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Newsflash: Pain Leads to Hit Songs

Billboard Hot 100

You might not think too hard about the science behind why a song is successful, but some actual scientists do.

In a new study published by the Journal of Advertising Research (via Pacific Standard), researchers have pinpointed seven lyrical themes that can predict whether or not a song scores a top hit on the Billboard Hot 100. Not surprisingly, if you write a song that’s about loss, desire, breakups, pain, aspiration, inspiration, and nostalgia you stand a greater chance of scoring a No. 1, versus those who write about more trivial subjects.

The researchers were not interested in the particular sound of the song, but instead, isolated the lyrics of the top two artists in each decade, spanning from 1950 – 2009. They concluded that the presence of these themes in a song’s lyrics could predict whether the song would be a hit … with 73.4% accuracy. 

Of course, it’s probably not that shocking to learn people connect with emotionally charged lyrics. Because the study only looks at words and leaves out other important factors like sweet riffs, rad beats, and how those words actually sound coming from someone’s mouth, it’s hard to imagine that the next top songwriter will be just a killer wordsmith. But it is probably a safe bet that hits will continue to tap into our collective desire to be cheered up when we’re down.