First came the studies that said music has gotten both louder and more boring in recent years. Now, new research argues that America's popular music is getting increasingly depressing. A recent study published in the journal Psychology Of Aesthetics, Creativity, And The Arts looked at over 1,000 Top 40 songs from five decades, and found that, increasingly over the years, more songs have used minor chords and slower tempos, which researchers say proves that popular music has taken a turn for the negative. (Happy-sounding songs tend to have a fast tempo in major mode, after all.)
Perhaps not surprisingly, the study found that the decade with the largest number of slower-tempo hits was the '90s, when navel-gazing emotionalism reigned. The study also concluded that recent years have seen an increase in emotionally ambiguous songs—meaning tracks with a slower tempo and major chords, or faster tempos in minor mode—leading to a lot of confused teens out there.
The researchers speculate all this is due to the rise of consumerism and individualism in the culture, which they claim “produces a demand for more choice” among producers and consumers who want to demonstrate "sophistication in their taste.” As it is, purely happy songs like Abba’s “Waterloo” can sound “naïve and slightly juvenile” to today’s all-grown-up pop radio listeners. Acts that use emotional ambiguity, meanwhile, are seen as attempting to convey depth or seriousness, rather than just pure froth. And seriousness is seriously depressing.