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R Soc Open Sci. 2018 May 16;5(5):171274. doi: 10.1098/rsos.171274. eCollection 2018 May.

Musical trends and predictability of success in contemporary songs in and out of the top charts.

Author information

1
Department of Mathematics, University of California Irvine, Irvine, CA 92697, USA.
2
Department of Statistics, University of California Irvine, Irvine, CA 92697, USA.
3
Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of California Irvine, Irvine, CA 92697, USA.

Abstract

We analyse more than 500 000 songs released in the UK between 1985 and 2015 to understand the dynamics of success (defined as 'making it' into the top charts), correlate success with acoustic features and explore the predictability of success. Several multi-decadal trends have been uncovered. For example, there is a clear downward trend in 'happiness' and 'brightness', as well as a slight upward trend in 'sadness'. Furthermore, songs are becoming less 'male'. Interestingly, successful songs exhibit their own distinct dynamics. In particular, they tend to be 'happier', more 'party-like', less 'relaxed' and more 'female' than most. The difference between successful and average songs is not straightforward. In the context of some features, successful songs pre-empt the dynamics of all songs, and in others they tend to reflect the past. We used random forests to predict the success of songs, first based on their acoustic features, and then adding the 'superstar' variable (informing us whether the song's artist had appeared in the top charts in the near past). This allowed quantification of the contribution of purely musical characteristics in the songs' success, and suggested the time scale of fashion dynamics in popular music.

KEYWORDS:

complex social dynamics; music evolution; temporal trends

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