If you were to ask the average music enthusiast to name a common characteristic of a hit song, you'd likely find "repetition" at or near the top of the list. Throughout the history of popular music, some of the most iconic and commercially successful songs spanning an array of styles have featured a high degree of lyrical repetition. Among them, The Trashmen’s timeless “Surfin’ Bird” (1963), Jose Feliciano’s perennial holiday favorite, “Feliz Navidad” (1970), Daft Punk’s “Around The World” (1997) and Rema’s “Calm Down” (2022), to name just a few of many.
However, lately we’ve seen a notable trend towards less lyrical repetition, which is evident in the gold standard of charts, the Billboard Hot 100. Between 2016 and 2022, the number of songs featuring low lyrical repetition nearly doubled from 30% to 58%.
The emergence of this shift can partially be attributed to the rise of hip hop in the Hot 100, which is a genre that typically doesn’t feature copious amounts of lyrical repetition. Between 2016 and 2020, hip hop’s prominence increased from just under one-third of songs to half, with a brief dip in 2019.
However, in the years 2021 and 2022, hip-hop's dominance started to wane, but songs with low lyrical repetition continued to rise. Does that mean that songs in other genres are becoming less lyrically repetitive?
The answer is a resounding yes, and a perfect case in point is pop. Pop songs with low lyrical repetition more than doubled between 2016 and 2022, rising from 17% of songs up to 44%.