A few weeks ago I attended an online education conference. The keynote speaker shared some information that got me thinking. He said that the use of the word “Love” had been decreasing in music. He did not provide any reference for this information. I tried to find a source to collaborate what he said. I couldn’t, but it still got me thinking because I use pop culture in my classes to make connections for the students. So, I decided to do an unofficial analysis of the top three songs from 2020, 2010, 2000, 1990, 1980, 1970, 1960, and 1950 according to Billboard’s Year End Hot 100 chart. I thought the top three songs from the years listed would give a good snapshot of what was popular at that time.
I created word clouds from the lyrics of the top three songs for the year. The most used words are larger in size. Stop words were automatically deleted (this was a challenging decision because these words were used in titles, but using them cluttered the word clouds). I removed all words that only appeared once in the songs. I’ll start with the word cloud, list the top three songs, and then share my insight briefly. Again, this is an unofficial look at these songs, but it is worth thinking about. Let’s start with 1950.
1 . “Goodnight Irene” by Gordon Jenkins & The Weavers
2 . “Mona Lisa” by Nat King Cole
3 . “Third Man Theme” (Instrumental) by Anton Karas
It is obvious that names are the most used words in this word cloud, especially since one of the songs was an instrumental. “Lovely” does appear in the list.
1. “Theme from A Summer Place” by Percy Faith
2. “He’ll Have to Go” by Jim Reeves
3. “Cathy’s Clown” by The Everly Brothers
“Love” is a main word, but not the most used. The overall feel of the word cloud is about relationships. I find it interesting that we have a name again as a main word.
1. “Bridge Over Troubled Water” by Simon & Garfunkel
2. “(They Long to Be) Close to You” by The Carpenters
3. “American Woman” by The Guess Who
This word cloud is tough to get a general feel for because the top three songs are so different in theme and style. The word “love” does not show up in any form.
1. “Call Me” by Blondie
2. “Another Brick in the Wall, Part II” by Pink Floyd
3. “Magic” by Olivia Newton-John
Knowing the songs, I was surprised that the words “brick” or “wall” were not more prominent. But “love” appears as a main word again, even with such a diverse group of songs.
1. “Hold On” by Wilson Phillips
2. “It Must Have Been Love” by Roxette
3. “Nothing Compares 2 U” by Sinéad O’Connor
These songs had a similar vibe, which actually made for a smaller word cloud. “Love” is present now in three out of five word clouds, four if you count “lovely” in the 1950 word cloud.
1. “Breathe” by Faith Hill
2. “Smooth” by Santana featuring Rob Thomas
3. “Maria Maria” by Santana featuring The Product G&B
“Love” makes it into the word cloud (I did not place it in the center). Funny how Santana owned the year 2000, his name is a prominent word in the word cloud, too.
1. “Tik Tok” by Kesha
2. “Need You Now” by Lady Antebellum
3. “Hey, Soul Sister” by Train
This word cloud is filled with a variety of words, but “love” is not one of them. The songs range in topic and style, which presents a mumbled visual. I did notice that there are now words like “drunk” and “party”. Not that these words have never been in a song before, but these are the top three songs for that year.
1. “Blinding Lights” by The Weeknd
2. “Circles” by Post Malone
3. “The Box” by Roddy Ricch
“Love” makes it into the word cloud, but what you don’t see in this visual may be of more importance. This is the first word cloud that I deleted derogatory terms and the F-word.
This is an unofficial look at the lyrics of popular songs. It is by no means meant to make a blanket statement about music or our culture. But it is worth thinking about because words have power, and our kids are singing these songs, making TiKTok videos to them. Pop Culture delivers a message to our society. Songs are part of that message. What are your thoughts on what you see happening with lyrics over the decades?