the picture?

Interestingly enough, there’s a definite correlation here between the average length of song and the average grade level. Problem is, it’s an inverse relationship — shorter songs actually have a higher grade level.

Shockingly, R&B/Hip Hop and Pop seem to be talking a lot and not saying much.

Country and Rock, on the other hand, certainly seem to have a winning formula: keep it short, while not skimping on word or grammar complexity, and you have nicely aged song. It’s surprising what you can fit into less than 300 words.

What’s clear is that over time, not a lot has changed. Aside from normal fluctuations, all the genres seem to have a standard level they stick to. Frankly, having listened to my fair share of radio for the past 10 years, that’s not exactly surprising.

Artist VS. Artist: How Low Can They Go?

Hint: Very Low.

I went through each category and picked 7 of the top artists based on their number of hit songs and how long those songs stayed at #1. So without further ado, here are the facts about the artists whose voices we hear most often in each genre:

This is probably a good time to reiterate that these are the numbers, plain and simple, and that all Beyoncé partisans should address their complaints to the people at the Readability Score. We can’t hide the facts: of these 7 top R&B and Hip Hop artists, she has the second smallest average word count and the least sophisticated lyrics.

Who’s the standout? None other than Slim Shady himself, with Nicki Minaj and Macklemore following up in the number 2 and 3 spots. Is Kanye West talking a lot and not saying anything? Yes. Should you be surprised?

Wait, I’mma Let You Finish. No.

The Country data here seems to be telling us something. The more devoted teenage girls are to an artist, the more poorly these artists score. Okay, that wasn’t exactly fair, but Taylor Swift, Rascal Flatts, and Florida Georgia Line are bottom of the pack here in terms of average grade level at 3.4, 3.2 and 2.93.

The queen of Country, however, is definitely Carrie Underwood with a grade level of 3.72. Blake Shelton (3.63) and Brad Paisley (3.54) are close behind. If there’s one trend clearly at play here, it’s that (again) longer lyrics don’t exactly translate into more sophisticated lyrics. But, perhaps Rock has something to say about that.

Yes, Rock has plenty to say about the “longer lyrics = less sophisticated lyrics” trend. Not just any Rock either, we’re talking about Nickelback. Yes, the Canadian rock band so many love to hate manages to get the longest AND most sophisticated lyrics in the Rock category.

Just as surprising, Linkin Park came in with the shortest lyrics and the second most sophisticated. Who knew? Still, on the whole, major Rock artists and groups stay pretty firmly in the 2nd and occasionally 3rd grade. I guess guitars can compensate for just about anything.

If there’s a single stunning fact about this genre, it still has to be that not a single female singer made it onto the Rock list. That means not a single lady stayed at the top of the charts for four or more weeks during the entire last 10 years. Why that might be frankly deserves its own post.

But how does this all compare to what’s maybe the most generic, the most ubiquitous, and the most popular category of all? Ke$ha fans, prepare yourselves…

As promised, Ke$ha does manage to score the worst of any major artist I looked more closely at. Not just a little worse either, although Lady Gaga makes a valiant effort to keep up (keep down?).

Unlike the other genres, the Pop stars who stand out are a bit less surprising with the gold, silver, and bronze going to Mariah Carey, Adele, and Justin Timberlake, respectively.

Pop actually holds its own pretty well with Mariah Carey scoring higher than anyone in the other three categories. Bravo Mariah, bravo!

But how do artists and their songs compare across genres?

Top Songs: The Good, The Bad, and The Very Ugly

Remember how I mentioned that Country has done very well? Well, here’s a bit of insight into why. Fully 5 of the top 10 smartest songs in this study are country songs. Only a single song (thanks Rihanna) made it from R&B/Hip Hop.

This of course brings us to the shame list, the dumbest 10 songs of the last 10 years. Here, Country has completely vanished, replaced by a fairly even representation of Pop, Rock, and R&B/Hip Hop.

Somehow, Three Days Grace and Maroon 5 managed to score on both charts. The former scoring the dumbest song in the entire study alongside the 3rd smartest.

Showing My Homework

For anyone who’s a bit more curious, here’s the full list of the four categories ranked by average grade level.

Top R&B/Hip-Hop Songs Ranked by Grade Level

Average Grade Level Title Artist Year Weeks at #1 Word Count Characters per Word Syllables per Word
4.8 Diamonds Rihanna 2012 11 382 4 1.4
4.1 Thrift Shop Macklemore & Ryan Lewis Featuring Wanz 2013 14 725 3.9 1.3
3.9 Irreplaceable Beyoncé 2006 9 549 3.5 1.2
3.9 Slow Down Bobby Valentino 2005 4 452 3.8 1.2
3.8 Moment 4 Life Nicki Minaj Featuring Drake 2011 5 648 3.7 1.2
3.7 The Monster Eminem Featuring Rihanna 2013 13 710 3.7 1.2
3.7 We Belong Together Mariah Carey 2005 14 418 3.5 1.2
3.4 Mercy Kanye West, Big Sean, Pusha T, 2 Chainz 2012 4 968 3.9 1.2
3.4 I Remember Keyshia Cole 2008 7 319 3.7 1.2
3.3 No One Alicia Keys 2007 17 314 3.2 1.2
3.3 Let Me Love You Mario 2005 11 477 3.7 1.2
3.2 Best I Ever Had Drake 2009 7 811 3.5 1.2
3.2 Hold On, We’re Going Home Drake Featuring Majid Jordan 2013 5 343 3.5 1.2
3.2 Pretty Wings Maxwell 2009 14 267 3.9 1.2
3.2 Lotus Flower Bomb Wale Featuring Miguel 2012 5 589 3.6 1.2
3.1 Be Without You Mary J. Blige 2006 15 575 3.4 1.2
3 Anaconda Nicki Minaj 2014 6 641 3.4 1.2
2.9 Deuces Chris Brown Featuring Tyga & Kevin McCall 2010 9 596 3.4 1.2
2.8 I’m On One DJ Khaled Featuring Drake, Rick Ross & Lil Wayne 2011 10 722 3.4 1.2
2.8 Motivation Kelly Rowland Featuring Lil Wayne 2011 6 369 3.5 1.2
2.8 Heaven Sent Keyshia Cole 2008 9 495 3.6 1.2
2.7 Look At Me Now Chris Brown Featuring Lil Wayne & Busta Rhymes 2011 8 906 3.4 1.2
2.7 Everything To Me Monica 2010 7 201 3.5 1.2
2.7 Can’t Be Friends Trey Songz 2010 11 358 3.2 1.1
2.7 Soul Survivor Young Jeezy Featuring Akon 2005 4 792 3.4 1.2
2.6 She Will Lil Wayne Featuring Drake 2011 4 794 3.5 1.2
2.6 Blurred Lines Robin Thicke Featuring T.I. + Pharrell 2013 16 674 3.3 1.2
2.5 Candy Shop 50 Cent Featuring Olivia 2005 4 619 3.4 1.2
2.4 Ni**as in Paris Jay Z Kanye West 2011 7 576 3.5 1.2
2.4 Can’t Hold Us Macklemore & Ryan Lewis Featuring Ray Dalton 2013 7 758 3.4 1.2
2.4 Happy Pharrell Williams 2014 12 544 3.5 1.2
2.4 Love In This Club Usher Featuring Young Jeezy 2008 4 613 3.3 1.1
2.4 It’s Goin’ Down Yung Joc 2006 8 589 3.5 1.2
2.2 Gold Digger Kanye West Featuring Jamie Foxx 2005 4 774 3.5 1.1
2.2 Lollipop Lil Wayne Featuring Static Major 2008 6 658 3.4 1.2
2.2 There Goes My Baby Usher 2010 4 456 3.5 1.2
2.1 Un-Thinkable (I’m Ready) Alicia Keys 2010 12 384 3.3 1.2
2.1 Black Widow Iggy Azalea Featuring Rita Ora 2014 5 551 3.4 1.2
2.1 Climax Usher 2012 10 326 3.4 1.2
2 Blame It Jamie Foxx Featuring T-Pain 2009 14 803 3.3 1.2
2 Adorn Miguel 2012 4 265 3.5 1.2
1.9 When I See U Fantasia 2007 8 380 3.3 1.1
1.9 Fancy Iggy Azalea Featuring Charli XCX 2014 13 535 3.4 1.2
1.8 Love On Top Beyonce 2012 7 599 3.3 1.2
1.8 What You Know T.I. 2006 6 870 3.5 1.2
1.7 No Lie 2 Chainz Featuring Drake 2012 5 783 3.3 1.1
1.6 Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It) Beyonce 2008 12 687 3 1.1
1.6 Say Goodbye Chris Brown 2006 4 793 3.2 1.2
1.6 Bed J. Holiday 2007 5 597 3.3 1.2
1.6 Need U Bad Jazmine Sullivan 2008 4 479 3 1.1
1.2 Lost Without U Robin Thicke 2007 11 396 3.3 1.2
1.2 Buy U A Drank (Shawty Snappin’) T-Pain Featuring Yung Joc 2007 8 545 3.4 1.1
1 It Kills Me Melanie Fiona 2010 9 316 3.3 1.1

