Roll over, Beethoven. Elvis Presley too. Female singers with upbeat dance songs are far more likely to make the bestseller music charts, according to new findings by University of California, Irvine researchers. Yet the number of happy songs has declined in recent years, while more negative tunes are increasing.
"What is very surprising to discover is that successful songs behave almost like a different species," said Chancellor's Professor Natalia Komarova, a mathematician and evolutionary biologist who led the work. "They have their own trends and are quantifiably different from average songs."
Musicality is key to success, the scientists found, not just how much is spent on marketing, what particular label a song is on or other socioeconomic factors. An upbeat song by a known superstar does stand a better chance of recognition.
"Music matters. Our study shows that," said Komarova, whose group used a dozen indicators to predict with an accuracy rate of 75 percent to 85 percent which songs would be hits.
She and fellow researchers, including four students, analyzed more than half a million songs released in Britain between 1985 and 2015 to understand the dynamics of success -- defined as making it into top music charts. Several trends were uncovered: Despite the clear popularity of bright, optimistic tunes, particularly by women, their numbers are dwindling, according to the study, published late Tuesday in the Royal Society Open Science journal.
"We used machine learning techniques to predict the success of songs, first based on their acoustic features and then adding the 'superstar' variable, achieving an 85 percent prediction accuracy rate," Komarova said. "Interestingly, successful songs exhibit their own distinct behavior: They tend to be happier, more partylike, less relaxed and more likely to be sung by a woman than most."
The same trends hold true for the U.S. music market, based on a preliminary review of data. A few 2014 hits that meet the study's qualifications for success are "Rather Be," by Clean Bandit; "Shake It Off," by Taylor Swift; and "All About That Bass," by Meghan Trainor.
"Music, and in particular songs, rarely leave people unmoved," the authors write. "There is something magical about music, and scientists have been trying to disentangle the magic."
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