A team of researchers at North Carolina State University have analyzed 50 years of hit songs in order to “identify key themes that marketing professionals can use to craft advertisements that will resonate with audiences.” What do human-people like, they wondered scientifically. And scientifically, it turns out, humans like sad love songs.
The researchers identified 12 key themes, and related terms, that came up most often in the hit songs. These themes are loss, desire, aspiration, breakup, pain, inspiration, nostalgia, rebellion, jaded, desperation, escapism and confusion. But while these themes are common across the 50-year study period, the most prominent themes have varied over time. “Rebellion,” a prominent theme in the ’60s and ’70s, did not break the top 10 in the ’80s – and was in the middle of the pack in the ’90s and ’00s. The themes of “desperation” and “inspirational” leapt to the top of the list in the ’00s for the first time – possibly, Henard notes, due to the cultural effects of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
I, for one, listen exclusively to breakup songs — but for reasons unclear, I was not asked. However, now that science has confirmed that I am correct, advertisers can better tug at our collective heartstrings. With sad songs and breakup songs and songs about loss? Unclear. I hope so, though. That the Magnetic Fields are not featured in every car commercial has long baffled me, and while I have some questions about the success of, say, a desperation-themed Toyota campaign, artistically and emotionally, I am absolutely for it.