Data Visualization A visualization of popular song lyrics by Nickolay Lamm

Published on February 25th, 2014 | by Travis Korte


How Song Lyrics Have Evolved Since the 1960s

Popular music has changed a lot since the 1960s, and a series of visualizations published last week quantifies the evolution by tracking lyrics from over 50 years of Billboard charts. The visualizations, created by Pittsburgh-based digital artist Nickolay Lamm, show the 100 most popular songs from each year, colored according to how often the songs contain a certain word. The result is a fascinating glimpse into cultural dynamics, showing a sea change in the content of popular songs, especially over the last two decades.

Some insights are easy to glean: the word “love” has been conspicuously less common since around the year 2000, while “sex” and “sexy” have been growing in popularity since the early 1990s. Others are more subtle, including how the words “we” and “us” were especially popular in the 1980s, and how 1990 was a great year for the word “heart.” One thing has been relatively constant throughout the past half-century of popular music: the word “baby.”

Take a look.

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About the Author

Travis Korte is a research analyst at the Center for Data Innovation specializing in data science applications and open data. He has a background in journalism, computer science and statistics. Prior to joining the Center for Data Innovation, he launched the Science vertical of The Huffington Post and served as its Associate Editor, covering a wide range of science and technology topics. He has worked on data science projects with HuffPost and other organizations. Before this, he graduated with highest honors from the University of California, Berkeley, having studied critical theory and completed coursework in computer science and economics. His research interests are in computational social science and using data to engage with complex social systems. You can follow him on Twitter @traviskorte.

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