Adventures in Digital Studies

John Forest’s Website

Final Project

Final Project

For my original digital methodology assignment, which can be found here, I decided to take a look at the different types of words in three different genres of popular music in the United States.  I chose to redo this project as my final exam for the class, and I changed the parameters a litle bit.  First, I narrowed down my study to the top two genres: Pop and Country music.  Second, I gave myself a much larger sample of songs to work with: I used the top ten songs in each genre.  Third, I used a more diverse visuals to see exactly what words make a song in a particular genre popular.  I did all of this to try and figure out my central question…

Why are some songs popular while others aren’t?

Instead of explaining all the data for the ten songs, like I did in my last iteration of this project, I want to simply show you.  The data below is separated by the two genres, and gives a more complete picture than what I can explain in several paragraphs of text.  Under each set of data,  I will give my personal analysis as to why a song might be successful in 2020.  


List of songs that were analyzed:

  1. Say So – Doja Cat
  2. Dont Start Now – Dua Lipa
  3. Senorita – Shawn Mendes
  4. Blinding Lights – The Weekend
  5. Adore You – Harry Styles
  6. Old Town Road – Lil Nas X
  7. Sucker – Jonas Brothers
  8. Rain On Me – Lady Gaga
  9. Watermelon Sugar – Harry Styles
  10. Shape Of You – Ed Sheeran

There are definitely some reasons why pop music is the most popular genre.  One of those reasons is the easily definable “catchy” beat that most of the music in that category have.  If you listen to any of these songs, you can easily track the beat by listening to the bass or percussion.  The pop genre also uses words like “oh” and “ya” as filler words to keep the general scheme of the song on the same beat.   

Another reason that pop songs are so relevant in America is their message.  If you want to create a successful pop song there has to be a message that will relate to a younger audience.  People who listen to pop music are primarily 12-25 year olds, according to a poll by Vox.  Although there are definitely people much later in life that are listening to pop music, it is more important to relate to the struggles of the youth.  Topics about love are standard throughout popular music, but are an important part of pop music.  Sex, love, and relevance to the times are important aspects to any successful pop song.  

Repetition is another aspect of pop songs that many people find alluring.  It is not uncommon for songs in the genre to repeat the same line over ten times.  

Overall, a successful pop song has to meet these several criteria in order to become popular.  This is not an exclusive list, and there are many other aspects to consider when writing a song, but this is a good start:

  1. A catchy beat
  2. Relevant topic
  3. Repetition


List of songs that were analyzed:

  1. The Bones – Marin Morris
  2. Beer Never Broke My Heart – Luke Combs
  3. Whiskey Glasses – Morgan Wallen
  4. Even Though I’m Leaving – Luke Combs
  5. More Hearts Than Mine – Ingrid Andress
  6. I Hope – Gabby Barrett
  7. One Man Band – Old Dominion
  8. Bluebird – Miranda Lambert
  9. God’s Country – Blake Shelton
  10. Knockin’ Boots – Luke Bryant

Country music is almost seen as niche in American society.  However, this isn’t really the case.  Many people find that country music is relatable to everyday life, but in a different way than pop music.  Consumers who enjoy the country genre report that it is comforting to see people relate to the struggles of every day life.  

The genre does clearly relate to certain groups of people over others, you are far more likely to relate to a song about farming if you are a farmer.   Many people want to relate to the struggles of rural life, because many live in urban and suburban areas and have never experienced that type of life.  

Another important aspect of country music is its simplicity.  Not simplicity in story or message, but simplicity in how the music is produced.  When you listen to a country song, one can clearly hear basic instruments (guitar, drums, tamborines, etc.).  This type of sound is not exclusive to country music, but out of the ten songs sampled for this research, all ten of them have a simplistic sound style.  

Overall, a successful country song should meet these several criteria in order to become popular.  This is not an exclusive list, and there are many other aspects to consider when writing a song, but this is a good start:

  1. Relatable / down-to-earth topic
  2. Simple instruments (not a lot of editing, with occasional exception)

There can be numerous reasons a song might not become popular in mainstream media. It could not fit in any one genre well (be an outlier), it could have a rhythm or tune that isn’t catchy enough for people to remember, or it could even just use a couple wrong words here and there and ruin it for a lot of people. Another reason a song might not become popular could be that it is for a niche market. There are hundreds, even thousands of genres of music, and many do not have a base as large as country or pop music. A song can also fall from popularity if a musician or song-writer is found to be a criminal or untrustworthy in the community, although this is rare. In summation, many songs become popular by chance or inheritance (someone who is already popular). However, it is much more common that any song produced will get less than 1000 listens in it’s lifetime, according to the New York Times.