In the R&B/Hip Hop category, Rihanna’s Diamonds may seem like a surprising choice for sophistication, but throwing those rocks around got her average word length up to a full 4 characters. Macklemore’s high score, on the other hand, seems to speak for itself. Respect the Jammies is all I’m saying.

Then there’s Robin Thicke and Melanie Fiona… What can we say about the subtle metaphors and other intricacies which surely lie behind lines like “Tell me how you love my body?” Not a lot, really. Like Macklemore, they speak fairly well for themselves.

Top Country Songs Ranked by Grade Level

Average Grade Level Song Title Artist Year Weeks at #1 Word Count Syllables per Word Characters per Word
5.8 All About Tonight Blake Shelton 2010 3 311 1.3 3.9
4.9 That’s What I Love About Sunday Craig Morgan 2005 4 254 1.2 3.7
4.9 We Were Us Keith Urban And Miranda Lambert 2013 3 283 1.3 3.9
4.7 Before He Cheats Carrie Underwood 2006 5 304 1.2 3.8
4.6 Good Directions Billy Currington 2007 3 303 1.2 3.8
4.6 The House That Built Me Miranda Lambert 2010 4 310 1.2 3.7
4.5 We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together Taylor Swift 2012 9 376 1.3 3.8
4.4 The World Brad Paisley 2006 3 248 1.3 3.6
4.4 Summertime Kenny Chesney 2006 5 294 1.2 3.6
4.1 Beer In Mexico Kenny Chesney 2007 3 242 1.3 3.7
4 I’m Still A Guy Brad Paisley 2008 3 364 1.1 3.5
4 Making Memories Of Us Kieth Urban 2005 5 247 1.2 3.5
3.9 So Small Carrie Underwood 2007 3 274 1.2 3.9
3.9 Take Me There Rascal Flatts 2007 3 256 1.2 4
3.7 She’s Everything Brad Paisley 2007 3 358 1.3 3.5
3.7 Consider Me Gone Reba 2010 4 303 1.2 3.4
3.7 If You’re Going Through Hell (Before The Devil Even Knows) Rodney Atkins 2006 4 362 1.1 3.6
3.6 Sure Be Cool If You Did Blake Shelton 2013 5 371 1.2 3.6
3.6 Something In The Water Carrie Underwood 2014 3 340 1.2 3.6
3.6 Watching You Rodney Atkins 2007 4 398 1.2 3.5
3.5 Wasted Carrie Underwood 2007 3 343 1.2 3.6
3.5 Better Life Kieth Urban 2005 6 325 1.2 3.4
3.5 Shutgun Rider Tim McGraw 2014 3 277 1.3 3.7
3.4 Letter To Me Brad Paisley 2008 4 450 1.2 3.4
3.3 Don’t Blink Kenny Chesney 2007 4 383 1.1 3.8
3.2 Stay Florida Georgia Line 2013 6 410 1.2 3.4
3.2 Somewhere With You Kenny Chesney 2011 3 374 1.2 3.4
3.2 Drink A Beer Luke Bryan 2014 5 176 1.2 3.6
3 Don’t You Wanna Stay Jason Aldean With Kelly Clarkson 2011 3 222 1.2 3.6
3 Why Don’t We Just Dance Josh Turner 2010 4 230 1.1 3.5
3 Living In Fast Forward Kenny Chesney 2006 3 235 1.2 3.6
3 Play It Again Luke Bryan 2014 9 436 1.2 3.5
2.9 Honey Bee Blake Shelton 2011 4 355 1.2 3.3
2.9 Jesus, Take The Wheel Carrie Underwood 2006 6 307 1.1 3.4
2.9 Cruise Florida Georgia Line 2013 24 421 1.2 3.7
2.9 Bless The Broken Road Rascal Flatts 2005 5 239 1.2 3.7
2.8 What Hurts The Most Rascal Flatts 2006 4 280 1.2 3.6
2.7 This Is How We Roll Florida Georgia Line Featuring Luke Bryan 2014 6 383 1.2 3.6
2.7 Burnin’ It Down Jason Aldean 2014 14 436 1.2 3.7
2.7 That’s My Kind Of Night Luke Bryan 2013 12 390 1.1 3.6
2.6 Never Wanted Nothing More Kenny Chesney 2007 5 352 1.2 3.3
2.6 Felt Good On My Lips Tim McGraw 2011 3 326 1.2 3.4
2.5 Big Green Tractor Jason Aldean 2009 4 368 1.1 3.3
2.5 Need You Now Lady Antebellum 2009 5 237 1.2 3.3
2.5 Our Song Taylor Swift 2008 6 386 1.2 3.6
2.5 You’re Gonna Miss This Trace Adkins 2008 3 317 1.2 3.5
2.5 Keep Me In Mind Zac Brown Band 2012 4 287 1.2 3.4
2.3 It Won’t Be Like This For Long Darius Rucker 2009 3 317 1.1 3.4
2.2 God Gave Me You Blake Shelton 2011 3 274 1.1 3.3
2.2 Then Brad Paisley 2009 3 285 1.1 3.5
2.1 The Man I Want To Be Chris Young 2010 3 266 1.1 3.2
1.5 As Good As I Once Was Toby Keith 2005 6 380 1.1 3.2

Country scored very well overall; what kind of lyrics could have made that happen?

Let’s just say they got some help from feel good pills and red Gatorade. I already mentioned the long words which brought country to the champion’s table (tackleboxes and cigarettes anyone?), but longer sentences also played a part (thanks Keith Urban).

Of course, even for Country, it wasn’t all roses and bourbon.

