If you’ve ever listened to Radiohead and thought to yourself, “Oh jeez, I do wish someone could quantify just how sad this song is making me feel,” your strange desire has been granted. Data scientist Charlie Thompson recently used the programming language R to find “a data-driven determination of [Radiohead’s] most depressing song.”
First, Thompson used Spotify’s API to pull track information for each song on Radiohead’s nine studio albums. One of Spotify’s available metrics is a song’s “valence,” which the company describes as “a measure from 0.0 to 1.0 describing the musical positiveness conveyed by a track.” Radiohead’s “True Love Waits” and “We Suck Young Blood” both had the lowest valence score of 0.0378, making them the saddest songs according to Spotify.
But Thompson also factored in lyrics. He determined which words qualified as “sad” using a crowdsourced project about word association from Canada’s National Research Council, then scraped Radiohead lyrics from the Genius API. He then mined each track for sad words, and determined what percentage of a song’s lyrics were sad. In lyrical terms only, “High and Dry” was the saddest song at 36 percent.
But Thompson also needed to determine how important words were in each track, so in his final algorithm, he weighed the sad word count by lyrical density. Thompson’s Gloom Index equation averaged the valence of a track and its sad word percentage. It looked like this:
The results were scaled to fit within 1 to 100. “True Love Waits” won the designation of saddest song with a Gloom Index score of 1. The jumpy In Rainbows track “15 Step” earned the highest score of 100. Thompson dives deep into his process here.
So here it is, Radiohead’s saddest song ever: