Pop Music and Politics: Tracking Political Trends Through the Hot 100 Chart, 1959-2016
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CitationMacTaggart, Andrew. 2018. Pop Music and Politics: Tracking Political Trends Through the Hot 100 Chart, 1959-2016. Master's thesis, Harvard Extension School.
AbstractIn this research, I searched for correlations within American popular music and U.S. political trends from 1959 to 2016 by collecting data on and analyzing every number one song on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart from January 3, 1959, to December 31, 2016, which totaled 1,030 songs. My hypothesis was that changes in the music over time would mirror the socio-political trends that were simultaneously taking place.
Two key components set this research apart from much of the previous literature on the subject. First, the empirical and quantitative nature of this study is relatively unique, as most previous research on this topic has been qualitative in nature. Second, in addition to the lyrical themes, my focus on the measurable sonic characteristics of the music is also relatively unique, as most previous studies of this nature have focused solely on lyrical matter.
For every number one song between January 1st, 1959 and December 31, 2016, I collected and analyzed data on 23 different measurable musical and non-musical characteristics, including tempo, gender of primary vocalist(s), race of primary performer(s), key signature, mode, instrumental arrangement, primary lyrical theme(s), and more. Because of limitations of time, I researched and analyzed the three primary trends which were most readily apparent in the collected data.
First, there have been noticeable changes in popular genres between 1959 and 2016. Generally, each of the last five and a half decades have been defined by their own popular genres. For example, socially conscious rock can be said to have symbolized the 1960s, while disco can be said to have exemplified the late 1970s. I assert here that the multitude of popular genres between 1959 and 2016 have lyrically and musically acted as social, political, and economic expressions of the natures of their times. Second, there was a noticeable difference in the rate of African American representation in popular music between 1959 and 2016, with their representation starting small in the 1960s but exploding in the 1990s and beyond. The same basic trend could be seen amongst the prevalence of female vocalists, which constitutes the third topic of study. I claim that both trends exemplify the evolving social, political, and economic statuses of African Americans and women over this period.
Ultimately, I conclude that all three trends provide evidence of a historical and ongoing correlation between national socio-political attitudes and popular music. As such, I believe that contemporary popular music should be taken into stronger account when analyzing national socio-political climates, trends, and attitudes.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:42004046