Tay Sway by the Numbers

DOES A POP STAR’S LEXICON WAX OR WANE WITH FAME?

What happens when you juxtapose the lyrics of Taylor’s self-titled debut album from 2006 with those from her album “1989”, the chart topping, million-copies-in-a-week latest album?

This is an extremely (valiant attempt at an) academic exploration of Taylor Swift’s first and latest albums.

A Quick Overview: The lyrics were pulled from the AZ Lyrics. The raw text files were cleaned using the free text editor TextWrangler for Mac. All punctuation, extra spacing, and special characters were removed. As a basic entry point to NLP, I have employed Voyant-Tools.org, the web-based reading and analysis environment for digital texts, to give some numeric values to pieces of the text. Best of all, it’s all compiled on it’s very own Commons site.

I analyze, visualize, explore, document, and set free the Tay Sway Corpus here:

https://taysway.commons.gc.cuny.edu/

All the data has been made live so you too can play with Taylor Swift lyrics in an academic setting.Taylor Swift Speak Now - Pittsburgh

6 thoughts on “Tay Sway by the Numbers

  1. Sarah Cohn

    Thanks for the links to the voyant-tools analysis. I was interested in the word frequency. On the s/t album the most frequent words (excluding the, and, a) are: you, I, me, my. On 1989 they are: I, you, we, love. Me is down the list, after shake. So, both are very autobiographical, but the direction is a little different, a little more outward-facing or expansive. A sign of a more mature Taylor? I haven’t listened to either album, but I like that I can examine the content without having to do so.

  2. Christopher Vitale Post author

    @scohn One of the most interesting things I played with on my own (but didn’t visualize here, yet?) was what I like to call the narcissism trends. How often and where on each album is Swift speaking in the first person. Then I looked at the use of “you”, “youre” and “your.” The albums had significant spikes and drops, but in the end they were similar.

    I was really hoping that the data would show that one of the two albums was drastically different in some way, but as of yet, I haven’t been able to show that. She is incredibly consistent, even with a drastically different sound/production team/production value.

    I think I am going to map out all 6 albums to see how the consistency stacks up. There is an enormous amount of data to play with in these two albums, so I assume pushing the lyrics from the other 4 through voyant or other tools will only yield more interesting things.

    Perhaps this is the first step in an ongoing TaySway adventure.

  3. Mary Catherine Kinniburgh

    Christopher,

    You’ve made an absolutely gorgeous website, and I’ve already recommended to a friend of mine who’s a superfan–she approves of your subject choice!

    What you term the “narcissism trends,” though, could be looked at in another way. Riffing on medieval mystic texts, many of which used the first person “I,” the first person can be a recruitment device for audience or reader participation in the experience of the text. Sarah McNamer’s book on affective compassion describes the use of “I” as an “affective script,” built to involve readers emotionally.

    It seems that between Taylor Swift’s intense popularity, pop music’s general inhabitability of the first person “I” as universal,” that the use of “I” is not to demonstrate self-involvement, but to create modern affective scripts in pop music to make her music easy for listeners to relate to. Perhaps, then, considering the “you” as a shift to directly address the audience, and therefore breaking the inhabitable “I” (are we the “you” or “I” when listening? actually kind of a complicated question!), might be a further place to use your statistical research.

    Super interesting project, and so beautiful. And thank you so much for sharing!

  4. sydnee wagner

    I know we saw your presentation in class but I didn’t get to tell you how great the actual website looks. I also think Mary Catherine’s comment on medieval mystics is really great, but I might be biased towards early literature 😉
    It’s a great project in terms of actual construction. Thanks for sharing!

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