May 25, 2012
Like other popular art forms, such as TV, films, books, and video games, music has become more complex over time, and the public seems to enjoy and expect more complexity in popular art. Complexity here refers specifically to emotional complexity in music listening. Listeners now like dance-pop music that sounds simultaneously both happy (fast) and sad (minor), and they also evaluate sad-sounding music positively. The evidence for these trends comes from listening and buying habits that are documented by Billboard magazine.
Why the shift over time? Music that is obviously happy sounding no longer sounds sophisticated to modern ears. As a sign of being a sophisticated music listener, composers, artists, and consumers have developed an increased preference for sad-sounding (slow and/or minor) music, or music that sounds both happy AND sad (fast and minor, slow and major).
Glenn Schellenberg is a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto Mississauga.