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"Half time has infected pop music"
March 25, 2014 10:48 PM   Subscribe

Has pop music criticism really devolved into lifestyle reporting as alleged by this Daily Beast article? The response by Slate reviewing Katy Perry's "Teenage Dream".

Regardless if the accusation is correct or not, it lead me down the rabbit hole to find websites that did actually try to analyze pop music using music theory.

HookTheory (Previously) has an analysis section that seems to be a crowdsourced version with a nifty widget to see the Roman numeral analysis as well as a melody rising and falling for pop songs. You can also choose to hear it in the original video/audio format for the snippet or listen to a MIDI piano play the parts.

A Corpus Analysis of Rock Harmony (PDF) (Previously) takes Rolling Stones "500 Greatest Songs of All Time" from the 1950s to 1990s and takes the top 20 songs from each decade then proceeds to analyze the entirety of the data together.

Pop Music Theory is a rather new blog by Eric Strom that analyzes the current Billboard Hot 100 songs finding a music theory topic for the song chosen.

Musistix takes a simpler approach and just analyzes the Billboard Hot 100 songs per week covering key, first chord progression, second chord progression (if available), temp, meter, and genre. It's great to just quickly see what chord progressions are being used for that week's top pop hits.

Popular Music Interest Group (Society for Music Theory) "is dedicated to promoting the scholarly study of popular music through methods including musical analysis and theory."

Their bibliography for sources on general popular music genres and terms as well as particular groups.

And finally, but hardly least, some interesting journal articles from Music Theory Online focusing on popular music.

Their special edition of form in Rock music -- (Per)form in(g) Rock.
Making Sense of Rock’s Tonal Systems (Walter Everett)
Harmonic Stasis and Oscillation in Bjork’s Medulla (Victoria Malawey)
On Metrical Techniques of Flow in Rap Music (Kyle Adams)
Timber as Differentiation in Indie Music (David K. Blake)
Radiohead’s “Pyramid Song”: Ambiguity, Rhythm, and Participation (Nathan D. Hesselink)
posted by lizarrd (66 comments total) 81 users marked this as a favorite

 
OK without even reading a single thing (which is bad mea culpa) I feel like pop music had changed significantly in terms of scales in the last decade or so - the minor pentatonic seems to be largely gone and songs are very much in the Major/Minor keys.
posted by awfurby at 11:03 PM on March 25


Honestly, I'm not really convinced this is a new thing. Take a look at old Rolling Stone reviews and you won't find much actual music theory in any of the reviews. Admittedly, those are supposed to be some of the "worst" reviews.
posted by timelord at 11:40 PM on March 25


I had never actually consciously realized "Teenage Dream" doesn't have any I chords. Huh!
posted by en forme de poire at 11:55 PM on March 25


Oh god yes, I love music criticism that goes into music theory. I like all kinds of music criticism, but music theory stuff is something I seek out. So thanks for this post, lizarrd!

I can't remember who said it, but I've always liked the idea that it would be nice if political talk radio was as smart as sports talk radio. I liked Gioia's analogy with sports. One reason for the appeal of sports is that it's one of the few mass entertainments where the reporting on it goes out of its way to make you feel smart. With other mass entertainment, the reporting often assumes that you're a complete newbie, but sports reporting generally expects you to know quite a lot (hundreds of sports teams, thousands of players, bizarre technical terms). That's a very different way of interacting with your audience and what you lose in accessibility you gain in making the audience feel like they're part of a club. Even if that club has two or three billion people in it, like sports fandom.
posted by Kattullus at 11:56 PM on March 25 [16 favorites]


oh my god hook theory it makes it so easy
posted by grizzly at 12:40 AM on March 26


Music magazines have always been nothing but breathless endorsement of pop star lifestyles, especially the 'intellectual' ones.

But on the other hand, music fans almost always love finding an explanation of how that particular moment in the song works and how it grabs them (these are vanishingly rare and the Katy Perry Slate article is a great example, loved it).

