“Happier than ever” – only three words are emblazoned on the current album of singer Billie Eilish. But even the simple title shows that the 19-year-old has mastered the ambiguous game with language. Because on the cover she can be seen with tears in her eyes. Her eloquence has now given Eilish an extraordinary triumph. She is the modern pop star with the most vocabulary. This was the result of a search by the search engine “WordTips”. For 1000 sung words, the American uses 169 different terms.
In total, more than 17,000 songs by 156 singers were analyzed for the study, including stars from the current charts, but also music legends of past decades. Patti Smith remains the undisputed number one in the most comprehensive vocabulary. It uses a bandwidth of 217 to 1000 words. Soul singer Luther Vandross and rapper Trey Songz are at the bottom with only 66.
The study also claims to have found that female songwriters vary more in their choice of words than their male counterparts. In addition to Janelle Monáe, Lizzo, Shakira and Billie Eilish, only Harry Styles is a male-read person among the current top five. At the same time, the research invites us to reflect on the gender aspect. Because the fact that men in turn dominate the category of the most used terms in absolute numbers is probably simply because there are more songs written by men. Women, on the other hand, have always had a harder time pursuing a music career. By the way, the research does not question shingled binaries.
A ranking as a generational question
The juxtaposition of music legends and current stars also makes the ranking a generational question. While most singers in the legends range from 101 to 150 words, the younger generation is more likely to find themselves between 66 and 125 words. Towards the tip it thins out strongly. Even Billie Eilish can’t match Jim Morrison, Björk, Joni Mitchell and Patti Smith.
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A key to success is likely to be literary work. Patti Smith is also known as a poet and writer, most recently the autobiographical work “In the Year of the Monkey” was published by the “Godmother of Punk” in 2019. And like William Shakespeare, Prince invented words to expand his vocabulary. “Hundalasiliah” is his way of expressing “Hallelujah” funky. This brings the singer, who died in 2016, second place in the category of the largest absolute vocabulary (11,430 words) – after Bob Dylan. In his entire career, he comes to 12,285.
The song with the most words, namely 639, is Lou Reed’s “The Murder Mystery”. If you want to decide whether quality and quantity can go hand in hand musically, you will find 20 songs with a lot of lyrics in the Spotify playlist “Modern Stars vs Legends”.