Can You Guess What Science Says Is The Most Influential Genre Of Music?

The British Invasion doesn't have anything on this.

What is the biggest thing to happen to the world of music since 1960?

The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show? Disco? Crocodile Rock? 80s hair bands? Autotune? Is it all a matter of opinion with no way to settle it scientifically?

None of the above finds a new study published in The Royal Society Open Science — that is, as long as you take the right approach. A team of evolutionary biologists from the UK analyzed the popularity of music since 1960 in much the same way as their colleagues examine the fossil record to find out how species are related. 

They used this method to determine how popular various genres of music were each year in hopes of learning what music has made the biggest impact.

Ultimately, they found that the biggest music revolution of the past 55 years was hip-hop.

The study determined which songs were most popular between 1960-2010 by referencing the Billboard Hot 100 charts, because it encompasses all genres of music. While there is much more music off of this chart than on it, the researchers decided this was the best way to see what most people were listening to.

They listened to 30-second-long snippets from the majority of the songs in order determine how each song would be classified. Some of the biggest gaps were in the earlier years, as digital versions were not available for some of those songs. 

Here's how hip-hop stacked up against other genres during that time period:

The researchers didn't just focus on overall popularity. They were also able to see which instruments and chord progressions were used, and differentiate between male voices and female voices. This allowed them to  track how these attributes fell in and out of fashion over time.

Dominant 7th chord songs, for example, which were popular in classic country, have all but fallen completely out of use. Songs with piano and orchestral sounds peaked in popularity in the late 1960s and quickly dropped, but started to come back after the year 2000. Heavy drum use was all the rage in the 1980s and early 90s, but has since dipped down and plateaued in popularity.

From the late 1980s onward, energetic spoken word songs, like those common in rap, exploded in popularity.

By understanding musical trends and the attributes that different songs have, software programs are better able to recommend music that listeners are likely to enjoy and can often predict which songs or artists are more likely to be commercially successful.

Listen to the full explanation here from ScienceFriday:

[H/T: ScienceFriday]

[Header image: rez-art/iStockphoto]