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.”