From Elvis to Miley, ‘Danceability’ Remains Constant

September 3, 2013

Welcome to the first in a series about how popular music changes over time, based on analysis by The Echo Nest Data Alchemist Glenn McDonald and our deep music intelligence platform — the largest, and, we think, smartest database about music on the planet. In this first installment, we’ll look at how “danceable” pop music has been over time. Do we like our music more dancey, less dancey, or about the same as we used to? Let’s delve in. (For more, you might follow our Twitter).

Hemlines rise and fall. Stocks fluctuate. Music styles arise, shift, and combine. One thing that hasn’t changed: how “danceable” we like our music.

From the days when Elvis ruled the airwaves through the hippy ’60s, the smooth rock and disco ’70s, the new wave, synthpop, and hip-hop of the ’80s, the grunge-y ’90s, the boy bands that followed, all the way to the hip-hop-tinged pop that’s popular today, our favorite music has remained approximately as easy to dance to.

In other words, from the time when your parents or grandparents demurely cut a rug to Elvis, all the way to Miley Cyrus’s controversial twerking at the VMA Awards last week, we’ve preferred our music to have just over average danceability, as measured by The Echo Nest’s all-knowing system for understanding and recommending music, based on the largest database about music in the world.

To plot pop music’s danceability over time, The Echo Nest principal engineer Glenn McDonald (he of Every Noise At Once fame) used The Echo Nest to return danceability scores for the 5000 hottest songs from each year from 1960 to 2013. (Zero represents music that has absolutely no value for dancing; one representing music that is perfectly danceable.)

As you can see from the chart above, the danceability value of popular music has remained consistent, even through several big music revolutions, with a highpoint in the years surrounding 1982, and a lowpoint in 1968 when pop music’s danceability hit its nadir.

Also of note, and possibly shocking for Generation X and older: 1987 is halfway to 1960 from 2013. Time flies, but some things, like the danceability of pop music, stay the same.