Pop music content suggests narcissism is rising

Have you found modern pop tunes to have an uncomfortable bent toward the self-centered and narcissistic that you don’t recall from your youth?

You might just be getting old. Researchers have found the music of today is, for instance, more focused on terms like “I” and “me” than “we” and “us.” The trend has been steadily increasing since the 1980s, and psychologists Keith Campbell of the University of Georgia and Jean Twenge of San Diego State University have examined the phenomenon using several decades worth of stats from the Narcissism Personality Inventory. The test uses queries like “I try not to be a show-off” and “I will usually show off if I get the chance” to determine a subject’s self centeredness. Campbell and Twenge found the rise in narcissism, particularly in “young people.”

Little reflects how youth describes itself better than music, and Livescience points to the research of University of Kentucky psychologist Nathan DeWall, who studied song lyric content between 1980 and 2007 on the Billboard Hot 100:

DeWall and his colleagues analyzed the lyrics of songs on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart from 1980 to 2007. They found a statistically significant trend toward narcissism in the music, with the words “I” and “me” gradually replacing “we” and “us.” Recent examples of narcissism in popular songs include Justin Timberlake’s 2006 proclamation, “I’m bringing sexy back,” and Beyoncé’s 2005 line, “It’s blazin’, you watch me in amazement.”

DeWall also discovered a shift away from what was termed “happiness and contentment” and toward “hostility and anger”- a psychological trait linked with narcissism. Twenge elaborated:

“In the early ’80s lyrics, love was easy and positive, and about two people,” Twenge told the New York Times. “The recent songs are about what the individual wants, and how she or he has been disappointed or wronged.”

Do you find today’s youth to be more self-focused and less altruistic? Have you noticed the change in musical content?