Pop fans, however uneducated technically in any musical vocabulary, are excited by what meets their ears and not just the lifestyles. So they are badly served by the magazines, and kept in a state of ignorance that is advantageous to capitalism much like how Fox News et al function for political debate.

In 'Revolution in the Head' the author describes a recording in which you can hear that the screams of teenagers at a Beatles concert hit a peak when the band lands on a dramatic, unexpected V minor chord in 'I'll Get You' (at the word 'pretend'). Pop music strives for novelty above all else, and although you can often achieve impact and gain attention with only stylistic, superficial sound gestures or dazzling rhetorical effects, it is still structural deviations from the norm combined with unity of poetic expression that really delivers the megahits, like that chord in 'I'll Get You' or as the Slate article very vividly describes the Katy Perry song.

We saw this with Adele's 'Someone Like You' as well a while back as writers from music magazines failed to shed any light on the song's structural ingenuity, were then at a loss to know why it had such a strong emotional effect on listeners, and those authors have now of course moved on to dismissing Adele as 'uncool' from a lifestyle point of view.
posted by colie at 1:25 AM on March 26 [4 favorites]


Rock music criticism has always been about tedious biographical fluff for as long as i can remember.
posted by empath at 2:02 AM on March 26 [1 favorite]


Has pop music criticism really devolved into lifestyle reporting as alleged by this Daily Beast article?

Matt Zoller Seitz in response on filmmaking.
posted by ninebelow at 2:26 AM on March 26 [3 favorites]


i don't have time to get into the nitty gritty details, but if slate's going to start commenting on music theory, they need to get it right

hint - mixolydian mode is a thing
posted by pyramid termite at 2:40 AM on March 26 [2 favorites]


Pyramid termite, I would like to know where you think the Slate author has gone wrong - is it because you think he's applying common practice kind of tonal analysis to music that is purely mode-driven? A bit like Philip Tagg's concepts such as 'Aeolian shuttles' which he insists are what structure most pop, rather than cadential chord progressions (or even blues-derived models)?

Personally I think the ongoing dialogue between these two ways of composing and hearing are what gives a lot of popular music its energy.
posted by colie at 2:51 AM on March 26 [2 favorites]


I was actually going to include Philip Tagg in the post but wasn't sure about the reaction to his website which has some broken links, but he has some great ideas about pop music in general.

Philip Tagg on Analysing Popular Music.

His website which is totally against capitalism etc.

And, of course, you've already linked to Everyday Tonality.
posted by lizarrd at 2:58 AM on March 26 [4 favorites]


Oh my god I love this post so much.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 3:04 AM on March 26


he's using the guitar chords to define the key, but he should be using the bass notes - people are claiming the bass is playng iv-vi-v but it's actually bvii-ii-i
posted by pyramid termite at 3:04 AM on March 26


Prof. Tagg is actually asking for help to run his website because he can't keep it going, so this seems like a good place to mention that in case anyone has the skills/time/interest to do that.
posted by colie at 3:10 AM on March 26 [1 favorite]


i don't have time to get into the nitty gritty details, but if slate's going to start commenting on music theory, they need to get it right

If you're going to start commenting on music theory, you need to start using capital letters. I get that you mean IV by iv, but writing bvii to mean VII on a note that happens to be flat if you use the F major scale instead of the mixolydian mode . . . yuck.

Also, I really don't get what you gain by analyzing "Teenage Dream" in F mixolydian. The author's point about the lack of a resolving B-flat chord and the plentiful B-flats in the melody is tons clearer looking at the song in B-flat major. And the idea of tonic notes and chords becomes much murkier if you try to make that Fsus4 or even F major the tonic chord, because it doesn't sound resolved at all. Plunk a B-flat major chord and a B-flat in the melody at the end of the chorus instead of an Fsus4, and the song would be resolved, over, done, go home, that's it.
posted by knuckle tattoos at 4:06 AM on March 26 [1 favorite]


So termite you hear it as a 'mixolydian shuttle' (Tagg's term) between bVIImaj7 - Isus2, right? Which means it has no need to resolve to Bflat at all (which Slate says is the real I)?

