We examined the effect of music on the interpretation of song lyrics. Listeners were presented with sung lyrics, spoken lyrics, or written poetry, and judged the text for emotional valence and meaningfulness. Experiment 1 revealed that, for some songs, music influenced whether lyrics were interpreted as conveying a positive or negative message. Experiment 2 showed that for familiar music, sung lyrics were judged as more meaningful than the same lyrics presented as spoken text, suggesting that personal associations or other significance implied by familiar music are attributed to the accompanying lyrics. In Experiment 3, repeated exposure to unfamiliar songs led to an increase in the perceived meaningfulness of the lyrics. We raise the possibility that music and lyrics become represented in an increasingly integrated manner with increased exposure and familiarity, allowing greater cross-talk between the two media.
Russo, Frank A. and Thompson, William F., "The attribution of meaning and emotion to song lyrics" (2004). Psychology Publications and Research. Paper 5.