Shocking news: British pop music is monotonous

“Pop music is frequently fickle, but there’s one aspect in which it has remained remarkably consistent across the decades: how fast the songs are. The above graph shows the number of beats per minute (BPM) in each year’s bestselling singles going back to 1960.

By and large, songs that have triumphed in the charts have had a BPM of 85 or higher. They fall into two main sweet spots: the Killing Me Softly speed (85-95 BPM) and the Don’t Leave Me This Way speed (115-130 BPM). (Where there was uncertainty, which is relatively common when you consider that a 4/4 bar readily divides into two beats of two or four of four, we used the pulse of the bass as a guide.) The notable exception occurs in the early Nineties when, perhaps as a reaction to the frenzied pace of Black Box and others in the Eighties, or possibly because of the Ghost soundtrack featuring the Righteous Brothers, things became more sedate. (The emergence of grunge, with its more plodding rhythms, may well have played a hand, too.)

Either way, it wasn’t until Cher’s Believe in 1998 that record buyers put the pace back on. And give or take a Will Young hit or two, we haven’t taken our collective foot off the musical accelerator since.”


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