By Varun Jewalikar and Federica Fragapane at Musixmatch
3rd December, 2015 (4 min read)
A few months ago, we conducted a study titled ‘The largest vocabulary in music’ (we suggest you to give it a quick read). The vocabularies of the 99 top selling musicians were studied. Now we look closer at comparing the average vocabulary sizes of popular genres.
There are a lot of genres out there. To simplify the study we consider the following 8 popular genres.
Genres selected for this study
The list of most searched artists for each genre is used to represent it. More details and definitions can be found in the analysis section of this page.
It should be no surprise that hiphop is the genre with the highest average vocabulary. In our previous study, hiphop artists had dominated the overall vocabulary rankings. The lyrics are dense and lots of slang is used which gives rappers a big lead over other genres. Also, hiphop has the highest words per song and new words per song.
We expected a more poetry driven genre like Folk or Country to take the second place but were pleasantly surprised to find that it is actually Heavy Metal. A naive guess for this could be the myriad of complicated concepts heavy metal lyrics try to address which calls for using a lot of new words.
Avg. vocabulary size vs spotify followers for popular genres
Folk and Rock come in at #3 and #4 respectively. The difference in the average vocabulary sizes for these two is around 31 words. They are followed closely by Country and Indie Rock at #5 and #6.
Pop is ranked at #7. But it has the highest Spotify followers on average. The lyrical simplicity could be a major factor for its popularity.
Electronic music comes in last. Since it is predominantly instrumental, this should not be surprising. It also has the second highest Spotify following as compared to the other genres.
There is no direct correlation between the average vocabulary size and the popularity of a genre (average spotify followers).
It goes without saying that vocabulary size is just a number and it can’t quantify the beauty, complexity or profoundness of what a song conveys. It is an interesting metric to look at our favourite genres and artists in a new light.
These are some of the issues encountered and respective choices taken for simplifying/reducing the scope of the study.
We use the lists of most searched artists for each genre to represent it. More details can be found in the analysis section of this page.
Ideally, we would want a crowdsourced list of artists for each genre (musicologists selecting representative artists for each genre). This would be quite a task in itself. Instead, we use the lists of most searched artists for each genre to represent it. These lists can be easily retrieved from Google.
Most googled artists
Google returns 51 artists for each genre. These lists are then cleaned (leaving indie rock with 50 artists since 'Sub Pop' is returned as an artist) and matched to the corresponding entries in the Musixmatch database.
Most googled artists for each genre
|Taylor Swift||Jay Z||Bob Dylan||Metallica||The Beatles||Taylor Swift||Arcade Fire||Daft Punk|
|Rihanna||Dr. Dre||Pete Seeger||Death||The Rolling Stones||George Strait||The Strokes||Avicii|
|Michael Jackson||Drake||Woody Guthrie||Black Sabbath||Pink Floyd||Carrie Underwood||Arctic Monkeys||Calvin Harris|
|Beyoncé||Sean Combs||Joni Mitchell||Megadeth||Neil Young||Johnny Cash||Modest Mouse||David Guetta|
|Nicki Minaj||Eminem||Neil Young||Slayer||Led Zeppelin||Garth Brooks||Death Cab for Cutie||Deadmau5|
|Drake||Kanye West||Richard Thompson||Iron Maiden||Michael Jackson||Luke Bryan||Vampire Weekend||Afrojack|
|Justin Bieber||Lil Wayne||The Weavers||Judas Priest||Aerosmith||Willie Nelson||Pixies||Aphex Twin|
|Lady Gaga||50 Cent||Art Garfunkel||Pantera||AC/DC||Jason Aldean||Pavement||Skrillex|
|Madonna||The Notorious B.I.G.||Arlo Guthrie||Anthrax||Bob Dylan||Kenny Chesney||Neutral Milk Hotel||Kraftwerk|
|Katy Perry||Snoop Dogg||The Kingston Trio||Ozzy Osbourne||Paul McCartney||Tim McGraw||Coldplay||Zedd|
|Chris Brown||Tupac Shakur||Joan Baez||Motörhead||John Lennon||Toby Keith||The Black Keys||Nicki Minaj|
|One Direction||Nicki Minaj||Odetta||Slipknot||Elvis Presley||Brad Paisley||Oasis||DJ Snake|
|Ellie Goulding||Nas||Gordon Lightfoot||Led Zeppelin||Nirvana||Dierks Bentley||Belle & Sebastian||Crystal Castles|
|Ed Sheeran||Kendrick Lamar||Lead Belly||AC/DC||Queen||Blake Shelton||Bon Iver||Madonna|
|The Beatles||T.I.||Leonard Cohen||Tool||Black Sabbath||Keith Urban||Blur||Major Lazer|
|Mariah Carey||The Game||Simon and Garfunkel||Korn||Bruce Springsteen||Zac Brown Band||Speedy Ortiz||The Prodigy|
|Bruno Mars||Beyoncé||Doc Watson||Dio||Elton John||Florida Georgia Line||Florence and the Machine||Disclosure|
