Yakov Vorobyev, developer of an app for DJs called Mixed In Key, recently used his software to compare the beats per minute (bpm) of the 25 most-streamed tracks on Spotify in 2012 to the top 25 thus far this year, and his findings have revealed a deep, long-term societal trend.
Five years ago, the average tempo of the most popular songs was 113.5 bpm, Vorobyev found. In 2017, however, the bpm of frequently streamed tracks hovers closer to 90. Part of the reason for this is due to the chart dominance of hip-hop, a genre that tends to play with slower tempo ranges.
But some music industry professionals, like Bonnie McKee, cite another reason for the shift. McKee, who has written several number one hits for Katy Perry, says it’s emotionally difficult for people to enjoy upbeat tunes as the sociopolitical climate of the planet continues to darken.
Speaking to Rolling Stone last week, McKee pointed to the financial crisis of the late 2000s as an example of how the societal mood can dictate what does well on the charts.
“When you think about the financial crisis of 2008, there was a lot more uptempo stuff,” she said. “In a crisis like that, people want to forget their problems.”
But things have changed, says McKee, and human beings today are increasingly aware of the major problems facing the world:
“In a crisis like we’re in right now, where people’s rights are being taken away and people are being shot in the street, that’s a different kind of crisis, a moral and social one. People don’t really feel right about jumping up and down and bopping right this second.”
BBC Radio 6 Music DJ Chris Hawkins agrees. Speaking to the United Kingdom’s The Times, Hawkins cited “the bleak news and the frenetic lives that we lead and the dark times we live in” as a major element of why people are shifting away from upbeat tracks.
Echoing both McKee and Hawkins, radio business veteran Sean Ross told Rolling Stone that moral outrage over what’s happening in the world today transcends all dividing lines:
“Whoever you are, whatever you believe, there’s something to be angry and morose about in this moment.”