When people think of the Beatles, they think of the music revolution that the band brought about. However, researchers now say that it was hip-hop that truly revolutionized American pop music.
How did they come to this conclusion? Through big data analysis, of course. Researchers analyzed the style trends, tonal shifts, chord patterns, and other features of over 17,000 songs on the U.S. pop charts between 1960 and 2010. According to this study, music from the Beatles era—at least music from the 60's—wasn't as original or pioneering as people thought. Many of us have probably always thought that the Beatles and other musical acts of the era brought something new to rock and roll. However, it turns out that they had just been following existing trends in the genre.
Of course, this doesn't mean that the Beatles didn't make significant contributions to music. It's just that they were not as revolutionary as we once thought they were.
"Hip-hop is the single greatest revolution in the U.S. pop charts by far," said Armand M. Leroi, co-author of the study. “I would have said it was 1964." Leroi is not alone in thinking this. Also, while people often think of hip-hop as a game0changing musical genre, we don't give it nearly enough credit.
Leroi and his team analyzed 30-second chunks from 17,094 songs, which made up 86% of the songs that appeared on the Billboard Hot 100 from 1960 to 2010. Instead of classifying the songs by genre, they created 13 groups based on patterns in chords, tones, and rhythms. This allowed the researchers to identify and analyze trends with more consistency than ever. Therefore, the researchers weren't just looking at known genres or what music experts say. They were looking at the songs themselves and how music changed.
The study came up with a number of different findings. For one thing, the researchers found that the music revolution didn't begin in 1964 with the Beatles. Instead, it began in 1991 with hip-hop. The researchers also found that the year 1986 was the least diverse year in the history of pop music. There was more diversity in music after that year, but this diversity began to decline once again in 2010.
However, the researchers say that we're likely not heading towards every piece of pop music sounding the same. It may not sound like it, but there still are diverse patterns in pop music.
The researchers wanted to objectively analyze music and its changes, which are largely subjective and emotional. However, is it possible to objectively analyze something that's subjective and fluid? Critics of the research raised this question and more in response to the findings. According to these critics, the research failed to account for the other factors that play a role in the rise of different genres. The evolution of music isn't contained in itself, but rather influenced by society, politics, and culture.
The matter of mathematically analyzing music and its trends is a point of contention between the humanities and the hard sciences. Then again, both fields have their own point of views that can form a more complete picture of pop music revolution and evolution.
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