Friday, March 25, 2016

Why are there so many one-word pop song titles?

Over the last several years, pop music has been inundated by massive hits with one-word song titles: “Happy”, “Fancy”, “Rude”, “Problem”, “Jealous”, “Chandelier, “Hello”, and “Sorry” are just a few examples of this trend. ...

We analyzed Billboard Hot 100 song title data and discovered a steady upward trend in the number of one-word titles. Today, the probability of a one-word title is two and a half times greater than in the 1960s. The average number of words per song title has also declined substantially.


We can’t be sure, but it is probably no accident that the shrinking of the song title coincided with the rising importance of single sales. ... With the single replacing the album as the most important commodity in popular music over the last twenty years, the music industry has become exacting about improving the chances of a song’s commercial success. ...

Why might shorter song titles be better commercially? Mostly because they are easier to remember, particularly if they are repeated over and over in the song. The last thing the music industry wants is for you to love a song but be unable to remember its name when you go to stream or download the song. But it’s tough to forget “Hello” or “Happy” when Adele and Pharrell keep repeating the one-word title throughout the song. ...

If our hypothesis that commodification led to the shortening song title is correct, then we would expect to see even shorter titles at the very top of the charts. And that is just what we found. The following chart shows the trend in single word song titles over time for songs that reached the top 20—and songs that did not.

--Dan Kopf, Priceonomics, on unforeseen consequences of the MP3