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From Dark to Bright: Timbre in the Hot 100

A song’s timbre is typically associated with descriptors such as warm, harsh, cold, breathy, and airy, with the two most prevalent attributes being bright and dark. Songs featuring darker timbral qualities in the Hot 100 tend to prominently showcase elements like dark synths (bass, pads, etc.) and employ darker EQ filtering, resulting in a darker sonic landscape. Therefore, it's no surprise that when hip hop reached its peak in 2018, songs characterized by darker timbres were also prevalent in the Hot 100.

Lyrical Repetition

While the timbral landscape of the Hot 100 has been significantly influenced by hip hop's dominance as a primary genre, it's important to recognize that hip hop's impact extended beyond its own genre, playing a role in shaping the sonic qualities of songs in other genres as well. Over the period during which hip hop was on the rise in the Hot 100 (2014 – 2018), there was a discernible trend towards darker tonalities within other genres such as pop, country and R&B/soul.

Since 2018, hip hop's prominence has gradually declined, diminishing from a commanding 55% of songs in 2018 to a still-significant 40% share in 2022. This shift has coincided with a resurgence of brighter compositions in the Hot 100.

But was this shift towards brighter timbres across the entire Hot 100 exclusively driven by the decreasing number of hip hop songs?

To a certain extent, yes. While the decrease in hip hop songs undeniably had an impact on the overall timbral landscape of the Hot 100, there was also a simultaneous resurgence in brighter timbred songs within the pop, country, and R&B genres during the same time-period.

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