What were you listening to back in third grade? Second? First?! Third grade was sixteen years ago for me, meaning that it was 1999, and that songs like Blink 182
's "What's My Age Again," Destiny's Child's "Bills Bills Bills," and Smashmouth's "All Star" were topping the charts. These are classics from some of the best bands to ever grace the music scene. Their virtuosic musicianship and transcendent lyrical content trumps most of the nonsense flooding the airwaves today. But most importantly, I bet that if you ran the lyrics of a song like "What's My Age Again" through a reading level analysis program, you'd find that it was at a college level
Unfortunately, I'm probably wrong about that last bit (I also may have exaggerated some of the other statements due to nostalgia). And if you thought anything similar about current pop music, you'd be just as incorrect -- actually, more
incorrect. A new study
by Andrew Powell-Morse found that, on average, recent Billboard chart toppers spanning Pop, Rock, R&B/Hip Hop, and Country sit at a third-grade reading level, dipping as low as first grade. And it's become progressively worse over the past ten years. For this reason, this week's inductees into the Hall Of Shame are the majority of the American music-listening community, myself included.
The idea that popular music is unintelligent isn't exactly a revelation...but first grade?! I would have honestly thought that when I'm on a long drive scanning through Z100, Hot 97 and Party 105, I'm listening at least at an eighth grade level. When Jhene Aiko tells me that I have to "eat the booty like groceries;" or when Lil' Wayne sermonizes about the merits of "truffle butter," (I still have no idea what either of those things mean) my noggin starts working overtime and I feel mentally energized. Florida Georgia Line really gets my synapses [Ed. note: If Jason were still an intern, I would have excised any Florida Georgia Line reference on pure principle. They look like what I imagine meth smells like.] firing when they talk about lifted Chevys, and I could write a doctoral thesis on the social implications of Taylor Swift's "Bad Blood."
Unfortunately, however, the main variables that this study focused on were the number of syllables and characters in a song's words, not its metaphorical or figurative content. And because ten-dollar options like 'nefarious,' 'lugubrious,' and 'rabelaisian' don't exactly fit easily into the rhyme-conscious structure of modern day music, our hits were destined for failure. That being said, Eminem scored top of the hip hop class with an average of a 3.7 grade level, and Mariah Carey got the top of pop with a 3.95 (that's almost 4th grade!). But the greatest revelation by far is that the much maligned Nickelback scored top of their class with an astounding 3.3 (and they're Canadian!). Nickelback fans should file this one away for the next time an unruly heckler accosts them with jabs about the band's destruction of modern music.
All jokes aside, however, the outcome of this study makes a lot of sense. We live in a society that, in general, looks to popular music for an escape. Instead of looking to the great lyrical poets of our time for protest and introspection, we seek party anthems and clever ways to talk about fucking each other. But you know what? I say let's keep dumbing it down until we hit rock bottom. Because, at the end of the day, is there anything better than hearing a third grader sing, "you gotta eat the booty like groceries?" No, I think not.
See 2:15 below for arguably the best line in music right now.