Toby Keith and Chris Young did the genre no favors with their pleads to God and their baby. These lyrics scored low with a combination of short phrases and clippy writing. If only they could have mentioned Mississippi more…

Top Rock Songs Ranked by Grade Level

Average Grade Level Title Artist Year Weeks at #1 Word Count Characters per Word Syllables per Word
5.5 Dani California Red Hot Chili Peppers 2006 12 296 4.2 1.5
5.2 Animal I Have Become Three Days Grace 2006 7 258 3.9 1.4
4.5 Be Yourself Audioslave 2005 7 194 3.9 1.3
4.5 Inside The Fire Disturbed 2008 14 293 4 1.3
4.3 The Pot Tool 2006 4 320 4.1 1.3
4.2 Check My Brain Alice In Chains 2009 8 148 4 1.4
4.2 Isolation Alter Bridge 2011 7 218 4.1 1.4
4.2 Another Way To Die Disturbed 2010 8 321 3.9 1.3
4.2 Something In Your Mouth Nickelback 2009 4 470 4.1 1.3
4 Say You’ll Haunt Me Stone Sour 2010 8 369 3.8 1.3
3.9 Your Decision Alice In Chains 2010 8 162 3.7 1.2
3.7 Boulevard Of Broken Dreams Green Day 2005 14 289 3.5 1.2
3.5 New Divide Linkin Park 2009 8 250 4 1.2
3.4 Psycho Puddle Of Mudd 2008 9 338 3.6 1.3
3.4 Remedy Seether 2005 5 355 3.5 1.1
3.4 Second Chance Shinedown 2009 10 250 3.8 1.3
3.3 Speak Godsmack 2006 6 181 3.7 1.1
3.2 Lifeline Papa Roach 2009 6 283 3.7 1.3
3.2 Through Glass Stone Sour 2006 7 520 3.8 1.2
3.1 Save Me Shinedown 2005 12 199 3.8 1.3
3 Best Of You Foo Fighters 2005 4 338 3.7 1.2
3 Break Three Days Grace 2010 11 187 3.9 1.3
2.9 What I’ve Done Linkin Park 2007 8 158 3.5 1.2
2.9 Animals Nickelback 2006 6 480 3.6 1.2
2.9 Chalk Outline Three Days Grace 2012 13 244 3.6 1.2
2.8 Walk Foo Fighters 2011 4 305 3.7 1.3
2.8 Photograph Nickelback 2005 7 489 3.5 1.2
2.8 Country Song Seether 2011 10 411 3.5 1.1
2.7 The Pretender Foo Fighters 2007 6 499 3.4 1.2
2.7 Cryin’ Like A Bitch! Godsmack 2010 5 258 3.7 1.2
2.7 Painkiller Three Days Grace 2014 4 249 3.5 1.2
2.6 Face To The Floor Chevelle 2011 12 216 3.7 1.2
2.6 Fake It Seether 2008 7 339 3.6 1.2
2.5 Shepherd Of Fire Avenged Sevenfold 2014 7 273 3.6 1.2
2.4 Rope Foo Fighters 2011 5 264 3.4 1.1
2.3 Trenches Pop Evil 2013 4 287 3.5 1.1
2.3 Words As Weapons Seether 2014 5 239 3.5 1.1
2.3 Been Away Too Long Soundgarden 2013 5 239 3.6 1.2
2.2 Something From Nothing Foo Fighters 2014 13 306 3.5 1.2
2.2 Live To Rise Soundgarden 2012 6 225 3.5 1.1
2.1 Pain Three Days Grace 2007 13 332 3.6 1.2
2 Hail To The King Avenged Sevenfold 2013 10 246 3.8 1.1
1.9 Breath Breaking Benjamin 2007 7 234 3.4 1.1
1.8 Never Too Late Three Days Grace 2007 7 297 3.3 1.2
1.7 The Day That Never Comes Metallica 2008 7 182 3.8 1.1
1.7 Heaven Knows The Pretty Reckless 2014 5 338 3.6 1.2
1.6 I Don’t Wanna Stop Ozzy Osbourne 2007 5 406 3 1.2
1.6 Bully Shinedown 2012 12 369 3.3 1.2
1.6 World So Cold Three Days Grace 2010 5 265 3.4 1.2
1.4 Unity Shinedown 2012 4 372 3.3 1.1
1.2 Let Me Hear You Scream Ozzy Osbourne 2010 4 340 3.3 1
0.8 The Good Life Three Days Grace 2010 5 215 3.1 1.1

If the Red Hot Chili Peppers do have to pay a price for that panorama, it’s not showing up here. “Dani California” performed extremely well with an average grade level of 5.5. Three Days Grace even bucked their overall poor score with “Animal I Have Become.”

None of this, however, can undo what Ozzy hath wrought. “Let Me Hear You Scream” set a pretty low bar (1.2 to be exact). His other song, “I Don’t Wanna Stop,” didn’t do much better, either at 1.6.

Then again, it would be a crime not to mention Three Days Grace’s other record setting song: The Good Life. With an average grade level of 0.8, it was the lowest scoring song of the hundreds analyzed. Who said the good life was complicated?

Top Pop Songs Ranked by Grade Level

Average Grade Level Title Artist Year Weeks at #1 Word Count Syllables per Word Characters per Word
5 She Will Be Loved Maroon5 2004 4 351 1.2 3.7
4.8 E.T. Katy Perry Featuring Kanye West 2011 6 293 1.4 4.1
4.6 Hips Don’t Lie Shakira Featuring Wyclef Jean 2006 7 617 1.3 3.7
4.6 California Gurls Katy Perry Featuring Snoop Dogg 2010 7 411 1.4 4.2
4.5 We Are Young fun. Featuring Janelle Monae 2012 5 352 1.3 3.9
4.2 Shake It Off Mariah Carey 2005 5 352 1.2 3.6
4.2 Forever Chris Brown 2008 5 446 1.3 3.7
4.2 The Reason Hoobastank 2004 8 231 1.2 3.2
3.9 Irreplaceable Beyonce 2007 7 549 1.2 3.5
3.9 Leave (Get Out) JoJo 2004 5 330 1.1 3.4
3.7 We Belong Together Mariah Carey 2005 10 418 1.2 3.5
3.7 Boulevard Of Broken Dreams Green Day 2005 4 289 1.2 3.5
3.7 The Monster Eminem Featuring Rihanna 2014 5 710 1.2 3.7
3.6 Hollaback Girl Gwen Stefani 2005 6 459 1.2 3.4
3.5 Set Fire To The Rain Adele 2012 4 346 1.1 3.6
3.5 My Love Justin Timberlake Featuring T.I. 2006 4 784 1.2 3.4
3.5 Over And Over Nelly Featuring Tim McGraw 2004 8 546 1.2 3.3
3.4 Summer Love Justin Timberlake 2007 4 642 1.1 3.3
3.3 No One Alicia Keys 2008 5 314 1.2 3.2
3.3 Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You) Kelly Clarkson 2012 4 429 1.2 3.7
3.3 Animals Maroon 5 2014 4 505 1.2 3.6
3.2 Big Girls Don’t Cry Fergie 2007 8 400 1.2 3.4
3.2 Leavin’ Jesse McCartney 2008 5 403 1.2 3.4
3.2 Bleeding Love Leona Lewis 2008 9 393 1.2 3.8
3.2 I Knew You Were Trouble. Taylor Swift 2013 7 588 1.2 3.5
3.2 One More Night Maroon 5 2012 8 492 1.2 3.4
3.1 Be Without You Mary J. Blige 2006 4 575 1.2 3.4
3.1 Low Flo Rida Featuring T-Pain 2008 6 731 1.1 3.7
3.1 All Of Me John Legend 2014 5 374 1.2 3.4
3 Roar Katy Perry 2013 5 445 1.1 3.2
3 Locked Out Of Heaven Bruno Mars 2013 4 323 1.1 3.5
2.9 Rolling In The Deep Adele 2011 5 574 1.2 3.6
2.9 Pieces Of Me Ashlee Simpson 2004 5 326 1.2 3.5
2.8 Teenage Dream Katy Perry 2010 4 421 1.2 3.5
2.8 We Found Love Rihanna Featuring Calvin Harris 2011 8 292 1.2 3.8
2.8 Check On It Beyonce Featuring Slim Thug 2006 6 617 1.1 3.2
2.8 Apologize Timbaland Featuring OneRepublic 2007 7 219 1.2 3.2
2.7 Firework Katy Perry 2011 4 391 1.2 3.6
2.7 Cupid’s Chokehold Gym Class Heroes Featuring Patrick Stump 2007 5 668 1.1 3.1
2.6 Telephone Lady Gaga Featuring Beyonce 2010 4 664 1.2 3.3
2.6 Payphone Maroon 5 Featuring Wiz Khalifa 2012 4 589 1.1 3.5
2.6 Blurred Lines Robin Thicke Featuring T.I. + Pharrell 2013 10 674 1.2 3.3
2.6 Dynamite Taio Cruz 2010 4 413 1.1 3.3
2.5 Toxic Britney Spears 2004 4 289 1.2 3.2
2.5 U + Ur Hand Pink 2007 4 478 1.2 3.5
2.5 Promiscuous Nelly Furtado Featuring Timbaland 2006 8 588 1.2 3.3
2.4 Can’t Hold Us Macklemore & Ryan Lewis Featuring Ray Dalton 2013 4 758 1.2 3.4
2.4 Happy Pharrell Williams 2014 5 544 1.2 3.5
2.3 Dark Horse Katy Perry Featuring Juicy J 2014 5 470 1.2 3.5
2.2 Say It Right Nelly Furtado 2007 4 247 1.1 3.2
2.2 I Gotta Feeling Black Eyed Peas 2009 7 646 1.2 3.2
2.1 Whatcha Say Jason DeRulo 2009 4 544 1.1 3.6
2.1 SexyBack Justin Timberlake 2006 5 644 1.2 3.3
2 Since U Been Gone Kelly Clarkson 2005 7 288 1.1 3.3
2 Boom Boom Pow The Black Eyed Peas 2009 7 526 1.1 3.6
1.9 Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.) Katy Perry 2011 6 460 1.2 3.6
1.9 Grenade Bruno Mars 2011 5 447 1.1 3.3
1.9 Run It! Chris Brown 2005 4 706 1.1 3.3
1.8 Hey Ya! OutKast 2004 6 497 1.2 3.4
1.8 Gives You Hell The All-American Rejects 2009 4 463 1.1 3.4
1.7 Poker Face Lady GaGa 2009 5 573 1.1 2.9
1.5 Wide Awake Katy Perry 2012 4 354 1.2 3.4
1.5 TiK ToK Ke$ha 2010 7 499 1.1 3.4
1.4 So What Pink 2008 5 494 1.1 2.9
1.2 Moves Like Jagger Maroon 5 Featuring Christina Aguilera 2011 6 469 1.1 3.3