But I still think the Slate piece is correct about the tension that the song develops as a result though. Those bass notes of bVII - II - I do feel like they are emphasising an absent V as they approach it from below and above, and the vocal melody has loads of Bb in it, and ends on that note.

That's the effect that our ears get from it, since so much music does make us wait for V-I resolutions, and plenty of mixolydian-based songs will break out of that mode to include a major V freely.
posted by colie at 4:09 AM on March 26 [1 favorite]


The music press is writing for an audience that is musically illiterate. If they're going to go technical on their readers, they're going to have to go slowly or they'll lose readers looking for gossip and eye candy.
posted by pracowity at 4:23 AM on March 26 [1 favorite]


As a listener with no musical education beyond a childhood of enforced rote piano lessons, the geek in me loved this. Would I want all of every review to be this? No, but a portion highlighting the ingenuity, the unique ... wonderful ...
posted by fistynuts at 4:43 AM on March 26


Gioia is such an anti-pop curmudgeon. He basically called hip hop musically inferior to jazz a while back. I really believe that Gioia is just trying to spark some controversy because he can't be so naive as to think that this is a new development.

That said, I often cringe when reading music theory in a lot of pop music writing because its really bad more often than its really good. Between that and the general public not caring about it too much, I understand why you don't see it in a lot of publications.
posted by lownote at 4:59 AM on March 26


Music press (covering top-40 stuff, anyway, which is mostly what they're talking about here) is not only writing for readers who are musically illiterate, but they're also writing about music that is substanceless. The analogy the Daily Beast article makes in the first paragraph (cooking shows that don't mention ingredients) is apt, but Julia Child herself would have had trouble filling an hour a week with "open the packet of seasoning, add to the boiling water, then stir in the ramen noodles." How many different ways do you expect a journalist to be able to say "This is a pleasing arrangement of E, B, C#m, and A, much like this artist's previous dozen hits" without driving himself or his readers to self-harm?
posted by Mayor West at 5:01 AM on March 26 [3 favorites]


I am incensed vidyagame reviews don't include more about binary space partitioning, Lua, and ludology.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 5:02 AM on March 26 [2 favorites]


(Also, my music teacher side is twitching at the typo in the second to last link in the OP. It's Timbre not Timber. Probably a spell check out of control)
posted by lownote at 5:03 AM on March 26


"This is a pleasing arrangement of E, B, C#m, and A, much like this artist's previous dozen hits"
But there is always something to say if a song has any kind of hook or appeal. Songs are linked to speech, and after all people keep finding new ways to shuffle around the same few thousand words in newspapers and magazines.
posted by colie at 5:10 AM on March 26


Actually I am annoyed that video game reviews don't include more discussion of ludology.
posted by thecaddy at 5:33 AM on March 26 [3 favorites]


> Has pop music criticism really devolved into lifestyle reporting...?

It would have had to have been something other than this previously for that premise to be valid.

I like reading music criticism. And I like it when a good writer has the critical skill to both analyze their own gut-level responses to what they're hearing, at the same time they're maintaining sufficient detachment to work out why and how it's happening, and determine whether something might be praiseworthy even if it doesn't work for them personally. But I've seen very little music criticism in any music venue that dwells primarily on the mechanics and theoretical aspects. It's somewhat analogous to whether technical excellence or expressive facility is more important in music performance: By ignoring what underlies the communal aspects of enjoying a song a lot of other people enjoy to consider the song itself in isolation, are we also failing to provide a proper analysis of what makes a given number good or bad?
posted by ardgedee at 5:33 AM on March 26


"open the packet of seasoning, add to the boiling water, then stir in the ramen noodles."

