WINSTON SALEM, N.C. — Do men and women sing about the same subjects in hit songs? A new study finds that men are more likely to mention sexual experiences in their music, while women sing about love and relationships more frequently.
Researchers looked at songs that topped the charts from 1960 through 2008. The songs selected were the top-50 songs on the Billboard charts at year’s end from even years during the span (e.g., 1962, 1980, 2000).
Of the 1,250 tunes examined, 71 percent referenced some sort of romantic relationship, and none of the decades examined had less than half of its hit tunes reference a dating circumstance.
The most commonly used term was “love,” used in 57 percent of songs.
Interestingly, 22 percent of songs had a sexual reference, although a good number used a metaphor to describe action in bed.
Perhaps the crux of the study, however, was the finding that while women were proportionally more likely to sing about romance, they were simply outnumbered by men.
Of the 1,250 chart-toppers, 827 were sung by men, while only 328 were sung by women. Ninety-five, meanwhile, had participation from both genders.
As a whole, women didn’t change the amount that they referenced a relationship in the five decades examined — with songs about dating not lower than 78 percent of women’s songs and not higher than 83 percent. Yet they more than tripled the amount they referenced sex by the end of the 20th century. In the 1960s, women sang about sex just 6 percent of the time, but that rose to 16 percent in the 1970s, and eventually to 21 percent by the 2000s.
Men, perhaps expectedly, have referenced sex even more. It may surprise some, however, that their rate of mentioning sex in hits increased more than fivefold from the 1960s to the 2000s. While men sang about sex just 7 percent of the time in the 1960s, the number jumped to 20 percent in 1970 and surged to 40 percent in the 2000s.
Meanwhile, men sang about relationships 69 percent of the time in the 1960s, with that number dropping to 59 percent by the 2000s. Of course, the epic rock ballad era of the 1980s saw men sing about romance in 78 percent of their songs.
More than half the songs in the rock and R&B genre centered around dating and love, while more than half in the rap genre were about sex and objectification of bodies, mostly women.
As for the methodology, the researchers collaborated with a group of 10 college students to help categorize the lyrical nature of each song examined. Lyrics, to be sure, were verified.
The study’s findings were published in the journal Sexuality and Culture. The research was led by Jennifer W. Shewmaker, Ph.D., Andrew P. Smiler, Ph.D., and Brittany Hearon, M.A..