Now I finally arrive at Pop. Maroon 5 really put it best when they pointed out that “it’s not always rainbows and butterflies.” That line may have gotten them high points, but their odd tongue-centered request was enough to undo it all.

Katy Perry is in a similar position, with high and low scoring songs leaving her averaging out somewhere in a muddled middle. On the other hand, maybe we can just attribute her higher scoring songs to Snoop.

Pink on the other hand is a much simpler picture. True, her repeated use of words like “nah” puts her in good company (The Beatles, for example); but in terms of “smart” lyrics, she doesn’t do herself any favors.

Okay Children, What Have We Learned?

What have we learned here? Well, the concept of creating for the lowest common denominator is certainly going strong. So what if popular music doesn’t tend to lend itself to sophistication? Are most of these songs still great? Definitely.

Perhaps we can be a little less judgemental of elementary schoolers (you know who you are). It also wouldn’t hurt to be a little more judgemental of contemporary songwriters. More than anything, these findings are a reminder of just how fun dumb can be. In the end, there’s nothing wrong with that.

Comments (94)

  1. John - Reply

    May 18, 2015 at 3:18 pm

    I think you could make a full academic paper out of this, but you might need to improve a few things.
    1) The reading level is only what you can prove changed; not really whether the lyrics or singers getting smarter or dumber over time or versus different genres.
    2) You should make clear how you estimate the reading level. For instance, the Power Sumner Kearl and Flesch formulae depend on the number of words in sentences, which might be a less relevant criteria for song lyrics. Alternately, formula that depends on word counts might be biased if your song lyrics list the chorus multiple times.
    3) A more detailed analysis might look at a broader selection of song lyrics. What you’re really measuring is the reading level of the type of music that is popular.
    4) Along the same lines, if you had a broader selection of music both by popularity and by year you could also do some analysis like calculating a weighted average of the reading level based on song sales or radio play or critical success. You might find some interesting trends if even critical darlings have had lower reading levels.
    5) One potential hypothesis is that there is less more in music, which means there’s less incentive for smart people to make it. It would be interesting to thoroughly test. Or perhaps popular music sales would have fallen even further if they hadn’t reduced the reading level of the lyrics?

    • SSG - Reply

      May 19, 2015 at 12:27 am

      I agree this would be a great academic paper. I would also be interested in seeing how it relates to songs from the 1940-1990’s these are all songs within the past 10 years, but it doesn’t prove much if you’re not comparing it to something tangible like music from the past. Also most of these artist don’t write their songs, so there is the question of comparing the songs that are top hits that the artist themselves are involved in the writing process verses ones that have no involvement in the writing process.

      • Mag - Reply

        May 20, 2015 at 2:56 pm

        Yes please, John’s and SSG’s is something that would make this study alot more interesting!

    • Pablo - Reply

      April 28, 2016 at 4:12 pm

      It would really be interesting to challenge the method applying it to a presumed “noble” corpus, such 50s beat poetry or surrealist poetry. Will shed light over what is “dumbness” as considered by the researcher.

  2. Robert Claypool - Reply

    May 18, 2015 at 4:02 pm

    Why is your website covering up some of the text with social media share buttons?

    • b2curious - Reply

      May 19, 2015 at 8:46 am

      Could be your computer/phone or web browser. I’ve had problems with the social media share buttons covering things when reading an article on my phone, so I’ve pulled it up on a computer and had no problems. I’ve also had that problem in reverse, where social media share buttons are covering things when trying to read an article on my computer, but had no problems on my phone. I’ve also had issues on one computer, but not another (work vs home).

    • Wendy Day - Reply

      May 20, 2015 at 3:16 pm

      I noticed that on my iPad. But when I touched any one of the buttons, a double arrow appeared. When I touched on the double arrows, the buttons were whisked away. When I wanted to link the article to my Friends, I touched the double arrows again, and the buttons returned.

  3. Scott M - Reply

    May 18, 2015 at 4:43 pm

    Reading level is not necessarily indicative of anything. “The Old Man and the Sea” has a reading level of 4th grade, after all. Depending on how you punctuate it, “Losing My Religion” would have about a 3rd grade reading level. Is that really a song you think 8-year-olds would understand?

    The intelligence of any written work is in the ideas expressed, not in the words used to express them.

    • Lyricist - Reply

      November 6, 2015 at 1:21 am

      Well said. I’m wagering the reading level of most lyrics from 20th and 21st century artists is not very high. Either way, it’s not a valid way of evaluating the intelligence of a work, which you explained well.

      Moreover, it’s not just wrong, but fairly immature to argue a correlation between the reading level of a work and it’s intellectualism. That seems like a grade-school level error to me right there: “my song has more fancy words in it than yours does, so mine is smarter.” Righto then.

      The study isn’t smart, or science. The author admitted he conducted his entire study with the presupposition that pop lyrics are dumb because they’re simple.

      Simplicity does equate to stupidity. On the contrary, Einstein’s theory of special relativity is very short (e=mc2), and he also said:

      “Everything should be as simple as possible, but not simpler.”

