Previously we looked at the vocabulary sizes of popular genres.
In this article we focus on the usage of profanity in lyrics and in popular genres. Our next article will compare popular artists by their usage of profanity. Please subscribe to our mailing list to get notified.
An average of 0.5% to 0.7% (80-90 words) of all words that a person speaks each day are swear words. 80% of the swearing is accounted by 10 words (fuck, shit, hell, damn, goddamn, Jesus Christ, ass, oh my god, bitch and sucks) 1.
To compare usage of profanity in lyrics to the above numbers we analysed the lyrics of the most popular artists on Musixmatch.
The dataset was scanned for the frequency of occurrence of each word from this list of swear words. An average of 0.45% of all words in lyrics are swear words. 1 in every 234 words in lyrics is a swear word. This is slightly less than the frequency of swear words in conversations.
The following 25 swear words account for 91% of swearing in lyrics. More details about the analysis can be found here.
Percentage usage of profanities
The previous analysis also revealed that 185 words account for 99% of all profanity in lyrics. The lyrics of 8 popular genres - Hip Hop, Heavy Metal, Pop, Rock, Indie Rock, Country, Electronic and Folk - are analysed for the occurence of these 185 words.
Genres by profanity frequency
1 in every 47 words in Hiphop lyrics is a swear word. This also means every Hiphop song has 10 profanities on average.
The top 3 swear words used are nigga, shit and niggas. But the 'n word' is generally not used in an offensive context in Hiphop. On removing it alongwith its conjugations from the analysis of Hiphop lyrics, 1 in every 74 words is a swear word in Hiphop lyrics. This still means 6 profanities in every song. Even with this reduction hip hop still remains the most profane genre overall.
Hiphop - with and without the 'n word'
Heavy metal lyrics are known for their aggressive and violent imagery. So its no surprise it takes 2nd rank here.
Even though Electronic music is mostly instrumental but it still ranks third.
Pop, Indie Rock and Rock have comparable profanity frequencies (1 in every 1000 words). For every 4 songs on average for these genres we would find 1 profanity.
Folk lyrics have 1 swear word for every 2925 words while for Country lyrics this is 1 for every 4438 words. This also means that for every 22 Folk songs and every 20 Country songs we can find 1 profanity. This is very less compared to Hiphop.
The usage of profanity in lyrics is comparable to it's usage in every day speech. Also, 185 swear words account for 99% of all swearing in lyrics. With respect to these words, we found that Hiphop lyrics are the most profane.
While researching this article, we understood that defining profanity is a problematic (and sometimes funny) issue and it depends a lot on contextual factors (culture, geography, importance to the narrative, etc). On the flipside, it is also possible to be highly offensive without ever using any profanities. This study is merely a statistical analysis of lyrics and a way to contrast the writing styles of different genres.
Our next article will compare popular artists by their usage of profanity. Please subscribe to our mailing list to be notified when it is released.
Some of the challenges faced and choices made during this study.
This was the biggest challenge mainly because of the contextual nature of profanity. The first idea was to just consider the Seven Dirty Words. We were interested in this because of the historical importance of this list, but a lot of swear words more commonly found in lyrics would be missed.
Since FCC is the body censoring broadcasts in the USA, we looked up their website hoping to find a more general list of profanities or even a generic definition of profanity. Instead they have this ambiguous description:
The FCC would consider the F-Word and those words (or variants thereof) that are as highly offensive as the F-Word to be profane language that cannot be broadcast between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. 2
In the end we decided to use this list of profanities as a starting point. It is a list which was used by Google for filtering user input for one of its projects. We removed some of the very specific phrases found in that list to arrive at this. These 437 swear words were used for the study.
We used the list of representative artists from our previous article. For Pop and Electronic music some artists (Kanye West, Nicki Minaj, Iggy Azalea, Pharrell Williams, Madonna, Lil Wayne, Chris Brown, Wiz Khalifa, Drake), who mainly belong to the Hiphop genre, were distorting the results. So we removed them from the list of representative artists for Pop and Electronic. Whether these artists should be classified as Pop/Electronic as well as Hiphop is another discussion altogether.
We considered a few other ways to represent the data.
The frequency numbers are heavily dominated by Hip hop and this makes most of the lines in the above chart very thin. This wasn't very communicative overall so we didn't use this idea.
This representation doesn't allow us to show the most used profanities even though it is quite informative.