I found this interesting research the other day. Some German scientists have gone through the last 50 years of US top chart songs and found some interesting. Actually, they did find a lot of interesting things, but one thing especially caught my eye. Music has shifted in a big way from major to minor key.
Basically this is how the music has developed over the years.
Year % in Major key
This raises a lot of interesting questions.
It has been shown that associating minor keys with sadness is a cultural construct. However, since this is US data, is still holds true, as the US culture adheres to this social construct. So why are we more and more prone to listen to depressive music? On a personal level are we depressed because we listen to “depressive” music? Or is it the other way around that we listen to depressive music because we are feeling bad?
If we extrapolate this to a societal scale, this becomes really interesting, given that we can use a society´s music to tell how the society is doing, what does this mean? It would imply that something negative has been happening in our society.
Is the music shifting away from major keys towards minor keys because the outlook for the future is getting grimmer? Or does our hopes for the future diminish as our taste in music changes?
My five cents would be on the first one. Our taste in music is turning more depressive as the outlook for the future is looking worse and worse.
Going back to the early data – the 50s – probably the most positive decade in the history of man. The world was recuperating after a second world war, the economy was booming, and a whole generation of baby boomers where looking forward to a bright new world. (sure, there was threats of mutual assured destruction from a nuclear holocaust, but that was not on the top of peoples’ minds).
To depict the current global recession, I took the saddest music that I know, and dropped it on Wall Street. (of course in a minor key).
To find the music inside Tunaspot, click this link:
Waiver: I know that I am reading too much into this shift in the key of music and that extrapolating individuals notions on music to the society as a whole is problematic to say the least, but it is still an interesting thought and it does hold some value to be examined as to what extent the popular music in a society can change the mindset and hopes of the people.
Schellenberg, E. G., and von Scheve, C. (May 21, 2012). Emotional Cues in American Popular Music: Five Decades of the Top 40. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0028024.