Musicians develop musical styles at specific times and within a specific cultural context much like the field of advertising.
In a new study, titled "All You Need is Love? Communication Insights from Pop Music’s Number-One Hits," published in the Journal of Advertising Research, researchers identified 12 key themes, and related terms, that came up most often in the hit songs.
The research, led by Professor David Henard from North Carolina State University, involved computer analysis of the lyrics to nearly 1000 songs from Billboard magazine's "Hot 100" song list between January 1960 and December 2009. The researchers used computer programs to run textual analysis of the lyrics for all of those songs and analyzed the results to identify key themes.
The influential words found in the analysis of Billboard #1 songs by decade were:
In the 1960s: Love, quantity, baby, female name, time, man, good, girl, heart, night
In the 1970s: Love, quantity, girl good, baby, man, night, way, time, eye
In the 1980s: Love, quantity, baby, time, night, heart, man, eye, way, life
In the 1990s: Quantity, baby, love, way, man, time, girl, dance, life, night
In the 2000s: Quantity, baby, girl, way, man, time, good, nigga, love, boy
The 12 key themes found in the study were:
Loss, desire, aspiration, breakup, pain, inspiration, nostalgia, rebellion, jaded, desperation, escapism and confusion.
"These themes overwhelmingly reflect emotional content, rather than rational content," Henard says. "It reinforces the idea that communications centered on emotional themes will have mass audience appeal."
Below is a list with examples of songs and commercials that represent these key themes as well as their keywords and associated descriptors.