Music-wise, the previous decade had also been anything but a stroll in the park – marked by creativity, upheaval, and change.
In the wake of streaming, music evolved due to how we listened to it. Songs became shorter, genres merged, and linguistic boundaries were broken down.
Charlie Harding, a songwriter, and Nate Sloan, a musicology professor, were on hand to take note of the shifts. They used to be snobbish about mainstream music before the decade of the 2010s, and Carly Rae Jepsen’s infectious Call Me Maybe came on the radio while they were driving.
Their attention was drawn to how Jepsen used melody and arrangement to create unpleasant anxiety when she asked a guy out on a date, despite their expectations.
In the chorus, “Hey,” Jepsen pauses before singing the first syllable of the song’s refrain, “Hey.” “It’s unexpected, yet effective like she’s preparing to speak her mind.
For this reason, it’s important that the chorus’ underlying chord sequence evokes a sense of being “giddily unmoored,” they write in the accompanying essay.
Each chapter examines an essential principle of music via the prism of a single, omnipresent banger in the book with the same title, entitled “how popular music works and why it matters.”
In the final days of 2019, we contacted them to talk about the decade’s most important musical trends and how they affected our musical experiences.
Pharrell’s “Happy” and Sia’s “Chandelier” were two of the decade’s most memorable hooks, but the decade’s choruses had an identity crisis.
Take Katy Perry’s Dark Horse, for example. Every time Perry says, “are you ready for the perfect storm?” the bridge gets louder and louder, building up the tension. Because of this, you’re left with a hauntingly synthesized bottom line and the song’s chorus disappearing into the depths of space.
According to Sloan, “this was one of the most shocking revelations we found while researching the podcast and writing the book. In popular music, verses and choruses have been a constant since the 1960s, but in the recent decade, there has been a real change away from chorus dominance.”
Sloan and Harding, in their book, attribute this phenomenon back to the song We Found Love by Rihanna and Calvin Harris. We Found Love In A Hopeless Place is a pop song with a verse-chorus format that ends with Rihanna saying, “We found love in a hopeless place” four times.
Suddenly, Harris does something unexpected: Instead of returning to the second verse, the tension rises as if on a rollercoaster.
The size of the songs was decreasing.
According to Quartz analysis, the average length of a Billboard Hot 100 song has decreased from 3’50” in 2013 to roughly 3’30” in 2018, and the trend appears to be accelerating. For a song that clocks in at just 1’52” long, Lil Nas X became one of music’s breakout stars last year.
To compute fees, streaming services reward users for listening to an entire song, says Sloan. A playlist’s chances of being created go up if you listen to the whole music.
Artists are paid per play regardless of how lengthy a song is; streaming platforms do the same. Streaming Kanye West’s epic nine-minute Runaway from 2010 brings in the same amount of money as a three-minute play of Gold Digger. His most recent hit, Follow God, clocks in at 1’45” is no surprise.