University of Oulu

“These ******* they **** and suck ****” : changes in lyrical content of popular music from 1959 to 2021

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Author: Linde, Juho-Matias1
Organizations: 1University of Oulu, Faculty of Humanities, English Philology
Format: ebook
Version: published version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 0.7 MB)
Pages: 29
Persistent link:
Language: English
Published: Oulu : J.-M. Linde, 2023
Publish Date: 2023-10-23
Thesis type: Bachelor's thesis
Tutor: Rauniomaa, Mirka


The purpose of this thesis is to inspect and analyze the changes in popular music lyrics from 1959 to 2021 in terms of references to explicitness (sexual content, profanity) and substances (drugs, alcohol). The songs for the study were selected from the top 10 of Billboard Year-End Hot 100 Singles, Billboard Top 40 and Billboard Hot 100. Drawing on findings presented in previous research and adopting a discourse-analytic approach, the thesis examines the selected lyrics in some detail and considers the changes in lyrical content in popular music in the changing societal context. It should be noted that since the U.S. is a top contributor to the global music scene both in terms of consumption and songwriting, and the fact that Billboard-charts track sales, streaming and radio play in the U.S., this study mainly focuses on the U.S. context.

The results show that popular music lyrics in 1959–1980 were mostly free from explicit content and substance references, but starting from the 1990s, there has been a significant rise in such content and references, continuing all the way to 2021. Possible reasons for this are as follows: changes in societal norms (attitudes towards recreational substance use, discussing sex and sexuality, profanity), the decline of Parents Music Resource Center, and its effects on censorship, and the emergence of the streaming model (Spotify, Apple Music, Pandora, etc.) and the consequent decline of physical sales.

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Copyright information: © Juho-Matias Linde, 2023. Except otherwise noted, the reuse of this document is authorised under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC-BY 4.0) licence ( This means that reuse is allowed provided appropriate credit is given and any changes are indicated. For any use or reproduction of elements that are not owned by the author(s), permission may need to be directly from the respective right holders.