Although 2003 gave us the lyric “The money we ought to be stashing / I make sure every quarter be cashed in” (Fabolous, “Into You”), 2013 was the year pop music insisted we live for today — as Pitbull says in “Feel This Moment,” “I see the future, but live for the moment.”
I did a lyrical analysis of all the top 10 songs in 2003 and 2013, looking at whether or not they expressed some sense of the “feel this moment”/carpe diem/YOLO ideology, and therefore speak to anxiety about the future. After looking at the lyrics of 58 songs for 2003 and 61 for 2013, analyzing the tenses the songs used and whether they referenced something that would take place tomorrow or further in the future, it’s clear that pop music in 2013 is far more concerned with the here and now, and, therefore, is way angstier than the pop music of 2003. Our music is saying, “We might as well do this now because who knows about tomorrow.”
Another unintentional finding of this study: I miss Missy Elliott more than I realized.
Here’s a breakdown of the results.
3. Pop songs of 2013 are more about seizing the moment than pop songs of 2003.
In terms of songs suggesting doing something because there may not be another chance to do it, 2013 was unsurprisingly a very YOLO year for pop music.
4. Carpe diem: 2003
“I’m not going to wait when a moment can vanish so fast.”
— Clay Aiken, “This Is the Night”
5. Carpe diem: 2013
“Let’s make the most of the night like we’re gonna die young.”
— Ke$ha, “Die Young”
6. Pop songs of 2013 mention future events less than pop songs of 2003.
I analyzed references to the future, which included either a broader future (e.g. “I’m gonna make this place your home” from Phillip Phillips’ “Home” indicates a process that unfolds over time) or some reference to tomorrow (e.g. “I wish this night could last forever” in will.i.am and Britney Spears’ “Scream & Shout” is a clear indicator that it won’t last forever, on account of tomorrow). References to extremely near-future events (e.g. “‘Bout to go get some compliments” in Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ “Thrift Shop” is clearly a reference to a very near future) did not count as “reference to the future.”
7. The future: 2003
“I love you endlessly…”
— Lumidee, “Never Leave You (Uh Oh)”
8. The future: 2013
“Imma ball till the day I fall.”
— Lil Wayne, “Love Me”
9. Pop songs in 2013 also mention the past less than 2003’s pop songs.
After counting any song that used the past tense, it’s clear 2013 pop songs weren’t too concerned about the past either. (Note: Usually, I did not consider forms of present perfect to be a past tense, e.g. the lyric “Lately I been, I been losin’ sleep” from OneRepublic’s “Counting Stars” continues into the present, and thus was considered a present action.)
10. The past: 2003
“We were close friends / Also lovers / Did everything / For one another.”
— Aaliyah, using past tense in “Miss You”
11. The past: 2013
“Red cups and sweaty bodies everywhere / Hands in the air like we don’t care / Cuz we came to have so much fun now.”
— Miley Cyrus using present and past tense, “We Can’t Stop”
12. You only live once, I suppose.
Note: There were 58 songs analyzed for 2003 and 61 for 2013. For the latter, I’m sorry, but I didn’t count Ylvis’ “The Fox” because it just didn’t seem that we as a people liked that song sincerely. I also didn’t analyze Psy’s Korean lyrics because, although there are more than a million Korean-speakers in the U.S., that number represents a minority of listeners.