Wait, what??? I always add the seasoning at the end after the noodles have cooked. Have I been doing it wrong all these years?
Probably a derail, but this is honestly making my brain explode a little.
posted by spinturtle at 5:43 AM on March 26 [2 favorites]


The author of the Slate article is Owen Pallett, who was recently nominated for an Academy Award for composing the score to Spike Jonze's "Her". Pallett composed the score along with Will Butler, of Arcade Fire.
posted by cnanderson at 5:57 AM on March 26 [3 favorites]


The worst thing about mixolydian is trying to get it to say its name backwards to make it return to its home dimension.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 6:22 AM on March 26 [6 favorites]


Actually I am annoyed that video game reviews don't include more discussion of ludology.

That's... that's where you turn into a werewolf?
posted by Trochanter at 6:34 AM on March 26 [1 favorite]


On topic: After reading this article, I wish I understood music theory. I feel like I half get it, but even listening to teenage dream after reading it, I still feel like I'm not understanding fully. I think I might hit up youtube and see if anyone has tried to explain the basics for those of us who are interested in learning. Like CrashCourse for music.

Off topic: spinturtle, you can make it both ways. I use to add the seasoning to the water before it boiled, but found that diluted the taste somehow. So now I'm back to adding it in after the noodles are done. Actually I put the seasoning packet in my bowl and add the water/noodles to the bowl after it's cooked. That's the most intense taste. It might have something to do with the salt changing the temp that the water boils at.
posted by royalsong at 6:49 AM on March 26 [2 favorites]


royalsong: I think I might hit up youtube and see if anyone has tried to explain the basics for those of us who are interested in learning. Like CrashCourse for music.

Totally. Ideally, does anyone know of a decent "Pop Music Appreciation 101" podcast?
posted by Rock Steady at 6:56 AM on March 26 [1 favorite]


Pop music education: the above mentioned Prof Philip Tagg has an ebook you can download here called 'Music's Meanings: A modern musicology for non-musos.'

It's 700 pages of quite intense stuff but you do not need any music training at all to get into it.
posted by colie at 7:05 AM on March 26 [1 favorite]


TBH tho I prefer the gossip of pop music journalism to the pretentiously ignorant garbage of indie rock crit. If one more pitchfork review uses "angular" to describe one of about 200 different guitar sounds I will hurl.

Speaking of which, pop (and indie) crit should include just as much discussion of the production strategies as they do music theory. It's all well and good to understand why the song writing is "suspenseful" in teenage dream, but without getting into Dr. Luke's borrowing of electro production throughout that album, you're not getting a full flavor of its success.

Anyway, I just finished Stephen Mallinder's (the guy from Cabaret Voltaire) Critical History of Industrial Music. It's my ideal blend of cultural study and music theory. I wish there was a similar book about every rock sub-genre.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:28 AM on March 26 [3 favorites]


I enjoyed the original article in the post, as well as the Slate response. And I promise you Owen Pallett is very familiar with the mixolydian mode. This, however, gave me pause:

“Teenage Dream” begins with a guitar sounding the I chord but an instant later, when the bass comes in, the I is transformed into an IV (an IV7 chord, to be exact).

I'm imagining an editor at Slate mentally pronouncing the IV chord as "eye vee."

Anyhow, no post on this topic would be complete without Allan W. Pollack's notes on The Beatles, which include analyses of melody, harmony, form and arrangement, and are pretty good at introducing concepts to beginners.
posted by ludwig_van at 7:30 AM on March 26 [5 favorites]


Read Sasha Frere-Jones for an interesting mix of well written theory and critical but personal insight.
posted by judson at 7:44 AM on March 26


'Julia Child herself would have had trouble filling an hour a week with "open the packet of seasoning, add to the boiling water, then stir in the ramen noodles." '

I don't like this analogy. Yes, Top 40 is formulaic, but so is cooking. One of the key differences - and the very point of the initial article - is that much of the musical audience is unaware of the conventions of the formula, and not able to parse it effectively. Risotto is quite simple to make, but understanding a great risotto is to identify subtle differences in a standardized process. Jamie Oliver, and many other acessible 'pop' chefs don't seem to think this is a waste of time - and Julia Child certainly didn't.

Unless your point in comparing Pop to Ramen noodles was that the former is of inferior quality, in which case I also disagree. As Potomac Avenue alludes to, producers like Dr. Luke, Bob Rock, Pharrell, Miike Snow, Kanye etc. aren't bumbling hacks - they're master Chefs, with a clear and comprehensive understanding of structure, harmony, melody and arrangement (even if not all of them would be able to notate what they're doing). If you don't like their output, that's one thing - but surely that makes it worth discussing more, and not less.
posted by AAALASTAIR at 8:25 AM on March 26 [6 favorites]


A huge element missing here is production and mixing.

Take it back to cooking. Once all the ingredients are in the pot, they are stuck there. Not so with music. You can add or subtract ingredients as the song progresses. Increase the snare reverb (salt) take out the bass (meat) during the second verse.

A good song is a good song, but a well produced and arranged song is what makes really great pop songs sparkle.

Bruno Mars "heaven" track is a great example of arranging and producing, even if the music theory behind it is pretty basic.
posted by BlerpityBloop at 8:35 AM on March 26 [1 favorite]


To take it even further back to cooking-- pop music is Paula Deen. It's still masterfully made, even if it's terrible for you and pandering to your worst instincts. And sometimes it just hits the damn spot.

But when you eat a real 4 star gourmet chef it can change your life. Or when you visit an insane genius making foam reductions and drilling holes in your beef or whatever, it can change your whole understanding of food. That's what great avant garde music does too.

ANALOGIES
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:57 AM on March 26 [2 favorites]


'Julia Child herself would have had trouble filling an hour a week with "open the packet of seasoning, add to the boiling water, then stir in the ramen noodles." '

Well... I feel like she could've actually. She was brilliant and knew how to entertain even if she was just teaching you how to mix together flour and butter. Let's say you're right, though - what about the noodle episode of Mind of a Chef? David Chang literally spends the entire episode talking ramen, and about half of that is him doing some insane alchemy on instant ramen noodles. Just because something's lowbrow doesn't mean it can't be used/experienced in creative and interesting ways.
posted by augustimagination at 9:01 AM on March 26 [2 favorites]


This is so fantastic. Thank you, lizarrd. Now I have the urge to not work and just play with music theory all day!
posted by Maecenas at 9:06 AM on March 26


As someone who knows basically no music theory (and thanks for the link upthread to fix that), I felt a bit like the Owen Pallett post was "this is what you say you want, so chew on it, jackass". I like that people get & enjoy it, but it's probably over most people's heads, including mine.

My husband used to do part-time sound engineering for friends and talking to him about it has given me some understanding of what I like and don't like in production. I would definitely be interested in a bit more production talk in show & album reviews.
posted by immlass at 9:28 AM on March 26


Please. Curmudgeonly musical analysis has been going downhill since Theodor Adorno.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 9:36 AM on March 26 [4 favorites]


A good song is a good song, but a well produced and arranged song is what makes really great pop songs sparkle.

this. also a memorable hook. I will be perfectly honest and say I know jack about music theory, don't listen to pop radio and prior to reading that Slate article I wouldn't have been able to name a Katy Perry track if you held a gun to my head, but as soon as I started reading the description of the song, I'll be damned if the hook / chorus didn't start running through my head and here's the kicker I don't even know where I heard the bloody thing to begin with.

I'd argue that's the real signifier of a good pop song, and why that one went #1. It's sticky, infectious, pervasive and about as easy to get rid of as kudzu.
posted by lonefrontranger at 9:46 AM on March 26 [1 favorite]


I thought Pallett wrote from a basic position of respect for the craft of the Perry song - unlike Adorno, who insisted that cheap pop music was utterly beyond redemption and an outright tool of social control.

