Pop Song Titles are Losing the Love

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Love. It's the drug, and a battlefield, and a many splendored thing. It takes time, it will lead you back, and it don't cost a thing. Is there any topic that has inspired more pop songs than love? Judging by the words in song titles over the last 120 years, no. Love is the most frequent word (after function words like the, you, and I) in the tens of thousands of song titles contained in the Whitburn Project database of Billboard Chart hits.

But something has happened to the love. Linguist Tyler Schnoebelen and his colleagues at Idibon, a company specializing in extracting useful information from language data, stumbled upon the puzzling fate of love while looking for a way to identify titles in large language samples. As he describes in this fun and interesting post, they discovered that in recent years "the percentage of hits with love in the title has been only 30 percent of what it was in 1980, when people knew how to love."

You can see the fall-off in love in this chart of the percentage of songs with love in the title by year:


Not only was the 2003 to 2007 period a low point for love, it was a high point for hate. There are only 30 songs with hate in the title in the entire database, and 11 of them occurred in this time period.

So what is going on? Have we become too cynical to sing our hearts out about love? Or have we perhaps started to call it something else? It's hard to say. It may only be that artists have intuitively picked up on another surprising detail revealed by this analysis. There is a statistically significant difference between the average number of weeks love and non-love songs stay on the chart, with love songs staying an average of 9.4 weeks and non-love songs staying an average of 11.4. Love may help get you there, but it won't keep you there, or, as Schnoebelen says, "you’re gonna have to love for love, not for platinum."