We assessed the literacy levels of the world’s most popular artists and discovered that the hits with the highest reading age are Eminem’s. Known for his complex lyrics and tongue-twisting raps, it’s no surprise that the Real Slim Shady took the top spot - especially since he currently holds the Guinness World Record for ‘largest vocabulary for a recording artist!
According to the Flesh-Kincaid calculation, which looks at factors such as word length, sentence length and number of syllables, Eminem’s top songs have an average reading age of 8-9. This might seem low, but it’s actually significantly higher than his fellow chart-toppers, including Taylor Swift whose songs scored age 7 and Ariana Grande whose lyrics scored age 6-7.
Let’s take a look at where our artists’ songs rank:
Average Reading Age and Grade Level of Popular Artists’ Lyrics
|Position||Artist||Average Grade Level of Top 3 Tracks ||Average Reading Age of Top 3 Tracks |
|2||Ed Sheeran||2.8||8 |
|3||Billie Eilish||2.8||8 |
|6||Taylor Swift||2||7 |
|7||The Weeknd||1.7||6-7 |
|8||Post Malone||1.6||6-7 |
|9||Ariana Grande||1.5||6-7 |
As well as calculating the grade level and reading age of the songs, we were also able to find the average Flesh-Kincaid reading score. This is where readability is scored on a scale from 1 to 100, with 1 being the easiest to read and 100 being the most difficult. This is where our artists ranked:
Average Reading Age Score of Popular Artists’ Lyrics
|Position||Artist||Average Reading Ease Score of Top 3 Tracks |
|1||Kayne West||98.7 |
|2||Ariana Grande||97.8 |
|3||Post Malone ||97.4 |
|4||The Weeknd||97.3 |
|5||Taylor Swift||96.5 |
|6||Justin Bieber||95.7 |
|8||Billie Eilish||89 |
|9||Ed Sheeran||89 |
|10||Eminem ||87.7 |
Kanye West’s lyrics were revealed to have the lowest reading age at 6, with an ease score of 98.7. Though many may be quick to assume that a young reading age is linked to a lower intellect, this is far from the case. Low readability actually links to universability, as these lyrics can be understood by a greater proportion of the population. So, it could be argued that Kanye’s lyrics are more engaging to a wider audience.
The general public has a reading age of 9
To appeal to the general public, written work should have an ease score of 90-100, with a reading age of 9. Mass newspapers, for example, tend to have this reading age, while best-selling novels, such as Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, often have a reading age of 8-10.
According to songwriter Christopher Tempest, who’s contributed to songs such as Little Mix’s Heartbreak Anthem and JP Cooper’s Little Bit of Love, it’s the simple lyrics that have the greatest hook:
“The most popular songs are the most simple because I think they’re the ones that people can connect with. Sometimes, songs that have more complex lyrics and titles, with lots of metaphors, are the hardest to connect with because you have to think a lot to interpret what they’re saying. Big hits tend to be really clear about which emotion they’re trying to convey, so a listener can click with it straight away”
Usually, the most important part of a song that people connect with most is that buzz word or phrase - the main message of the song that’s usually just super simple. I find the best way to write a song is to come up with that simple phrase and work the rest of the track around that.”
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