|Maroon 5||Wiz Khalifa||Phillip Phillips||Deep Purple||Guns N' Roses||Hank Williams||Interpol||Ryuichi Sakamoto|
|Britney Spears||Ice Cube||Paul Kelly||Mötley Crüe||David Bowie||Alan Jackson||Spoon||Thievery Corporation|
|Jason Derulo||Ludacris||Ben Howard||Lamb of God||Metallica||Miranda Lambert||MGMT||Peace Orchestra|
|Demi Lovato||Rick Ross||Paul Simon||Accept||The Who||Dolly Parton||The Decemberists||Émilie Simon|
|Elton John||ASAP Rocky||Judy Collins||Van Halen||The Doors||Hank Williams, Jr.||The New Pornographers||Noto|
|Ariana Grande||Chris Brown||Seth Lakeman||Scorpions||Eric Clapton||Lady Antebellum||Sonic Youth||Koop|
|Selena Gomez||Busta Rhymes||Bruce Springsteen||System of a Down||The Beach Boys||Eric Church||Sleater-Kinney||Porter Robinson|
|Meghan Trainor||Public Enemy||Lee Hays||Def Leppard||Jimi Hendrix||Gary Allan||The Killers||Knife Party|
|Justin Timberlake||Run–D.M.C.||Tom Paxton||Kiss||Deep Purple||Kenny Rogers||Foster the People||Justice|
|Mark Ronson||A Tribe Called Quest||Harry Belafonte||Disturbed||The Allman Brothers Band||Faith Hill||Weezer||Kanye West|
|Miley Cyrus||Lil' Kim||Peter, Paul and Mary||As I Lay Dying||Def Leppard||Rascal Flatts||TV on the Radio||Ellie Goulding|
|Whitney Houston||Outkast||Mike Seeger||Alice in Chains||Alice Cooper||Reba McEntire||The Stone Roses||Diplo|
|Celine Dion||Rihanna||Johnny Cash||Venom||Yes||Darius Rucker||Bright Eyes||Moby|
|The Rolling Stones||Wu-Tang Clan||Yusuf Islam||Helloween||Pearl Jam||The Band Perry||The Kooks||Galantis|
|Elvis Presley||De La Soul||Janis Ian||Children of Bodom||Kiss||Randy Travis||Low||Dillon Francis|
|Adele||Akon||Dave Van Ronk||Avenged Sevenfold||Eagles||Jake Owen||Mumford & Sons||Giorgio Moroder|
|Calvin Harris||2 Chainz||Buffy Sainte-Marie||Testament||The Kinks||Billy Currington||Sufjan Stevens||Jon Gooch|
|Cher||N.W.A||Nick Drake||Morbid Angel||Lou Reed||Martina McBride||Fun||The Chemical Brothers|
|Sia||LL Cool J||Ramblin' Jack Elliott||Manowar||Madonna||Brantley Gilbert||St. Vincent||Audien|
|Charli XCX||Wale||Eric Andersen||Ronnie James Dio||U2||Sam Hunt||Wilco||Kygo|
|Lana Del Rey||Birdman||June Tabor||Alice Cooper||Billy Joel||Shania Twain||Passion Pit||Depeche Mode|
|Paul McCartney||R. Kelly||Harry Chapin||Deftones||Chuck Berry||Chris Young||Imagine Dragons||Katy Perry|
|Christina Aguilera||Meek Mill||Townes Van Zandt||Saxon||Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young||Scotty McCreery||Nero|
|Nick Jonas||Kid Cudi||John Prine||Queensrÿche||Cream||Sara Evans||The National||Bebe Rexha|
|David Guetta||Rakim||Bellowhead||Guns N' Roses||Rush||Little Big Town||Yo La Tengo||Tiësto|
|Flo Rida||Big Daddy Kane||Mississippi John Hurt||Phil Anselmo||Bon Jovi||Eli Young Band||Bastille||AlunaGeorge|
|Kanye West||Chief Keef||Ben Harper||Sepultura||Alice in Chains||Hunter Hayes||Kings of Leon||Steve Aoki|
|Lil Wayne||Beastie Boys||Devendra Banhart||Mastodon||Taylor Swift||Vince Gill||Cloud Nothings||Taylor Swift|
|Kelly Clarkson||Big Sean||Bert Jansch||Rush||Robert Plant||Kacey Musgraves||Franz Ferdinand||Enrique Iglesias|
|Fall Out Boy||Mos Def||Loudon Wainwright III||Arch Enemy||R.E.M.||Waylon Jennings||Local Natives||Beyoncé|
|Wiz Khalifa||Young Thug||Jean Ritchie||Skid Row||Red Hot Chili Peppers||Justin Moore||Bombay Bicycle Club||Iggy Azalea|
|Tove Lo||KRS-One||Pentangle||Demon Hunter||Mick Jagger||Craig Morgan||Dinosaur Jr||Pharrell Williams|
|Lorde||Chance the Rapper||Hazel Dickens||Queen||Green Day||Joe Nichols||The Neighbourhood||Radiohead|
|Walk the Moon||Tyga||Tommy Makem||Dream Theater||Rod Stewart||Alabama||The War on Drugs||Hardwell|
There are some issues with this approach. First being that only 51 artists are considered for each genre, which is an arbitrary number decided by Google. Also, some genre bending artists (Kanye West, Iggy Azalea, Beyoncé, Radiohead, Ellie Goulding,etc. ) appear in multiple genres, which might seem outright wrong (Kanye West classified as 'Electronic') but on closer inspection their songs do include musical elements of these other genres. We think these are small tradeoffs for the simplicity of this approach.
Some artists are very prolific (releasing more than an album every year) while some only release a few albums during their whole career. If we directly compare the vocabulary sizes of these artists the analysis will be skewed in favour of the more prolific artists. Instead we use the following definitions:
Vocabulary Size is the number of unique words used by an artist across the first 10000 words (or less) written by them.
Average vocabulary size of a genre is the average of vocabulary sizes for the artists of that genre.
Generally, the first 10000 words written by an artist covers their first 4 albums and is a good representation of their overall writing style.