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A new study has pinpointed all of the revolutions in pop music since the 1960s – using big data.

The paper in the Royal Society Open Science journal focused on over 17,000 songs in the Billboard Hot 100 over the past 50 years, analysing them to discover patterns in pop history. Scientists did this by text mining, and noted that the key revolutions occurred in 1964, 1983, and 1991.

The study was conducted by drawing 30 second fragments from around 86% of the songs on the Hot 100 over that time period. These samples were then analysed for timbre and harmony, to map out when new types of music took hold. Computer Science applicants should query how reliable such data is. A thirty second sample will frequently miss out either a chorus or a verse of a song, and furthermore, chart songs do not paint an encompassing picture of how music changes as subcultures are not accounted for.

1964 marked the rise of rock, the second marked new-wave synthesiser sounds, and the third marked hip-hop becoming mainstream. The scientists particularly note that the rise of rock was not, therefore, initiated by The Beatles, and look to challenge the idea that rock and roll was born in 1955; the year many believe it to have emerged.

HSPS applicants should consider how knowing the pop culture climate can give you information about a society. Historians should also note how changes in popular culture can be prophetic of political and social changes.

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