      “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t know it well enough.”

      The epitome of effective communication is conveying your message as concisely as possible, not the opposite.

    • Luana Moreno - Reply

      March 27, 2016 at 9:37 pm

      that’s exactly what I was thinking!

  4. Steve-o - Reply

    May 18, 2015 at 6:39 pm

    +1 for good statistical analysis practices

  5. Steve-o - Reply

    May 18, 2015 at 6:45 pm

    I believe you need to widen the spread on this project to gather a statistically sound set of data. Create a program to break down lots of artists’ lyrics AND go back in time all the way to the 50s or 60s to compare intelligence per decade.

    “In the end, there’s nothing wrong with that.” sums up WHY stat projects like this need to happen and be publicized. The dumbing down of people and kids is no joke. When the message is “your potential doesn’t matter”, that detrimental thinking becomes the norm, and we lose potential thinkers, geniuses, and great minds to people who decide that intelligence can be wasted.

    • Jeff - Reply

      May 25, 2015 at 8:00 am

      I don’t have time to run every song, but clearly songs used to be more complex. Take “Tequila”, by the Champs, for example, which was a number one pop song, March 1958.

      Lyrics: Tequila. Tequila. Tequila.

      0.39*(3 words/3 sentences)+ 11.8*(9 syllables/3words) -15.59 = 20.2. That’s college and FOUR YEARS of GRAD SCHOOL to ALMOST understand that song.

      • b2curious - Reply

        May 26, 2015 at 10:13 am

        According to the Readability Score, that one only has an average grade level of 15.1 – no grad school, but some college, required. :)

  6. Jake - Reply

    May 19, 2015 at 12:54 am

    Please include hipster music category :) screw the mainstream

    • Izzy - Reply

      April 3, 2017 at 6:38 am

      Hipster’s not a music category.

  7. bluebird - Reply

    May 19, 2015 at 4:13 am

    Please rank my fav, FIONA APPLE! PLEASE!

  8. Anastasia Golovashkina - Reply

    May 19, 2015 at 5:03 am

    It’s certainly an interesting project, but I question your underlying assumption that lyrical complexity is inherently a valued attribute in popular music.

    I especially question your equivalence of a high rank on the Readability Index with “intelligence”—intelligence of the song, the artist, the audience, or otherwise. For instance, you write, “women seem to be a bit smarter than men, except for when they’re not (i.e., 2008-2009).” But most of these artists—men and women—don’t even write their own lyrics, let alone have a say in which lyrics they’ll sing. Behind a female artist may very well be a male-heavy team, and vice-versa.

    To give just one example of where I feel this approach clearly breaks down: OutKast’s “Hey Ya!” is ranked among the “dumbest” songs of the decade, but I’d argue it’s easily one of the most complex, meaningful, and “intelligent” pop tracks of our generation—easily more “intelligent” than anything higher-ranked Rihanna, Shakira, or Chris Brown have put out.

  9. Sebastian K. - Reply

    May 19, 2015 at 7:23 am

    I thought this was super interesting, but like others I think there is room for improvement and making the data more qualitative.

    I’m going to use the song “Swimming Pools (Drank)” by Kendrick Lamar as example. (Peaked at #17 on Billboard Hot 100) . Acording to, Swimming Pools is ranked at 14.4 grade level using the Flesch-Kindcaid formula and has an average grade level of 12.0. Both 14.4 and 12.0 are high reading levels for a song with such “dumb” lyrics, and not only does the song have a higher reading level but the entire song is an extended metaphor for alcoholism which not obvious unless you think critically about the lyrics. This extended metaphor is an example of one the many subtleties that make a music’s lyrics more “intelligent” that you’re not accurately measuring.

    Now I understand you looked just at songs that ranked #1 on Billboard, but doesn’t it stand to reason that the biggest song at any given time would be the most easy to consume song of that genre? For example, during Swimming Pools peak week on that charts (12/15/2012) was the same week Diamonds by Rhianna was #1 which according to your data is a 4.8 reading level. It’s unfair to judge all of popular music with just the biggest song at that time especially when there are situations like this where at just rank #17 there is a song that makes your conclusion of lyrics getting “dumber” make little sense. You shouldn’t judge popular music’s intelligence by the #1 song just like you shouldn’t judge a teacher’s proficiency by their star pupil or a basketball team by their one star player.

    • Maurice - Reply

      May 21, 2015 at 7:27 am

      Kudos to you my friend. You hit the nail on the head. I find it hard to believe that syllable length is a measure of intelligence. If I use the word Snuffleupagus 100 times in a song am suddenly Einstein? But more importantly, this study loses credibility when you find the data has been cherry picked.

  10. b2curious - Reply

    May 19, 2015 at 10:04 am

    Mr. Powell-Morris,
    You commented that any hit song could be comfortably read by a first grader, yet your analysis by year puts the average grade reading level at anywhere from about 2.7-3.4. They could be read by a first grader, if the first grader is reading at a third grade reading level. Which is basically what you said after your first chart.

    As for music getting dumber, well it does appear that way based on your chart. In your 10 year analysis, our high year is 2006, at about a reading level of 3.4 and the low years being both 2009 and 2014, with a reading level of about 2.7. The difference between the high and low is .7 years. Not exactly a huge difference there.

    What I found interesting was that immediately after the highest reading level year, 2006, the reading level dropped to about 2.8 in 2007, which is about where it stayed for the remaining years of the analysis. From 2007-2014, the reading level of songs ranged from about 2.7-2.9, with the exception of 2013, when we got all the way back up to 3.0.The average of those 8 years, including 2013, is about 2.8. Given your graphs, music got dumber immediately in 2007, and has been holding steady ever since.

    All of this begs the question, were 2005 and 2006 anomalies? It would appear that way, but without data from additional years, we really don’t know. A 10 year spread is a very short time span overall. You want to convince me that music is getting dumber? Give me at least 30 years of data. More would be better.

  11. Amy - Reply

    May 19, 2015 at 10:48 am

    Shouldn’t you be looking at the person who WROTE the song and not who sang it? Some of these artists do write them but others do not. I think that would be more relevant, unless the singer has such poor use of vocabulary that it was written specifically for their skill set. :)

  12. jamie - Reply

    May 19, 2015 at 11:11 am

    It’s Bravo for males and Brava for females. Interesting faux pas when discussing how dumb music is.

  13. Thabo - Reply

    May 19, 2015 at 12:40 pm

    Why are Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole or Lupe Fiasco not mentioned at all in this list?

    • b2curious - Reply

      May 19, 2015 at 1:52 pm

      Well, according to the article “If they spent at least a few weeks (3+) at #1 on the Billboard charts for Pop, Country, Rock, and R&B/Hip-Hop for any given year, they made the list.” None of the artists you asked about met the criteria, that’s why.

  14. Coty - Reply

    May 19, 2015 at 1:08 pm

    I would like to see Metal added to this list, and while it may not be popular radio music, I would still like to see the correlation between it and the others.

  15. Adam - Reply

    May 19, 2015 at 2:04 pm

    Can you do one of these for heavy metal? I would love to see how much of a difference there is some of the super complex metal lyrics; some much akin to reading a Lovecraft story, would measure up against all of this unintelligent dross. Hopefully you do it!!!!

