Is pop music overrated

What triggers the current pop music in our head?

"Don't Worry Be Happy", "Lemon Tree", or "House of the Rising Sun" - all of these songs have something in common that in the music industry is both a curse and a blessing: They are typical one-hit wonders. We know the songs inside and out - with the names of the performers it usually gets more difficult.

What was important in the past seems to be inevitable in 2016: to write a really big hit. Because one-hit wonders can lead to undreamt-of fame these days: a single viral song turns an unknown artist into a world star overnight and brings him massively sold-out concert halls. A downright deceptive success: Because only those who have real motivation and who also work on other hits will prove themselves for a long time. But who still writes their own songs these days?

In fact, famous singer-songwriters have become a rarity today. They no longer exist, the Billy Joels or Michael Jacksons, who were responsible for the lyrics and the melody of almost all of their songs themselves. All the songs that we can't get out of our heads because they are played up and down on the radio ultimately come from the same three producers: Max Martin, Dr. Luke and Benny Blanco, the supporting forces in the background. Almost all of the mega hits by Katy Perry, Britney Spears or Taylor Swift, for example, bear Max Martin's signature.

The stanza-chorus scheme is now out of date

A lot has happened in the music business in the last few decades - but what affects us most is the changed song scheme. In the past, songs followed a simple concept: the verse is followed by the chorus, this is followed by the second verse, then the bridge and finally the chorus varies. This common concept now seems to be slowly but surely being replaced by a new scheme: the so-called “track-and-hook” method. A producer is responsible for the beat and the chord sequence of a song and the so-called "topliner" is responsible for a catchy melody and the chorus with a meaningful hookline.

In general, many different specialists now work on a single song. There are those responsible for the verses, the bridge and the lyrics. In his book “The Song Machine: Inside the Hit Factory”, the cultural journalist John Seabrook writes: “The track-and-hook method allows different specializations that make today's songwriting an almost gathering-like process. You might think that a television series is being worked on, not a song. "

An example, Sia:

Singer-songwriters are dying out

In fact, there are hardly any pop hits on the charts that were written by a single person. In October 2015, under the American Billboard Hot 100, only two songs bore the signature of two sole artists: "Hit the Quan" by Richard Colbert and "Stressed out" by the band Twenty One Pilots, written by Tyler Joseph. Ten years ago it looked very different.

One of the most important musical style elements of the “track and hook method” is also the constant repetition. Studies show that people's concentration span is falling continuously, which is why music producers hope to create recognition value repetitively: "There has to be a hook in the intro, in the chorus and in the bidge," explains Jay Brown, CEO of the Roc Nation label. in an interview with “On average, when listening to the radio, people give a song seven seconds before switching over. Therefore the hook is the most important. "

The current songs create familiarity

Whether that corresponds to really good songwriting is of course a matter of taste. But the concept definitely has a psychological background: “If we know exactly what is going to come in a few bars, an inner joy arises from the very idea of ​​it. We have the feeling that we can participate in the music. A lot of people like that because it's a bit like social communication, ”explains Elizabeth Margulis, the director of the Music Cognition Laboratory at the University of Arkansas. The laboratory mainly deals with the question of how music affects us.

A study carried out in 2011 even found that as long as we are familiar with a song, we always develop a certain bond with it - even if we don't particularly like the song. The feeling of recognition and confidentiality also has an effect on our brain: it releases dopamine, an active ingredient that induces happiness and motivation in us. So there's a reason seemingly repetitive songs are garnering incredible commercial success. Obviously undemanding melodies like Taylor Swift's current hit "Into the Woods" (the chorus consists of roughly one tone) will therefore probably always be accepted by the masses - at least that is certain in this music business.

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Image source: William White under CC 0 license