There are always a dozen other singers with Katy Perry's singing skills and good looks, and the slick production, and the marketing behind them, who don't get the megahits. I personally like to keep believing that this is because there is some magic sprinkled in the music somewhere, as Pallett describes, or else I feel a little bit of me dies.
posted by colie at 9:48 AM on March 26 [2 favorites]


"Slick production". I love/hate that phrase. It reminds me of the old farside cartoon with the sound engineer twisting the "suck" knob on the mixing board.

Truly genius producers can't make a hit out of a song that doesn't work when sung around a campfire. At the end of the day, it's the song. Dynamics, tension and release, space and good arranging can only take you so far (but they take you pretty damn far).

Jellyfish "Spilled Milk" is just about the best arranged and produced album I have ever heard, if you want an example of great campfire songs exploded to the Nth degree, nothing tops it. The music theory is sound, but the production makes it shine.
posted by BlerpityBloop at 10:14 AM on March 26


I thought Pallett wrote from a basic position of respect for the craft of the Perry song

I don't think he was dissing the song, to be sure. I thought any disrespect was aimed at readers who think they want a critique of pop music that they don't have the tools and background to understand.
posted by immlass at 10:15 AM on March 26


There are always a dozen other singers with Katy Perry's singing skills and good looks, and the slick production, and the marketing behind them, who don't get the megahits. I personally like to keep believing that this is because there is some magic sprinkled in the music somewhere

Do I get to be cynical? Because dollars-to-donuts, it ain't 'magic' that was sprinkled around if you get my drift.

That being said, I listened to Kesha's 'Your Love is my Drug' sans autotune. Woman can't hold a tune in a bag, but she is excellent at vocal expression.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 10:50 AM on March 26 [1 favorite]


(Also, my music teacher side is twitching at the typo in the second to last link in the OP. It's Timbre not Timber. Probably a spell check out of control)
posted by lownote


Yeah, I noticed that typo after the post unfortunately. Uh, I haven't ever had a mod correct my post so I don't actually know how to go about correcting that typo.

On topic: After reading this article, I wish I understood music theory. I feel like I half get it, but even listening to teenage dream after reading it, I still feel like I'm not understanding fully. I think I might hit up youtube and see if anyone has tried to explain the basics for those of us who are interested in learning. Like CrashCourse for music.
posted by royalsong


That seems to be what Pop Music Theory is trying to do with the blog. It was definitely more simple than what I'm used to but it was fun because I don't tend to try to analyze pop songs unless somebody asks me to do so. There's also http://www.musictheory.net/ which helped me out at some point when I kept forgetting basics as I went through university.

I definitely didn't feel like Pallet was dissing the song or the readers or the audience. I felt like he was pointing out mostly why it isn't done that way that often. I thoroughly enjoyed it but I have a background in music, music theory, etc.
posted by lizarrd at 10:51 AM on March 26 [1 favorite]


I only liked that song because of the smokin' hot tatted up boxer guy Katy's with in it. I felt like that music video really helped the song. Before I saw that video, I just turned the dial every time it started up.
posted by discopolo at 11:04 AM on March 26


Can't we just get the source code from Max Martin's laptop? It's gotta be a dozen lines of BASIC at most.
posted by JoeZydeco at 11:24 AM on March 26


'Truly genius producers can't make a hit out of a song that doesn't work when sung around a campfire.'

I understand what you're saying, but I think this ignores that music and songs, particulaly in various songwriter traditions are different things. A combination of rhythmic, dancy music being dominant in pop right now, and the new kinds of production available conjour many examples that contradict this.

Boom Boom Pow would make a pretty terrible campfire song I reckon, and its both exciting and hilarious to imagine what Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites would even BE as a guitar singalong - yet these were both very successful pieces of music.