    • allen - Reply

      May 20, 2015 at 12:54 pm

      Iron Maiden Murders in the Rue Morgue

      Readability Formula Grade
      Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level 9.4
      Gunning-Fog Score 10.8
      Coleman-Liau Index 6.4
      SMOG Index 5.3
      Automated Readability Index 9.3
      Average Grade Level 8.2

    • Gerhard - Reply

      May 22, 2015 at 12:53 am

      (I know it’s death metal)
      Nile – The essential salts
      Flesh-Kincaid Grade Level – 12
      Gunning-Fog Score – 14.5
      Coleman-Liau Index – 11.3
      SMOG Index – 9
      Automated Readability Index – 14
      Average Grade Level – 12.2

  16. NameJohn B - Reply

    May 19, 2015 at 2:33 pm

    Considering the obvious stereotype of the Progressive Rock listener as nerdy, introverted, highly intellectual yet socially inept, I would be highly intrigued to see how Prog artists would fare compared to mainstream music. The lyrical depth of a Peter Gabriel, Yes, Pink Floyd or King Crimson or (personal fave) Rush song makes it commercially unappealing, yet their fans value the intricacies of said lyrics as well as the melodies that frame them.

    • allen - Reply

      May 20, 2015 at 12:55 pm

      Rush Limelight
      Readability Formula Grade
      Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level 10.8
      Gunning-Fog Score 14.8
      Coleman-Liau Index 10.1
      SMOG Index 10.5
      Automated Readability Index 11.1
      Average Grade Level 11.5

  17. LouV - Reply

    May 19, 2015 at 3:29 pm

    A very important thought which should not be understated when it comes to the artistic and aesthetic qualities of a song are — yes of course the music itself — but as far as lyrics are concerned, it is the unpredictability and/or thought provocativeness of the words which for most country music is, sorry to say, severely lacking. When poetry sticks to grammatical formulas and lacks metaphor (country is wrought with literal storytelling), it fails as poetic art.

  18. Slim shady - Reply

    May 19, 2015 at 10:13 pm

    you didn’t rank Rap God. What the hell?

  19. Robert Zimmerman - Reply

    May 19, 2015 at 10:19 pm

    Gotta love these writing analysis tools. If it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t know that Bill Ayers wrote Barack Obama’s book. Nice to know they’re still hard at work.

  20. Nick - Reply

    May 19, 2015 at 10:22 pm

    Hi, so I just did an experiment I ran your article through the same scoring mechanism you used ( The results? Average grade level of 1.3.

  21. Cade G - Reply

    May 19, 2015 at 11:24 pm

    To be honest, I’m not surprised that Eminem is number one in Hip-Hop and number three overall. He’s very creative and original.

  22. AJ - Reply

    May 19, 2015 at 11:46 pm

    Where does Hollywood Undead rank?
    They have some pretty complex lyrics in some of their songs.

  23. Eric - Reply

    May 20, 2015 at 12:54 am


  24. Talia - Reply

    May 20, 2015 at 1:44 am

    He took top billboard music of the last decade. He also stated at the beginning that this does not include meaning. I hate nickelback too and was painfully suprized that they made it to the top of the list but you cant argue with stats. And, I love Bob Dylan and Radiohead but they did not make it to the top billboard, which can only mean most people like dumb music. Just not you and me!

  25. Tan - Reply

    May 20, 2015 at 2:32 am

    Where’s Cradle of Filth and their overly complex Lovecraftian lyrics?

  26. Jon - Reply

    May 20, 2015 at 7:50 am

    They didn’t include a very intelligent genre, Punk. punk songs talk about politics. take nofx’s 18 minute song, the decline; it has no chorus and it’s an 18 minute long story about how messed up society is. add punk into this graph and you’ll see it Beat all the other genres.

  27. sideburns - Reply

    May 20, 2015 at 8:52 am

    How dumb would songs sound with more educated lyrics?

  28. Clara - Reply

    May 20, 2015 at 9:32 am

    I liek dis

  29. Adam - Reply

    May 20, 2015 at 10:16 am

    Not surprising. Literally every artist listed on this page is as asinine as their music.

  30. Greg Kibitz - Reply

    May 20, 2015 at 10:36 am


  31. Martin - Reply

    May 20, 2015 at 12:01 pm

    I tend to agree with the idea that lyrics are being dumbed down along with the society in general but a study of other eras would be appropriate to vet those assumptions.

    One might conclude that artists are learning to reach the level of their audience and the dumbing down is intentional which would make them smart to do so.


    #blackhats movie coming soon

  32. allen - Reply

    May 20, 2015 at 12:46 pm

    Iron Maiden Murders in the Rue Morgue

    Readability Formula Grade
    Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level 9.4
    Gunning-Fog Score 10.8
    Coleman-Liau Index 6.4
    SMOG Index 5.3
    Automated Readability Index 9.3
    Average Grade Level 8.2

  33. a - Reply

    May 20, 2015 at 12:48 pm

    Rush Limelight
    Readability Formula Grade
    Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level 10.8
    Gunning-Fog Score 14.8
    Coleman-Liau Index 10.1
    SMOG Index 10.5
    Automated Readability Index 11.1
    Average Grade Level 11.5

    • jlalbrecht - Reply

      June 15, 2015 at 8:33 am

      One of my favorite songs even after 32 years. Many commenters have pointed out that a longer timeline would have been better. I totally agree.

      For those of us middle aged rockers, who can remember our parents and grandparents saying, “Music today is stupider when compared to the music in ‘my day'” and possibly thinking the same thing now, it would be great (and possibly surprising) to see an objective comparison.

      All that being said, I’d note that Rush’s high points were the “Moving Pictures” album, with another peak in the mid-90’s. Their unequaled lyrics (in my completely subjective opinion) combined with both serious (Orwellian future of “Red Barchetta”) and off-beat (“The Trees”) subjects written by doctor of Philosophy Neil Peart were/are possibly too abstract/difficult for the average rock listener.

  34. allen - Reply

    May 20, 2015 at 12:51 pm

    Louis Armstrong What A Wonderful World
    Readability Formula Grade
    Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level 1.5
    Gunning-Fog Score 3.6
    Coleman-Liau Index 6.1
    SMOG Index 1.8
    Automated Readability Index 0.6
    Average Grade Level 2.7

  35. Albert - Reply

    May 20, 2015 at 12:56 pm

    How can you be taken serious when Taylor Swift is in the Country category? ffs

  36. allen - Reply

    May 20, 2015 at 2:10 pm

    Woody Guthrie This Land Is Your Land
    Readability Formula Grade
    Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level 10.2
    Gunning-Fog Score 12
    Coleman-Liau Index 6.6
    SMOG Index 4.9
    Automated Readability Index 11.1
    Average Grade Level 9.0

    • NameKhshathrapan - Reply

      May 21, 2015 at 8:01 am

      Would you please work your magic on “Your cheating heart”?

  37. b2curious - Reply

    May 20, 2015 at 2:23 pm

    Did you add punctuation? Mr. Powell said that he added punctuation, because most songs lack it altogether. Depending on where one puts the punctuation and what punctuation is used, I suspect there could be a great variance in readability and grade level scoring. Which puts the findings into even more doubt than there already is.

    • b2curious - Reply

      May 26, 2015 at 10:16 am

      The comment above was in reference to one I don’t see anymore. Someone had commented that when they put the lyrics of songs into the Readability Score, they got a higher average grade level.

  38. Aaron - Reply

    May 20, 2015 at 3:02 pm

    have you ever listened shakira’s songs like «how do you do» «Animal city» «Timor» or «costumes makes the clown»???????????????

  39. Mary Poppins - Reply

    May 20, 2015 at 4:03 pm

    Well if we only count average characters per word and average syllables, than that Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious the most intelligent song in the history of songs.

