Narcissistic lyrics linked to a narcissistic generation? Well call me Lil’ Wayne. I’m goin’ in.

Finally, I have a reason to take a dookie all over today’s pop music. And listen. I bolded all the important parts so you can tell your friends what’s up.

In a recent study by Nathan DeWall of the University of Kentucky, it was revealed that, through linguistic analysis of songs from 1980’s to 2007, narcissism has emerged as pop music’s most salient theme. And it is the purpose of this study to study the link between this shift in lyrics to the shift of narcissism prevalent amongst young and old adults. 

According to DeWall and other psychologists, there has been a significant trend towards narcissism and hostility in American popular music than in previous generations. DeWall’s team had hypothesized correctly: the words “I” and “me” tend to appear along with anger-related words, while there’s a corresponding decline in “we” and “us” and positive emotions. To make a correlation between changing lyrics to cultural changes in individualistic traits, DeWall points to his co-authors’ research, which showed that people of the same age scored higher in measures of narcissism on some personality tests.

Researchers found that popular songs in the 1980’s emphasized “happy togetherness”, citing artists such as Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross, Lionel Richie, and John Lennon. These artists released hits that highlighted a sense of group compassion. Conversely, today’s songs are likely to be about the singer his/herself.  Look at Justin Timberlake’s “Sexy Back”, where Timberlake claims he’s solely “bringing sexy back”, or Fergie’s “My Humps”, whose song claimed she could get prospective males (presumably male) “love drunk” off of “all that ass inside (her) jeans”.(Yes. I highlighted this to show how referential and funny I can be. Get at me.) Early 80’s lyrics emphasized love as easy and positive, about more than one participant. In recent hits, the music is all about individual desires and how she or he has been hurt. Also you should note that DeWall limited the genre analyzed as to not include rap and hip-hop.

So where the ish is the correlation?

Well apparently, DeWall’s co-authors found that narcissism has been increasingly prevalent via findings from a questionnaire called the “Narcisissm Personality Inventory”. The level of narcissism found from these questionnaires has been rising since the 1980’s according to college campus data analysis. Also, during this period there have been reports of higher levels of loneliness and depression. The correlation here being that higher narcissism has been linked to increased anger and problems maintaining relationships. (Their song-lyric analysis found a decrease in words correlated to social connections and positive emotions, and an increase in words correlated to anger and antisocial behavior.)

In terms of making a solid connection between changing song lyrics and changing attitudes.. well it’s a bit shaky. Psychologists are doubting the study’s aims.. citing many other reasons for this spike in narcissism. Obviously, however, these hits are being consumed which inherently reveals a market for their individualistic themes. And the truth is, correlation or no correlation, narcissism is at an all-time high amongst young and some older people.  

My thoughts? 

I do feel like this generation has its share of narcissistic tendencies. As expressions of individualism has reached an odd, odd pinnacle, we must wonder why.

While I do agree with the study’s findings, I share some doubts as well about the attempted correlation, largely in part to the study’s exclusion of the rap and hip-hop genre. Never before has such a genre influenced other forms of music. Pop music employs many musical techniques hiphop brought into the game such as sampling and a new take on referencing other artists (“And a Jay-Z song is on.. And a Jay-Z song is on…”). I also believe that the attitude hiphop portrays, with heavy emphasis on the individual overcoming societal obstacles, has also been a heavy influence on pop music. I mean, damn, since Run DMC and Aerosmith changed the game, it’s been history since. I don’t believe pop music is responsible on its own right as a harbinger of a narcissistic point-of-view, especially with American pop culture. In simpler terms, I feel that leaving out hip-hop’s hand in transforming pop music is to leave out some points that could expose some potentially salient points. But I’m no psychologist, no. I’m just a dude who grew up listening to the many iterations of the “I”, namely T-Pain’s celebration of the “I”. I’m on no boat, but I’m (we’re) definitely cruising through some uncharted territory.

I know I may be jumping the gun by inherently stating the study says pop music is responsible for a shift towards higher levels of narcissism amongst our generation — however, isn’t this question we all want to solve?

What is it that makes our generation feel inclined to scream the “I”?

Are the kids really alright?

Gavin McInnes surely has something to say about it.

Do you?

Link to New York Times article: “A Generation’s Vanity, Heard Through Lyrics,” by John Tierney



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2 responses to “Narcissistic lyrics linked to a narcissistic generation? Well call me Lil’ Wayne. I’m goin’ in.

  1. Horrible as this may sound, I don’t find the “narcissism” that he talks about to be an awful thing. Not that I’m advising anyone to stare at themselves all day, but it can build self esteem. There are so many people with horribly low self esteem and listening to songs that say “That’s right, I’m doing me” and “I am beautiful in every single way”, and it builds up their self esteem. His argument seems to suggest that all pop artistes are making songs to justify and fulfill their narcissistic needs while most times, they can apply to multiple people in various situations.

  2. I agree with Noble. There are definite positives to music portraying self confidence and self esteem. I know the artist Pink, for example, sings plenty of “I” and “Me” filled songs to get young girls to feel beautiful about themselves. On another note, I don’t really think rap nor pop music is to blame for the increase in a narcissistic attitude. I think it stems from the changes in society. Times are much harder for children and young adults than they were just a couple of decades ago. Even our parents will admit to that. Unfortunately, the current generation is subjected to selfish, hateful acts such as, higher divorce rates, war, and elders facing difficulties that make them think more about themselves. When you lack a feeling of love and family, connectedness, sharing, and togetherness in society, and you’re constantly exposed to it, it’s not surprising at all that narcissistic personalities begin to grow. You can think of it as almost a way of survival. People begin to think “if there no one else is going to help me out or be there for me, I must do it myself.” I know my claims are also extreme, but I think there is a better correlation between an increase in narcissism and the way society and the events of world are in this day and age, than pop music and narcissism.

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