Want a hit song? Then you might as well sing about sex

Let's Talk About Sex
Let’s Talk About Sex

If you want to be a songwriter, they say that you should write about what you know.

And if you want to be a successful songwriter, it ends up that you should WRITE SONGS ABOUT SEX.

Researchers found this out by studying the Billboard charts from 1959 through 2009 for Country, Pop and R&B to see if there were any trends in the songs that made it to the top of the charts.

For example, in 2009 there were 174 songs in total over that time period, and of those 174 songs, they found that 92% of those songs contained some sort of sexual message.

The funny part is that the researchers (all hailing from the University of Albany) found that the most popular songs and music from the past 400 years also consistently contained some sort of sexual overtone.

So what constituted a “sexual message”?  They classified 18 different categories of sexual topics that the songs could allude to:

  • genitalia
  • other body parts
  • courtship/dating
  • hooking up
  • foreplay
  • sex
  • sexual prowess
  • promiscuity
  • sequestering of one’s mate
  • fidelity assurance
  • commitment / fidelity
  • references to luxury items
  • referenes to one’s status
  • Mate provisioning
  • Sex appeal
  • Rejection
  • Infidelity
  • parenting
  • … and the ever popular “other”.

It probably doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone that country and pop songs were often tracked with a similar number of references in their songs in all the years being studied.  R&B charted songs were also, more or less, in line with pop and country songs with the number of sexual references contained in those songs…. until 1989.

Because something happened in 1989, as that’s when R&B exploded in the number of sexual references in each song.  Dramatically so.  You’ve gotta look at that chart to see how much that increased over the steady progress that country and pop songs had made.

But the proof is in the pudding.  If you want to make money and have a hit song, you’ve got to sing about sex.  Statistics don’t lie.