Vsauce mentions a study by Joan Serra showed contemporary pop music is less complex in its musical motives than it was, which he explains by a wider diversity in form and genres.

While complexity of melody is a complex question, since it depends on the listener which patterns he finds important, a rhyme and even a good rhyme is relatively easy to define as repetition of words whereas:

  • The stressed vowel sound in both words must be identical, as well as any subsequent sounds. For example, "sky" and "high"; "skylight" and "highlight".
  • The onset of the stressed syllable in the words must differ. For example, "bean" and "green" is a perfect rhyme, while "leave" and "believe" is not.

To me, it seems like rhymes, in this classical definition, have decreased in frequency in popular music over the last 60 years or so. Are there any studies/clues that would back this claim? If so, how do they explain it?

EDITS: Clarity & definition of a rhyme added

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    A good question, but by what standard would it be possible to answer objectively? – user45266 May 6 '19 at 14:49
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    @user45266 I hope you re-evaluate the hold after I added an objective definition of rhymes. – Probably May 7 '19 at 9:01
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    The notion of "good rhyme" is not straightforward or easy to define. The term perfect rhyme says nothing about the "goodness" of a rhyme; it merely describes a certain type of rhyme, in opposition to an imperfect rhyme, also called an oblique rhyme, slant rhyme, or off-rhyme. Some of the greatest rhyming couplets in the history of poetry were slant rhymed couplets. This question still seems off-topic to me; you are asking for studies that support your idea, but requests for external resources are off-topic. – ex nihilo May 8 '19 at 2:25
  • @DavidBowling Sorry, "good rhyme" is actually part of the terminology in my language. More perfect would probably sound even worse. I don't know which word to choose but I'm not saying good rhymes imply good art. – Probably May 8 '19 at 4:42

Vsauce mentions a study by Joan Serra showed contemporary pop music is less complex in its musical motives than it was, which he explains by a wider diversity in form and genres.

The problem with studies like this comes down to definitions. How do you define 'pop' music in a way that makes meaningful comparisons across time possible? How do you define 'complexity' in a way that is consistent across different musical genres, which focus on completely different types of musical elements?

The study in question seems to be this one. As far as I can tell, the researcher in question is just using songs that are in the million-song dataset - but I can't see in the study where he gives any reasoning as to why this is a scientifically-consistent collection of music to compare across time. (this article has some of the same objections about the study.)

The researcher has also been limited to the particular data fields already available in the million-song dataset; They don't seem to have independently validated the usefulness of those fields, although perhaps that validation is available elsewhere.

To me, it also seems like classical rock used more rhymes, or more intricate rhymes than the contemporary pop music. Is this true? If so, why?

To find out if it's true, you'd have to come up with a formal metric for 'rhyme intricacy', and do the analysis. I'd be incredibly surprised if a lot of current hip-hop oriented pop music didn't score very highly on some possible metrics for rhyme intricacy. But ultimately the metric would be subjective - as would the definitions for "classical rock" and "contemporary pop".

Edit, following the definition of rhyme being added to the question:

I am not aware of any comparative studies of rhyme frequency. My guess would be that you would see a wider range in rhyme frequency in contemporary chart music compared to the chart music of 60 years ago. On one hand, there is a prevalence of dance-influenced music that often treats lyrical content as somewhat textural or incidental, rather than focal. On the other hand, the last 40 years have seen the onset of hip-hop music which is likely to be much higher in rhyme density (probably in any type of rhyme) than any sung music. In fact two of the studies I can find on measurement of rhyming metrics focus on hip-hop:

Using Automated Rhyme Detection to Characterize Rhyming Style in Rap Music

Automatic Detection of Internal and Imperfect Rhymes in Rap Lyrics

Of course defining what a rhyme is still doesn't give an entirely unambiguous metric for measuring rhyme frequency or richness. Do we do it as a metric per second (which would be affected by tempo), or per word? Do we count repetitions of rhyming couplets? How exactly do we define what "the stressed vowel sound" is, when this can vary according to accent/locality? Are we interested in rhymes within lines, or only at line endings?

Taking a step back, focusing on the definition of 'good rhyme' might be at odds with what many artists are actually trying to achieve. The Wikipedia entry on imperfect rhyme explains why there are a number of creative reasons why it is desirable to use imperfect rhymes (or half rhyme / slant rhyme):

This can be used to avoid rhyming clichés (e.g. rhyming "knowledge" with "college") or obvious rhymes, and gives the writer greater freedom and flexibility in forming lines of verse. Additionally, some words have no perfect rhyme in English, necessitating the use of slant rhyme. The use of half rhyme may also enable the construction of longer multisyllabic rhymes than otherwise possible.

Given that the creative use of imperfect rhyme can be seen as a good thing, it may be that the use of 'good' rhyme might subjectively be seem as naïve and clichéd.


With music production easily accessible to everyone (you really only need a computer and a mic) a lot of the music is made by people that I wouldn't personally define as "musicians". It sounds a bit snobby but what I mean is that more and more often pop music is produced by people that don't put their whole life towards studying music. This make them more "superficial" as composers, less interested in finding complex harmony (there are tones of pop songs that really use no more than 2 or 3 chords) and less interested in finding complex lyrics (rhymes, alliterations and other researched figures are almost absent in most of trap music for example).

I would say, without any intention to offend, that today "music ignorants" (as they ignore, they lack knowledge) are a major part of the producers and the listeners and this make pop music generally simpler.

Classic rock, jazz and similar genres were usually made by musicians that really mastered at least one instrument so they studied a lot of music in their lives (in contrast with rappers, trappers, djs and so on that often only learned how to use a software).

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    There absolutly are people with a lot of music knowledge, but are they interested in composing the new summer raggaeton hit? Not often.. – Xandru May 6 '19 at 8:24
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    I think you're absolutely right that different audiences enjoy different things. Where I would disagree is with the idea that the people who successfully create music for a particular audience do so because they're ignorant. I think what you'll find is that the latest summer hit is generally made by teams of professionals who have a lot of very sophisticated knowledge about making that type of music - even if it is intentionally "lowest common denominator" stuff in some ways, that doesn't mean it's easy to be successful with it. – topo Reinstate Monica May 6 '19 at 8:41
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    Kendrick Lamar won a Music Pulitzer Prize without any music training (just an example in a sea of famous street teached rappers). I'm not saying pop artists are on a lower level, they just make their music in a different way. And that way make their music simpler. – Xandru May 6 '19 at 8:58
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    I'd say it's the other way around. Popular music is written by teams and created by studios with perfect knowledge of the demand. – Probably May 6 '19 at 9:11
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    with perfect knowledge of the demand that's exactly the problem: what we have is the sale of music and songs have become a ware. What sells best and popularity has never been a point of quality. But this has been also before the time of Bob Dylan and John Lennon. I'm still discovering new secrets and wonders in their lyrics. But I don't think that the rhymes are the most important criteria. It is the sense and content, whether they have to tell something or not, the message. And the rhymes sould really be hindering for this goal. – Albrecht Hügli May 6 '19 at 9:29

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