Love still dominates pop song lyrics, but with raunchier language
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — âMake love not warâ may have been a popular slogan of the â60s, but romance still figures prominently — and perhaps even more so — in todayâs hit music, a new University of Florida study finds.
The difference lies in the âraunchâ factor.
Proof that true love never dies shows up in the song lyrics of todayâs generation, which match the romantic pantings from the songs of their baby boomer parentsâ youth, said Chad Swiatowicz, who did the study for his masterâs thesis in sociology at UF.
âAmerican culture is in love with love,â he said. âWar may be a national concern today as it was three decades ago, but in both eras itâs the subject of love and relationships that dominates pop music.â
The most notable difference between the song lyrics of the two eras was the prevalence of bad language in todayâs songs, Swiatowicz said. Many of the words, particularly in rap songs, are blatantly sexual and would have been considered obscene in the 1960s, he said.
âThe tolerance for offensive language in pop music has drastically increased in the last 30 years,â he said. âOlder songs like âHonky Tonk Womanâ and âHot Fun in the Summertimeâ are G-rated compared to todayâs lyrics.â
Exactly what the raw verbiage reveals about todayâs generation is difficult to ascertain, Swiatowicz said. âItâs often the case that young people want to distinguish themselves from their parentsâ generation and the use of language is one way to do so,â he said.
Swiatowicz analyzed the lyrics of the yearâs 10 most popular songs listed in Billboardâs online archives for two eras, 2002-2005 and 1968-1971. He found that 24 of the 40 songs in the modern era — 60 percent — and half the songs of the classic era were devoted to the subject of love and relationships.
From âSunshine of Your Loveâ in 1968 to âCrazy in Loveâ in 2003, and âI Canât Get Next to Youâ to âIâm With Youâ from 1969 and 2003, the songs are variations on similar themes.
Some were cheerful and celebratory of love, while others sounded a more pessimistic tone, addressing the temptation of infidelity or the insecurities of being at a loverâs beck and call, Swiatowicz said. The subject of infidelity came up far more frequently in the modern era, perhaps because younger people were more likely to grow up in families where parents had divorced, he said.
Despite wars marking both eras â the conflict in Vietnam in the late â60s and early â70s and the confrontation in Iraq more recently â few of the most popular songs of either era protested American involvement in these conflicts
âFor as much unrest taking place during the Vietnam era, only one top 10 song of the four-year span was explicitly detracting of the war,â he said.
This 1970 song, âWar,â protests sending young men to fight and possibly die, Swiatowicz said. âWar has shattered many a young manâs dream, made him disabled, bitter and mean,â bemoan the lyrics.
âThis doesnât deny that other anti-war songs achieved popularity; they just werenât big enough to reach the top 10,â he said.
There also was only one hit song from the modern era that was clearly anti-war, but thatâs not surprising since the draft no longer exists, Swiatowicz said.
Another difference between the two eras is that songs from the classic period address broader social issues, as with âPeople Got to Be Free,â âIndian Reservationâ and âBridge Over Troubled Water,â Swiatowicz said. These older songs convey the importance of it being in everyoneâs interest to get along peacefully and live a life free of hatred and oppression, as in âJoy to the Worldâ and âAquarius/Let the Sunshine In,â while only one song from the recent era was more global in addressing current events, he said.
âIn the modern era, a lot of these songs were more individualistic, treating subjects like self-esteem and personal issues, such as depression or anxiety,â he said.
Deena Weinstein, a De Paul University sociology professor and author of the book âHeavy Metal,â said she is not sure âloveâ is the operative word with pop music. âMost pop and popular rock songs have been focused on sex and romance,â she said. âIn 1967 the Rolling Stones agreed to change the words to âLetâs Spend the Night Togetherâ to âLetâs spend some time togetherâ because Ed Sullivanâs TV show demanded it; it was the same year as the summer of love.â