Further empirical evidence of what we already knew was true: Migos are better than The Beatles.
The notion that The Beatles revolutionised pop is a truism the boomer generation loves to hang on to, but a new study claims that the Fab Four’s influence on music is dwarfed by the impact of hip-hop.
A group of researchers from Queen Mary and Imperial College London measured musical patterns in the US pop charts between 1960 and 2010 to pinpoint trends and track their duration. Gathering data through Last.fm, the group used signal processing and text-mining to analyse the musical properties of songs.
Their findings suggest that far from the “British invasion” of the 1960s causing a revolution in the pop charts, the musical style of those bands – measured by elements like chord changes and tone – was already established. The real revolution came 30 years later, the study claims, when hip-hop went mainstream and began to take over the charts in 1991, changing the musical landscape forever.
The study’s lead author, Matthias Mauch, says the research breaks new ground in the way it measures musical trends. “For the first time we can measure musical properties in recordings on a large scale. We can actually go beyond what music experts tell us, or what we know ourselves about them, by looking directly into the songs, measuring their makeup, and understanding how they have changed,” he said.
The study also disputes the widely held idea that pop music has become more homogenous over the years. The researchers pinpointed 1986 as the least diverse year in US chart history, which they attribute to the emergence of drum machines.
Other academics say the study is flawed, however. Mike Brocken, a senior lecturer in music at Liverpool Hope University, argued: “Popular music cannot be ‘measured’ in this way – what about reception, the political economy, subcultures? So my first instincts are to question any study that uses the dreaded data analysis.”
Brocken, who also leads the university’s Beatles masters degree, added: “I don’t think that the kind of formalistic musical analysis that is suggested here helps at all. The Beatles ‘communicated’ things to people; whether it was via an A-minor chord or an A-major chord really does not make the slightest difference. Semiotic approaches yield far more than chord shapes and time signatures.”
He added that The Beatles were “not so much innovators as musical magpies – and that’s not a criticism. They, like all of us, listened to all sorts of stuff and were duly inspired.”