Women and Lyrics
by Ashleigh Duque
Music and Feminism
Music is universal to all cultures. Song lyrics can reveal social experiences and attitudes in a given time period. For this project, I decided to digitally interpret song lyrics by some of the most successful artists in American history.
One of the most memorable eras of music history took place in the 1960's. This was a time that ushered in the second wave of feminism and girl groups became an incredibly favored aspect of mainstream music. Among the several hundred all-female singing groups that emerged in the 60's, The Supremes, which included Diana Ross, Mary Wilson, and Florence Ballard, experienced a success that overshadowed many others. I thought it would be interesting to see if this mainstream American girl group's lyrics reflected the social changes that were taking place at the time of their creation.
Additionally, I wanted to compare these findings to another American girl group that rose to fame during the third wave of feminism, Destiny's Child. Below are images of the 1965 reissue of The Supremes album, Meet the Supremes, along with Destiny's Child's 1998 self-titled debut album.
I gathered lyrics from every studio album by The Supremes that was released between 1960 to 1970 and, excluding covers and holiday-themed songs, submitted their lyrics into the Voyant literary interpretive tool. I repeated this process with Destiny's Child's four studio albums that were released between the late 1990's to mid 2000's.
The left image is the result of The Supreme's lyrics, while the right is the result of Destiny's Child's lyrics.
The Cirrus tool projected frequently used terms in all songs with the size of each term depending on its frequency. Interestingly, among I'm, know, baby, and love, the largest words that appeared in this analysis were I'm and love, with love being the bigger of the two.
The Summary tool calculates how many times each term is used. Love was counted 342 times and I'm was counted 161 times. This section also identified several distinctive words that were repeated in songs. I noticed that these words had positive connotations of youth, romance, and summer.
The Cirrus presented the same repetitive words seen in The Supreme's lyrics. Baby, love, know, and I'm are all used incredibly often in each of the songs. In the summary box, the most frequent words showed I'm was used 295 times and love was counted 185 times. Many of the distinctive words indicated in this analysis were slang terms, like buggin' and jelly.
Each group's success cannot be ignored as a variable in these results. The Supremes were active musicians for two decades and released about 10 studio albums (not including renditions of other artists and holiday-themed albums). Destiny's Child was active for a little over a decade before the group parted ways in 2006 and released half the amount of studio albums during that time.
I was hoping to find differences that correlated between the female song lyrics and the transitions in American feminist history. Voyant's interpretation revealed that the lyrics of the two girl groups actually share more similarities than differences. The distinctive words that were highlighted in each analysis indicate references to youth culture. This could be a reflection of each group's experiences as young women, or of their primary targeted audiences: the youth of their respective generations.
While the two biggest terms remain I'm and love, one difference that Voyant indicated was the swapping prevalence of each term. During the reign of The Supremes, love was the most frequently recited term in their songs. While Destiny's Child was releasing music, I'm is repeated more frequently. I believe that this may very well connect to the rise of third wave feminism, but this assumption cannot be not validated from Voyant's analysis of the lyrics. Voyant's interpretation of these lyrics have led me to conclude that, while romantic love remained a primary topic in mainstream girl group songs, Destiny's Child's lyrics focused on themselves as subjects more than their romantic pursuits.
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