Songs of ‘You’ and ‘We’

songs of we and you

If art reflects society, we should pay attention when musicians sing about us, specific people, or themselves.

Thousands of songs begin with the words “You Are,” “We Are,” and “I Am,” offering one portal into such matters. What if we were to look at each group of songs, and see how they tend to differ? This should tell us something interesting about how musicians — and, by extension, people — feel about people.

And that is what Glenn McDonald, data alchemist for The Echo Nest at Spotify, decided to do.

He created groups of each kind of song — those that start “You Are,” “We Are,” and “I Am” — which you can listen to below. The first two groups yielded the most interesting differences in acoustic attributes from The Echo Nest’s audio analysis.

Songs of You: Calm, Acoustic, Tender

‘You Are’ songs are significantly calmer, more acoustic, and more organic in their rhythm,” says McDonald.

When the singer addresses a specific person or people, they do so with greater sonic “tenderness,” as Glenn puts it, and with more handmade-sounding rhythms and more acoustic-sounding instruments.

Songs of We: Boisterous, Anthemic, In Sync

‘We Are’ songs are more energetic, more electric, notably more mechanically driven, and louder,” says McDonald.

These songs of “We” tend towards the anthemic, high-energy, and electric, with drum machines or a click-tracked drummer keeping everyone in sync with the beat — and, we theorize, listeners with each other.

Songs of We: On The Rise

As a side note, McDonald also noticed that “We Are” songs have grown in popularity over time. Maybe more people these days want to hear songs about inclusiveness; the correlation, if not the cause, is in the data.

For more detail, and some philosophical musings about what this means for humanity, see McDonald’s blog, which includes this chart. As you can see, Acousticness and Energy level showed the biggest variations between the above groups of songs.

The columns for I Am, You Are, and We Are (playlists below) show the acoustic attribute or year in question; the right Power column shows the strength of the difference between them:

Metric I You We Power
Acousticness 0.260 0.383 0.182 0.318
Bounciness 0.398 0.412 0.411 0.041
Danceability 0.498 0.508 0.524 0.077
Energy 0.649 0.541 0.705 0.333
Instrumentalness 0.196 0.171 0.235 0.099
Loudness -8.47 -9.58 -7.91 0.198
Mechanism 0.494 0.481 0.592 0.238
Organism 0.436 0.486 0.346 0.294
Tempo 124.0 118.1 125.6 0.137
Valence 0.424 0.421 0.421 0.007
Year 2004.4 2003.2 2007.1 0.201

 

Songs of You:

 

Songs of We:

 

Songs of I:

 

(Top image courtesy of Flickr/Eva Rinaldi)