Dubstep as a genre is totally production-reliant. So is the ultra-bass, southern rap influenced 'drop' section in Katy Perry's Dark Horse. There's nice pieces of melody earlier in that song (the snaky, minor key "make me your Aphrodite" comes to mind), but the catchiest part of the song for me is the post-chorus waterfall plunge of "...there's no going back" - and the rumbling, pounding beat that ensues.

That's SO much about production, with the big walls of descending synth and layers of vocal in the chorus completely dropping away to a sub-bass shake, with a splintery, reverb-heavy synth joining in.

Other, older forms of music that are more about rhythm and dancing and less about a vocal hook also defy the 'campfire' rule you gave, even if high-tech production isn't present. Fela Kuti's Zombie has a nice catchy vocal ("zombie, oh zombie oh"), but try campfiring that for 8-10 minutes. Arrangement and instrumentation are vital here, with parts that emerge and drop, much like many electronic songs today. Drums will cut out, leaving just guitar, horn lines will emerge and exit like samples. A masterclass in longform structure and pacing.

I agree with your basic point, just food for thought
posted by AAALASTAIR at 11:40 AM on March 26 [8 favorites]


AAALASTAIR: So is the ultra-bass, southern rap influenced 'drop' section in Katy Perry's Dark Horse. There's nice pieces of melody earlier in that song (the snaky, minor key "make me your Aphrodite" comes to mind), but the catchiest part of the song for me is the post-chorus waterfall plunge of "...there's no going back" - and the rumbling, pounding beat that ensues.

Yaaaass, I love this part, and I've actually been thinking about posting a question to Ask MetaFilter to get more examples of it. Where else should I be looking for accessible, catchy songs with that kind of "ultra-bass, southern rap influence"?
posted by Rock Steady at 11:50 AM on March 26


Pallett has some follow-up on Facebook. I'm not sure this is linkable (turns out he and I have a friend in common, who knew?), but he contunues the game with a read of "Get Lucky," and makes it clear he finds the exercise silly but fun:

pop music does not benefit or gain "legitimacy" when given musicological analysis. Music theory is best left in the heads of creators, not appreciators or critics, imo.
posted by neroli at 12:09 PM on March 26 [1 favorite]


Aaaah, "Dark Horse!" So THAT'S that song on the radio that samples Moments In Love. That's been driving me nuts.
posted by en forme de poire at 12:09 PM on March 26


Dubstep as a genre is totally production-reliant.

This makes me want to write a song in wub-wub-wub minor.
posted by malocchio at 12:34 PM on March 26 [1 favorite]


I read recently on this (mefi linked?) article a quote that resonated with me - "writing about music is like dancing about architecture".

You can certainly have interesting discussion about a piece's composition, but it's only a small part of what makes music so brilliant. You could describe thousands of different songs with almost the same language, but without listening to them it would be almost impossible to convey very much about them. Music and emotion are intrinsically linked, and emotion is not easily quantifiable.
posted by leo_r at 12:52 PM on March 26


writing about music is like dancing about architecture

"How about a square dance?" - Laurie Anderson
posted by en forme de poire at 2:13 PM on March 26


"writing about music is like dancing about architecture"

Dear Quote Investigator: Is there any chance that you could attempt to trace this famous saying?
posted by effbot at 2:45 PM on March 26


Also, I really don't get what you gain by analyzing "Teenage Dream" in F mixolydian.

that's how i hear it - that there's some tricky deceptive chordal things going on above the bass line and the melody has a different approach to the mode than usual are what makes it an interesting song and adds tension

also, i think i gain something from relating it to the many rock songs that use mixolydian, by perceiving it as an interesting twist on the basic concept, and by reminding myself that rock music is often modal and not quite in the common practice tradition - and that as carol kaye once said, bass playing IS arranging - this song's a great example of that - the bass line turns what could be a rather bland progression into something different, even changing what would be the key and modality

just being able to consider it from another interpretation of theory is something that gives insight into what's going on in that song

oh, i meant to say something else this morning - ted gioia is a stuffed shirt and should stick to music he respects
posted by pyramid termite at 3:02 PM on March 26


The author of the Slate article is Owen Pallett,

His music under the name Final Fantasy is interesting.


