There isn’t a swear jar for popular artists in the music industry, but maybe there should be. A January 2016 study from Musixmatch, the world’s largest lyric catalog, looked at obscene and vulgar language used by the past year’s most Googled artists in the United States. The study examined eight genres, 361 artists, 3,573 albums and nearly 10 million lyrics to give people an idea of how much musicians such as Lil Wayne swore in their songs, which is unsurprisingly a lot.
The rapper wasn’t the only hip-hop artist at the top of the list. Although Lil Wayne had the highest total count of swear words in his lyrics — 3,960 —Tupac Shakur and Snoop Dogg didn’t fall far behind. Overall, the study shows how often a swear word appears in all 361 artists’ lyrics on average: one in every 152 words.
“I guess it is up to the artist to decide to use profanity or not,” says Art Scott, the lead singer of Fling, a local indie-rock band. “It’s a great way to show vulnerability, but is it adding to the music or taking away from the music? I love dirty rap as much as the next person, but I can see it taking away.” The highest swear word count belonged to hip-hop artists, but Nicdanger, a Columbia rapper, manages to escape the dirty-mouthed rapper stereotype. “I don’t use a lot in my songs, but I don’t feel negatively toward it,” he says. “It depends on how it’s used and the subject matter.”
Sam Jennings, vocalist for Johnnycab, another local indie-rock band, says swearing could be used to connect younger generations to music. “If you’re making popular music of any kind, then you’re making ‘the people’s music,’ which means you have to have a relationship to the modern lexicon,” Jennings says. “Profanity is an important part of youth culture and language.”
The Musixmatch study didn’t determine the reason behind either preference, whether artists used swear words as a way to highlight a song’s meaning or just for the sake of being used. Jason Caton, a member of local heavy blues-rock band Don’t Mind Dying says he believes profanity is something that comes naturally when writing lyrics. “The best lyrics are anextension of the writer in that moment when they are written,” Caton says. “Maybe there is another way to express that, but that’s what comes naturally.”