During my OU degree, I chose to do short project looking at the linguistic characteristics of pop lyrics. I felt this was worthy of further study, and would like to come back to it. As part of the prologue of this process, it's important to work out how exactly the language is going to be analysed. I've extracted and edited what follows from the short paper that I wrote.
Music is a form of artistic expression that is produced in the context of a particular culture. "Pop music" doesn't have a single clear definition, but is typically represented by music made available as "singles" – single-track records, or individual downloads. For many years, it has reflected and also helped to define a certain strand of particularly Western culture.
Despite the cultural significance of song lyrics, they have largely remained uninvestigated from a corpus linguistic perspective. According to Kreyer and Mukherjee, they have "not been included in any of the standard reference corpora". Some preliminary investigations have been carried out, but little attempt has apparently been made to describe the linguistic characteristics of pop lyrics. Such an analysis would provide a reference point for considering the location of individual lyrics within the genre. Given the close relationship between pop lyrics and culture, it is possible that song lyrics might provide a proxy for measuring cultural phenomena. This was an approach taken by DeWall et al.
Linguistically, pop music lyrics have characteristics that are different from other forms of language use. The medium itself is focussed on music, particularly rhythm, melody and form, and the lyrics might be considered subordinate to this. Individual song lyrics tend to be highly repetitive and relatively short. Although songs are written, rehearsed and edited, which ought to result in texts characteristic of written modes, the choice of language is often colloquial, stylised and limited – this being more typical of spontaneous forms of language use, such as conversation. The choice of themes is conventionally narrow. However, song lyrics are widely quoted beyond the context of their song, frequently have powerful emotional resonance, and consequently have a cultural weight in sections of society that few other forms of discourse manage. This cultural significance makes song lyrics worthy of investigation.