The Personality of Artists' Music

The music we listen to provides us with important social, philosophical, and economic perspective. It is undeniable, the listening public responds to music and the industry is taking notice. Conservative reports estimate the global music industry has grown to over $17 billion, with artists like Cardi B, Ariana Grande, Kanye West, Jay-Z, and Bruno Mars setting social agendas, providing influence and spreading commentary through their art.

To learn more about these social trends, we tapped into the IBM Watson™ Personality Insights API to analyze the top 50 artists on the 2018 Billboard Top 100 and every studio album they’ve released to date. We looked at which artists convey the most anger, sadness, friendliness, intellect, and emotion and how their energy has changed throughout their career.

Using this specially designed interactive tool, you can explore the personality facets of your favorite artists’ albums.

Select an artist, an album, or a personality trait to customize your search. If you would like to reset a section, click “All.” Hover over a dot to discover the album name and how strongly that album correlates to the current personality facet. The personality traits are determined using the IBM Watson Personality Insights algorithm, which scores the various traits from 0 to 1. The closer to 1 the album or artist scores for a given characteristic, the more they embody that trait.

Channeling Frustration

average anger in music

When artists get angry, it can be personal (Beyoncé’s “Lemonade”), political (Eminem’s “The Storm”), or socially progressive (P!nk’s “Beautiful Trauma”). Or sometimes anger can even be rooted in all three. After all, when politics are all around us, almost all music becomes political.

According to Watson, 6ix9ine and Cardi B ranked among the angriest musical artists on the 2018 Billboard Top 100. With Cardi B, especially, there is no confusion about what gets her hot under the collar. Whether it’s paying too much in taxes, worrying about unpaid federal employees, or her personal love life, Cardi has no problem making waves about the topics she’s passionate about.

artists' anger over time

Even though average levels of anger in popular music has stayed relatively similar over the last decade, some artists’ energy has fluctuated more clearly over time. P!nk was at her angriest as a performer in her earliest albums, including “Missundaztood” and “I’m Not Dead.” While she may have felt more like an outsider at the beginning of her career, P!nk’s lyrics have slowly taken on a different set of emotions.

In contrast, Drake’s “Take Care” was among his least angry albums, although “Scorpion” ranked much higher on Watson’s anger scale than any of his previous work. Changing his image from the teen TV star on “Degrassi” didn’t happen overnight, and high-profile feuds and drama may have helped escalate the amount of anger found in his lyrics.

Feeling Blue

average depression in music

Like anger, some artists channel sadness through their lyrics. Of the most popular artists in 2018, Shawn Mendes and Khalid had the saddest lyrics of all. Mendes and Khalid have collaborated together in the past, and Shawn Mendes recently opened up about his sexuality and the role being perceived as gay has played into his lyrics. While Mendes and Khalid might sing about the power of their youth together, their lyrics take on a more somber tone individually.

artists' depression over time

The diverse effects of ‘sad’ music are perhaps more interesting than the the overall tone and content of the music. Studies show that, depending on the way you actively use music in your life, sad music can either help cheer you up or depress you.

Interestingly, the data shows that female artists’ general sadness has fluctuated more than male artists’ over the last decade. As Demi Lovato continues to battle with substance abuse in a very public way, the somber lyrics in her albums have fluctuated to reflect her personal situation over time. While works like “Confident” and “Unbroken” had some of her most upbeat tracks, her newer albums including “Demi” and “Tell Me You Love Me” have a much different tone.

Affable Tracks

average friendliness in music

The lyrics from Florida Georgia Line and Thomas Rhett ranked as being the most friendly based on Watson’s analysis, followed by fellow male artists Luke Bryan and Jay-Z. As we found, men on the Billboard Top 100 charts have had more friendly lyrics on average since 2012. Country music stars were also more likely to include these more affectionate lines in their music compared to pop or hip-hop artists.

artists' friendliness over time

For a band like Maroon 5, that level of approachability in their lyrics happened over time. Early albums like “Songs About Jane” and “It Won’t Be Soon Enough” were among their least friendly, but in more recent years, “V” and “Red Pill Blues” were ranked as being far more genial.

On the flip side, J. Cole (who’s recently been linked to drama with Kanye West) might be getting less friendly with his “KOD” and “4 Your Eyez Only” albums.

Smart Songs

average intellect in music

Research shows listening to music (any music) stimulates brain activity, which makes us smarter. Of course, you can take these benefits a step further by learning how to play music, which triggers the learning centers of the mind.

The music analyzed by Watson from the Billboard Top 100 artists yielded a spectrum of intellect, but none of the artists studied were rated as completely unintelligent. While lyrics from artists including Kendrick Lamar and Logic ranked as the most intellectual albums studied, music from 6ix9ine and Bruno Mars ranked as the least intellectual.

artists' intellect over time

Although the average level of intellect hasn’t changed much in popular music in the last decade, some artists have still evolved their lyrics over time. Both Thomas Rhett and Justin Timberlake started their solo music careers with albums including “It Goes Like This” and “Justified,” which were less intelligent than their latest productions, “Life Changes” and “Man of the Woods.” Over the course of Justin Timberlake’s career, the grammy-award winning artist has grown from a Disney star to a boy band icon and later into a solo artist and actor, the intellect behind his lyrics seems to have grown with him.

Feeling the Lyrics

average emotionality in music

According to IBM’s Watson Personality Insights, emotionality (emotional awareness) is defined as having good access to and awareness of one’s own feelings. Whether it’s about anger or sadness, listening to music lights up entire areas of the brain associated with a complex range of emotions. But which artists channel that emotion the strongest?

artists' emotionality over time

Unlike Lil Pump and Migos, Khalid, Taylor Swift, and The Weeknd were among the artists with the highest average emotionality in their music across their recorded albums. Since 2008, male artists have been more commonly linked with emotionality in their lyrics, and often these songs are found in rap and hip-hop lyrics compared to country music or pop.

While some high-profile female artists including Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj had higher levels of emotionality in their debut albums “Yours Truly” and “Pink Friday,” this element has decreased in recent years with albums including “Sweetener” and “Queen.”

Connecting With the Song

Your favorite artists have the power to help us understand the emotion of a moment better. As we found, some of the most popular musicians today are sometimes more inclined toward angry, melancholy, or emotional lyrics. Depending on the mood you’re in when you listen to Cardi B, Ed Sheeran, or Justin Timberlake, you might feel some of these emotions come through the speakers at you.

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We compiled a list of the top 50 music artists on the Billboard Top 100 Artists Chart for year-end 2018. Artists whose lyrics were not primarily in English were excluded. Using our list of artists, we gathered the lyrics from every studio album each of the artists released through 2018. The lyrics from each album were run through the IBM Watson™ Personality Insights API. IBM Watson Personality Insights’ algorithm scores various traits from 0 to 1. The closer to 1 the album scores for a given characteristic, the more it embodies that particular trait. We used the results to create the visualizations above. We grouped artists by gender and genre.

The Watson Personality Insights application provides documentation to explain each personality facet. You can review that documentation here. We used this document to create the scales for the graphs we made for each personality facet.

Fair Use Statement

Feel like singing along? Like any good track, we’d love to see you share the results of this study or any of the accompanying graphics for noncommercial use. Make sure our artists get credit for their work, though, by including a link back to this page in your story.

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