  40. kevin - Reply

    May 20, 2015 at 10:06 pm

    this is fun and all but I think this shows the intelligence of the consumers who bought and/ or requested these songs on the radio more than the intelligence of a bands lyrics. Bands such as Stone Sour and Tool often have words or phrasing I have to look up to understand the song. Case in point, Stone Sour’s song “Conflagration”. Never even heard of the word! So I learned a new word… I won’t get stuff like that from country, hip hop, or pop music. The typical consumer would probably rather buy a song that they don’t have to figure out, so that’s why I say it reflects more on them than the bands themselves. Also why you’ll never hear the epic Iron Maiden song “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” on the radio. A 10 minute song with no chorus, put that in your machine!

  41. Arjun - Reply

    May 20, 2015 at 11:59 pm

    Maybe smart musicians are dumbing down their lyrics for better business. Daft lyrics have always been around.

  42. HipHop Head - Reply

    May 21, 2015 at 12:10 am

    I’m not at all surprised by any of this. In a nutshell, devote your brain cells to better music and switch off the Radio. There is a lot more music than what gets spewed threw TV and radio. But you have to go find it.

  43. just to clarify - Reply

    May 21, 2015 at 4:38 am

    So, repeating this investigation spanning from, say, the 1950s to the present day might give more meaningful data. Or, at the very least, it might better illustrate the flaws of measuring the intelligence of song lyrics in this manner.

  44. Luca - Reply

    May 21, 2015 at 7:59 am

    Can we get some Underground Hip Hop a taste? Surely they’ll prove otherwise? Aesop Rock, Grieves, Common Market, Brother Ali.

  45. joebob - Reply

    May 21, 2015 at 1:35 pm

    I would like to see a historical comparison as well; The Beatles, Stones, Elvis, Zep, Eagles, etc as well. Interesting article but we really only got examples of current music.

  46. Chris - Reply

    May 21, 2015 at 4:51 pm

    Interesting article, but it’s a shame they didn’t widen out the search in this study with a comparison of more respected artists who write brilliantly such as Tool for instance.

    Also the criteria for a song means the individual is highly limited and their intention is never to score highly on a test which is never mentioned throughout the article. It would be useful to get a full methodology on how the results were devised. Although I fear that will remain illusive.

  47. Hans Elgvang - Reply

    May 22, 2015 at 4:12 am

    Rank Sondheim, and Cole Porter!

  48. glenn tarry - Reply

    May 22, 2015 at 5:21 am

    Kendrick is the greatest, all yall got it twisted, yall fake, boo boo, music lovers need to get off this blog. It’s all about C-O-M-P-T-O-N BABY!!!!!!! and chance the rapper but he ain’t gonna drop Surf until I turn 90, #SoX

  49. Bradley - Reply

    May 22, 2015 at 7:59 am

    Top 40 music all sounds very similar. These songwriters actually have formulas for how to write a “hit song”. These songs are not art, they are products. Major record labels hardly ever take risks anymore. And why would they when they can guarantee people will listen to whatever crap they throw at them. In my opinion 95% of everything on the radio has sounded the same for the last 15 years.

    This is the information age, people. We have the internet. With all the online publications and streaming services why would anyone listen to the crap on the radio when it’s easier than ever to discover thousands of artists out there making incredible music? It doesn’t matter what kind of music you’re into. Rock, metal, punk, electro, house, rap/hiphop, R&B, even country and pop are genres filled with artists that are thoughtful, intelligent, and incredibly diverse compared to the bland drivel saturating the airwaves.

    The only conclusion I can can up with is that most people just don’t care about music. At all. They put on the radio not to feel inspired, but to distract themselves with noise. They don’t want to be challenged or stimulated. No one notices because they don’t know any better. Which is sad.

    If you give a shit about music, you’re probably already searching it out. If you’re not, then then what are you waiting for?

    • NameYo! - Reply

      July 9, 2015 at 12:44 am

      Well said! There’s enough good music freely available on the Internet to keep listening to something different every day for years – without ever needing to turn on a radio, watch music TV, or visit an online music store. And if you don’t enjoy what you hear, why not make up your own songs? They can be as smart or dumb, lyrically, as you like, and while you’re having fun, bonus!: you actually get to learn how hard it is to make a halfway decent song :-).

  50. NameKhshathrapan - Reply

    May 22, 2015 at 12:08 pm

    Adeste Fideles

    Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level 21.5
    Gunning-Fog Score 19.9
    Coleman-Liau Index 19.9
    SMOG Index 16.3
    Automated Readability Index 17.3
    Average Grade Level 19.0

  51. NameKhshathrapan - Reply

    May 22, 2015 at 12:18 pm

    Major-General’s Song from the Pirates of Penzance

    Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level 21.9
    Gunning-Fog Score 24.5
    Coleman-Liau Index 9.6
    SMOG Index 16.5
    Automated Readability Index 22.7
    Average Grade Level 19.0

  52. Huey Ly - Reply

    May 22, 2015 at 12:55 pm

    I love this article!

  53. Kaleigh - Reply

    May 23, 2015 at 9:56 am

    Okay, first off if you’re going to do this, you can’t just do 4 genres. You have to do all of them. Have you read lyrics from any Alternative bands? What about Reggae? Another thing, not ALL Pop songs have dumb lyrics. Some are actually pretty decent. Try it, I dare you.

  54. Susan - Reply

    May 23, 2015 at 12:41 pm

    I do wonder if other time periods songs were higher, or if this is standard? I also wonder what a song like We Didn’t Start the Fire by Billy Joel would score, or other songs that at least seem intelligent at first glance? I would love to put songs through your machine just for fun!

  55. Kone Zi - Reply

    May 23, 2015 at 5:02 pm

    It’s time to study Chinese pop songs’ lyrics. Some of them are so sophisticated that the listener needs at least have studied well in high school and literature to read the characters.

  56. J - Reply

    May 29, 2015 at 9:38 am

    I’d like to know what the average reading level of metal songs is. As it stands, that’s the only genre that has ever taught me new words.

  57. Tiago Roque - Reply

    May 29, 2015 at 10:31 am

    If score is all that matters then Imperium Tenebrarum from Cradle of Filth just destroy everything on that list.

    Readability Formula Grade
    Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level 30.4
    Gunning-Fog Score 33.9
    Coleman-Liau Index 10.3
    SMOG Index 14.1
    Automated Readability Index 37.9
    Average Grade Level 25.3

  58. groupme - Reply

    July 1, 2015 at 5:02 pm

    It’s perfect time to make a few plans for the future and it is time to be happy. I have read this put up and if I could I want to recommend you few attention-grabbing things or tips. Maybe you could write next articles relating to this article. I wish to read more issues about it!

  59. Danial Harris - Reply

    July 10, 2015 at 5:06 am

    I think this study have comprised of only those performers who we all know for sure did or do write their own songs …. E.g, If you look at singers like MICHAEL JACKSON and put his song BILLIE JEAN to the test you’ll see a GRADE LEVEL of 12 so I personally don’t find this study very helpful or accurate ….

  60. Notgruntled - Reply

    July 10, 2015 at 9:19 pm

    James Joyce’s “Ulysses” scores a 3.8. Just slightly “smarter” than country music. Langston Hughes’ “Theme for English B” got a 2.8, smarter than hip-hop but dumber than rock.

    I’m thinking that using a tool designed for prose to evaluate poetry is a fatally flawed methodology.

  61. dennis - Reply

    July 12, 2015 at 10:55 am

    I think country music lyrics are great, it’s backing them up that seems to be the problem.
    All this talk about defending America, and no action. I’m very disappointed in almost all the artists. (You’ve got to stand for something or you’ll fall for anything ) well Noone is standing. Why aren’t the artist standing in line to give Obama an old fashioned spanking.
    And what about religious freedom? ( Jesus take the wheel) Why doesn’t Carrie Underwood take the wheel ? Their all talk.

