April 7, 2011 at 11:18 AM ET
On iPods everywhere, Rihanna is demanding, "Want you to make me feel like I'm the only girl in the world!" Taylor Swift is whining, "Why can't you see? You belong with me!" And Kanye West is bragging, "Excuse me? Was you saying something? Uh uh. You can't tell me nothing."
It would seem that the popular music we listen to today has become more "me"-centric, less "we"-centric, when compared to hits from decades past -- at least, that's what a team of finger-wagging psychologists are saying in a new study analyzing the lyrics pop hits from 1980 to 2007. What's more, they argue that the increase in "me me me" lyrics reflect a nationwide increase in that 21st century affliction: narcissism.
"Music and culture share a powerful relationship with each other that ... has been left unexplored," write the researchers, led by C. Nathan DeWall of the University of Kentucky. (The study was published in the March issue of the journal Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts.) The researchers add that "music serves as a cultural product that documents change in U.S. culture across time."
Researchers used a text analysis program to examine song lyrics for the 10 most popular songs (according to the Billboard Hot 100 year-end chart) for every year from 1980 to 2007. They found that the decades-old songs were more likely to use more first-person plural pronouns (we, our, us), while the newer lyrics contained more first-person singular pronouns (me, my, mine).
But modern songs aren't just more "me"-focused -- they're also meaner, the study shows. Researchers saw an increase in angry, antisocial words in pop songs as the years went on -- words like kill, hate, annoyed, damn, and f---. (Incidentally, two hit songs in recent months drop the f-bomb in their titles: Pink's "F---in' Perfect" and Cee-Lo's "F--- You.")
Of course, it's not entirely fair to say that pop songs reflect nationwide narcissism -- after all, what about the kids who only listen to indie or punk bands, or grown-ups who stick to oldies? Another shortcoming: The report acknowledges that the program used to analyze the lyrics isn't able to detect sarcasm or hidden meaning. Still, the researchers point out a past study that showed self-reported feelings of loneliness jumped 250 percent from 1985 and 2004 -- plus, more of us than ever are living alone, according to U.S. Census data. But it's an interesting examination of how pop culture is intertwined with our emotional lives.
Bottom line: We're not sure how, but we're pretty sure this is the fault of Facebook and Twitter.
What are some recent pop songs that are very "me me me"? And can you think of any lyrics from songs in the past few decades that defy this finding?