Read Sasha Frere-Jones for an interesting mix of well written theory and critical but personal insight.

Sasha and The New Yorker work hard at keeping up with the latest teen-pop confections. Sometimes I think it almost seems like they try too hard.


So THAT'S that song on the radio that samples Moments In Love.


The original early 1980's video version of Art of Noise: Moments in Love was a profound piece of work that featured some swell figure skating footage and a talking turtle. One of the best music videos ever made.
posted by ovvl at 3:35 PM on March 26 [4 favorites]


There are always a dozen other singers with Katy Perry's singing skills
What skills? She sounds like she's holding back a burp.
posted by pxe2000 at 5:38 PM on March 26


yeah. this is actually my general defense of Madonna and Kanye and Michael Jackson and Lady Gaga and such. They barely even pretend to give a shit about the music. They're personas, not musicians.

Lots of folks (including those I just mentioned) do both well sometimes. Lotsa folks focus way more on one or the other. Generally, the less you focus on music, the more you deserve to be called a pop star rather than a musician.

Not a new theory, is it?

If it's becoming more noticeable now, it's because the music industry is entirely empty and useless. The pop industry is not. Music has moved on into the post-main-stream world, where even the best dance music (stuff you'd once think of as defining "pop") is made outside of the big name record industry. Hoo-fucking-ray.
posted by es_de_bah at 7:49 PM on March 26


There are always a dozen other singers with Katy Perry's singing skills
- What skills?


OK I'm not going to defend Katy's singing abilities, but as the dad of a pop crazed ten year-old girl, I can tell you that she sure knows how to connect with her audience.

I also get a lot of guilty pleasure from her acoustic version of 'The One that Got Away'.
posted by colie at 11:17 AM on March 27 [1 favorite]


I'm amazed you could get within feet of any of Michael Jackson or Kanye's works and conclude "they don't give a shit about their music," es_de_bah.
posted by flatluigi at 2:50 PM on March 27 [3 favorites]


Is there something musically "interesting" about the song "Call Me Maybe", specifically the line "here's my number"? To my untrained ear, it sounds like at least a couple of the notes are sharp, like it's an unusual chord. I've wondered for a long time whether that helped make it compelling and popular.
posted by Tool of the Conspiracy at 9:29 AM on April 7


I can't hear anything unusual about the vocal melody; it's just a perfect fit between the ultra-shiny auto-tune texture, the singer's style, and the poetic text of the song.

But one possible pointer I would suggest about the song's 'crack-rock' catchiness relates to the timing of the chord changes in the chorus. The chorus is four bars and at the end of bars 1, 2, and 3 the chords change with massive emphasis on the half-beat just before the start of the next bar. Instead of changing on '1' like most pop songs, they're changing on the 'and' of 'four-AND' just before the start of the next bar. Then the next huge chord lands with a teasing little delay, arriving on the 'and' of '1-AND' in the next bar, leaving a saucy little gap right where the (usually massively emphasised) ONE would usually appear.

Here is the song with counted out bars and the chord changes below:

1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + / 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + / 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + / 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + /

IV------------- I -----V------------vi----IV------------I-----V

The effect is a wildly exaggerated sense of anticipation, which fits with the song's propulsion into the imagined future of the relationship.

At the end of bars 2, 3, and 4 she is singing the tonic note clearly and sweetly (the stable home place of the key) over this disputed/absent/demented '1' beat, supplying some sort of stability by means of her force of will, to the otherwise pushing and pulling effect that the song has around the territory of the '1' beat.
posted by colie at 10:20 AM on April 7 [2 favorites]


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