  62. M3RK - Reply

    September 17, 2015 at 10:49 am

    Out of pure self indulgent curiousity, was Slipknot graded/ranked at all? Considering their regular use of obscure multisylabic words and vivid imagery in their songs, perhaps they and other bands lower on the Billboard charts may prove to reinforce your argument but will likely also shed light on the point that the market at large seems to gravitate towards less thought provoking entertainment, which pains me to say being in the entertainment industry myself.

  63. American Pop Singer - Reply

    September 20, 2015 at 1:14 pm

    I’m a pop and rock singer songwriter who used to be signed to Capitol, and this analysis is Pure, Sheer Fantastic. My music was considered “too intelligent” for radio, so I had to go independent. Interesting how Gaga has fared so well considering both she and I attended New York University. You sure wouldn’t recognize that from her spelling, grammar and songwriting structure. Yet she’s lauded on Interscope and I have stronger hooks and had to go independent? What’s up with that?

    My label honcho and I, and my band, have all long suspected there was a conspiracy behind the endumbification of American pop music. Well now we know for sure! Thank you for this article and for its rock solid statistical science. I’ve sent it to my label CEO and to all my friends… yep: we KNEW it! 😀

    You need to send this to Billboard and The Hollywood Reporter right the hell away. American listeners want intelligent music to return, but the majors won’t permit it… could there be a reason? (Puts tinfoil hat on tightly… then cries)

    Superb article… this link is now being sent every freaking where…

  64. Joe Mombrea - Reply

    October 31, 2015 at 2:12 pm

    I googled “non-lyrical singing in pop music” and found this great article, having noticed the remarkably annoying formula lately of writing songs with NO WORDS AT ALL in the hooks……just “oh oh oh oh oh wa-oh” or “Oooooh-ooooo” or “wahhhh-whaaah,” etc. I would do some research on this subject on my own, except listening to all the examples would surely drive me mad. What ever happened to Neil Peart and those of his ilk? I realize Rush is still out there, but they’re no longer popular, since most people, sadly, have no comprehension.

  65. colton O - Reply

    November 5, 2015 at 11:36 am

    one thing i always find disappointing is that there is no metal genre recorded. Heavy Metal and Rock are similar but also very different. Heavy Metal is more complicated and thought out than a lot of Rock songs. Take Bands like Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Motorhead, and Black Sabbath. Stuff that cant really be argued to be Rock, because they made Heavy Metal. I think if you would have done Metal and included those bands, you would have found that they are much higher than the rest.

  66. Xentrix - Reply

    January 7, 2016 at 12:34 am

    I am sorry how does “calufornia gurls” by Katy Perry is more lyrically intelligent than “isolation” by Alter Bridge.

    I consider myself equal fan of Katy Perry and Alter Bridge.

    Katy Perry is just singing about crap and Alter Bridge is talking about feeling of isolation that has 1000x more meaning than Katy”s crap.

    People may not agree. Don’t mind but those people disagreing with that should not call themselves human being.

  67. Paul - Reply

    January 17, 2016 at 7:49 am

    As a songwriter myself (country) the idea is to write a lyric that tells the story clearly so every listener understands exactly the point that is being made. It might dumb down the words used but it increases the audience (smart business). As a general and vascular surgeon (yes that is how I support my family), I am hardly lacking in mental aptitude, I simply don’t believe choledochojejunostomy has =1 hit written all over it! By the way, I would like to know how this article scores.

  68. Paul - Reply

    January 17, 2016 at 7:52 am

    Sorry, #1 hit not =1. I typed this on my phone without my glasses. I’m surprised there weren’t more typographical errors. Haha!

  69. Diego - Reply

    March 15, 2016 at 9:39 am

    I think you should try looking at some death metal/deathcore, mostly the underground bands, they seem to have a wider range with their vocabulary, take white Chapel for instance, their lyrics seem like they would dominate most of these artists. Im just saying that death core/metal could make a great topic

  70. Cam Todd - Reply

    April 20, 2016 at 12:12 pm

    But Nickleback?

  71. Kyle - Reply

    August 17, 2016 at 4:25 pm

    Strictly speaking I don’t think you are really saying what you think you are. Readability doesn’t mean simplicity by any means. If a 3rd grader knows all the words you cannot by any means conclude that they understand it.

    Excluding the word bathysphere from Margaret Atwood’s “Death of a Young Son by Drowning” it reads simply but it has the depth to write a 7 page paper off of while having only 10 three line stanzas. I can’t speak for much of the music chosen, sample size could use work, but the meaning of the Chevelle song you chose could hardly be understood by a 2nd to 3rd grader. The language is simple like most of their songs but there’s much more the “Intelligence” of song lyrics than readability. Have you listened to Radiohead’s “Burn the Witch” or “2+2=5″? There are very few words, and all of them are simple ones but the meaning of the songs are very complex and cannot be compared to songs like “Diamonds” in terms of ‘Intelligence.’

    You may mean to say that the simplicity of words used and the amount of words has decreased in the relatively meager sample size you took of overly simplified genres but if you do not factor in the difficulty to interpret and understand the meaning of the lyrics you’re missing out on the majority of what determines the intelligence of any written work.

    For those making sweeping statements about the lack of intelligent music, stop listening to party songs and just look. There is plenty of intelligent music out there – not as much as I’d like – but that’s because palatable sells.

  72. Namejohn - Reply

    February 11, 2017 at 10:49 am

    Not only are the lyrics getting dumber but the music as well. It’s gotta change

  73. Vincenzo - Reply

    April 10, 2017 at 10:50 am

    R&B and Hip-Hop aren’t the same thing. It’s like putting Country and Rock together, or Rock and Pop together. Where’s the Metal category? Would be interesting to see an analysis like this that includes the complexity of composition and production, since music isn’t just lyrics.

  74. Ana - Reply

    April 25, 2017 at 9:29 pm

    Yay Mariah is the smartest one

  75. Kayla - Reply

    May 29, 2017 at 12:02 am

    I thought your analysis was interesting. However, I question the applicability, because your study does not take into account reading comprehension. I was glad to find out that my college level essays are at college level, so that was good news. But then I put in the lyrics to “Hotel California” with punctuation, and the average level is 4th and 5th graders. Do you think that 4th and 5th graders would understand what the lyrics mean? I don’t think they would, because adults have questioned the meaning of the lyrics for decades. I know for a fact that when I was a child, I didn’t have a clue what the song meant. I put in other song lyrics as well, from what I would consider more sophisticated lyrics. “Parabola” by Tool, for example, has an average reading score for 6th graders. If they read those lyrics, they wouldn’t have a clue what it means. I started listening to “Parabola” in 8th grade, and even though I read the lyrics, I didn’t fully know what they meant until many years later. I then put in “Schism” by Tool, and the level is 8th grade. Again, I didn’t fully comprehend the meaning until years later. I put in “Tears of Pearls” by Savage Garden, and the level is for 4th and 5th graders.

    So this is quite interesting. However, putting punctuation in lyrics can be difficult. Some parts will not create full sentences, so again this has to be questioned. The writers have to make their lyrics fit the music and vice versa.
    We also have to take into account the fact that the brain is listening to all of the instruments while comprehending the lyrics at the same time.

    Now that I have done this, this is actually even more fascinating. This may be why I haven’t really felt fulfilled in music since I was a teenager. The lyrics are usually too easy to understand. On the other hand, our reading levels plus comprehension levels are quite different than our every day speaking levels. English is strange like that. I remember when I was learning Spanish, I was informed that the Spanish language is written in the same way that it is spoken. The people who learn English are always very surprised though, because the way we speak is very different than the way we write.

    Anyway, I hope that you will continue your research. This is very fascinating. This may be why I don’t like most popular music.

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