Country songs tend to sound sadder and more somber when the economy isn’t doing so hot.
According to a recent study by researchers at Coastal Carolina University, popular country songs tend to sound differently depending on the economy. From Bob Wills’ “New Spanish Two Step” to James Otto’s “Just Got Started Lovin’ You”, the study analyzed all 63 No. 1 Billboard songs between 1946 and 2008. It examined their keys, melodies, lyrics and themes, as well as basic biographical information about their performers. What they found is that when money is tight, hits tend to be more emotional and lyrically focused, and male singers tend to be more successful.
Country varies from pop music during a down economy for a couple of reasons. Older musicians tend to have more success on the country charts, whereas in the domain of top 40 pop, younger artists singing upbeat, happy tunes reign. The songs that the study examined were overwhelmingly likely (91 percent) to have white male performers, which isn’t all that surprising considering the genre. Women had much better chances at stardom during the 1990s, widely considered one of the most prosperous decades of the last century; otherwise, their male counterparts ruled the charts. However, female country artists tend to have greater chances at prestigious “Artist of the Year” awards categories.
The Researchers hypothesized that this could be a subconscious desire for comforting, maternal female figures in times of social and economic crisis – especially in country, where women are commonly portrayed as wives and mothers rather than the tired sex object trope usually found in hot pop.
Tons of previous research has suggested that music is an important emotional coping tool during times of stress, but the study noted that none had ever linked socio-economic contexts with musical preferences. This makes country music ripe for study, as many of its listeners are blue collar workers whose bottom lines are hit the hardest when the economy tanks.
All in all, Ronnie Dunn had it right about the cost of living – but maybe this study means that the recent bro country trend is good news for stock indexes across the land.
The study has been published in the most recent edition of the American Psychological Association’s journal Psychology of Popular Media Culture. For those who dig academic research studies, downloadable copies are available for purchase here.