How has the song changed over the last 30 years?

Over the past three decades the music industry has undergone remarkable transformations, largely due to external factors that have influenced music in ways few could have imagined. Analyzing today’s songs versus those from the 1990s reveals changes in lengthin the structure and in the choice of words. We explore the linguistic and structural metamorphosis of the song as a product of the tug of war between cultural and technological changes.

The length of the tracks

The 1990s were characterized by ballads and relatively complex songs, often with lengths close to 5 minutes or even higher. The twenty-first century, however, has brought with it a revolution in track length. The average length of songs has dropped, now standing at less than 3 minutes. This phenomenon can be attributed to the growing importance of streaming platforms, such as Spotify and Apple Music, which accommodate short periods of listening and encourage listening to a large number of songs in a limited period of time. This change was also favored by the desire to create an immediate impact, to immediately capture the listener’s attention.

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The structure of the songs

In the 90s a song was often structured as a sort of musical journey, with a beginning, a development and one or more key moments (climax) distinct. The songs began with a verse introducing the theme, followed by a chorus and, sometimes, a bridge (bridge) which could also lead to a variation in the sound atmosphere of the piece.

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In today’s music industry, however, song structure has undergone considerable change simplification, especially due to the influence of currently more popular genres such as pop and hip-hop, which have their focus on lyrics rather than musical harmonies. Many tracks therefore follow one more linear formulathey often repeat the chorus several times to be easily remembered and try to capture the listener’s attention from the beginning.

Furthermore, the simplification of the song structure was also in this case response to the digital context in which we are immersed, which has accustomed us to lower our attention threshold. With the availability of streaming services bringing us closer to millions of songs, artists are pushed to create tracks that stand out from the start, often through a very direct and easily accessible structure.

The change of language

A fundamental aspect in the evolution of music concerns the typology of themes and the variety of words used in song lyrics. Over the last thirty years there has been a significant shift in the themes and linguistic approach of songs. Today, many tracks focus more on personal experiences than on collective or generational experiences, to create immediate emotional connections and recall everyday situations.

Digital culture and the advent of social media have also influenced word choice. Furthermore, the use of complex metaphors and the evocation of elaborate images, typical of the 1990s, has given way to a more immediate and understandable language. The words used in modern songs are often focused on the direct expression of emotions and feelings, facilitating a more immediate connection between the artist and the listener.

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