musical diversity

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Critics often bemoan an alleged lack of musical diversity, but I haven't seen much data in any of the discussions. That has now changed:

Researchers in the United Kingdom used big data analysis to build the first evolutionary history of popular music in the United States. They processed over 17,000 songs that appeared on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 list from 1960 to 2010 to pinpoint style trends, musical diversity and the timing of revolutions.

According to their results, the single most radical change in American music had nothing to do with "the British Invasion." Instead, it occurred much more recently, with the surge in popularity of hip-hop.

"John Lennon and Mick Jagger didn't lead a musical revolution in the U.S., but Tupac, LL Cool J and other rappers did." The research, entitled "The evolution of popular music: USA 1960-2010" suggests that:

"...despite what your hipster friends say, researchers found no evidence to back up the claim that a hegemonic recording industry oligopoly is today contributing to a decline in musical diversity. In fact, musical diversity has remained pretty consistent over the last five decades."

Their analysis categorizes music as follows:

...a distribution over eight harmonic topics (H-topics) that capture classes of chord changes (e.g. 'dominant-seventh chord changes') and eight timbral topics (T-topics) that capture particular timbres (e.g. 'drums, aggressive, percussive', 'female voice, melodic, vocal', derived from the expert annotations)

Of all H-topics, H5 shows the most striking change in frequency [and] starts to become more frequent in the late 1980s and then rises rapidly to a peak in 1993. This represents the rise of Hip Hop, Rap and related genres, as exemplified by the music of Busta Rhymes, Nas and Snoop Dog, who all use chords particularly rarely...

The frequencies of the timbral Topics, too, evolve over time. T3, described as 'energetic, speech, bright', shows the same dynamics as H5 and is also associated with the rise of Hip Hop-related genres.


This maps to music genres as follows:

We identified three revolutions: a major one around 1991 and two smaller ones around 1964 and 1983... [...] The rise of RAP and related genres appears, then, to be the single most important event that has shaped the musical structure of the American charts in the period that we studied.

The discontinuity is fascinating.

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This page contains a single entry by cognitivedissident published on May 6, 2015 4:21 PM.

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