Admittedly I’m a little slow in some matters. For the past couple years I’ve wondered why most modern pop songs irritated me. Subject-wise there isn’t much that differentiates the old from the new. Girls and boys still meet, fall in love, break up, foment revenge either through acts of vandalism or through retaliatory hook-ups with “friends,” “enemies,” or “someone hotter.”

There is also the rise of what I will call the Max Martin chorus which could say just about anything or nothing at all, provided it is arranged in this manner:

This line of the chorus is the title of the song
This line of the chorus is the title of the song
Forget that it’s like a limerick
Just want you to sing along
This line of the chorus is the title of the song

…And so forth. Make a habit of buying coffee at convenience stores and you’ll hear this pattern piped in incessantly. You might also notice the breathless and constant pummeling of vocals, whether it be computer-tampered or not. Music has very little room to exist in pop music right now, and the non-stop singing and rapping of the stars had me wondering if that was my biggest turn-off of late. I believe it is, actually.

This particular dilemma stems from the music bed of most pop songs now being a sort of pre-packed beat, conjured up by the producer, that the singer will eventually do his or her lines over. Those beats are comprised mostly of musical loops, once were samples from other more famous songs but sampling has gotten to be such an expensive game to play, the loops are now mostly created from scratch yet utilized in the same exact fashion. For rap, the beat was something to rap over and there was an underlying logic to that. It was all about the rap, and the beat was just a framing device (sometimes very clever and creatively constructed, sometimes just the opening of “Another One Bites The Dust” played over and over again). Some producers were extremely sophisticated in how they made their beats. Diddy just used whole choruses from other songs and got paid. Hate the game, I guess.

For pop music, you still had the formalities to contend with — verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus and out. When hip-hop became the informing genre that redefined pop music, most of that template was reconfigured to align with rap’s verbal cadences. Lyrics were juddered out like a rapid-fire flow, or were padded by melismatic over-singing, or were structured to a click-track melody line. Clever singers changed things up a little so as not to be found out they were likely just verbally repeating a keyboard line. An example of a rigid representation of the melody is in the verses of Jennifer Lopez’s “My Love Don’t Cost A Thing” where you can hear in her singing, if you don’t focus on the words actually being said, a rhythmic pattern like, “Buh-buddy-duddy-dum, buh-buddy-duddy-dum, buh-buddy-duddy-buddy-duddy-buddy-duddy-dum.” I know that reads ridiculously, but hear it in your head. This is a singer replicating a keyboard line much more than actually singing.

And beyond that, when was the last time you heard an instrumental bridge that knocked you off your chair? When was the last instrumental bridge you remember at all? My point being, we are living in an age where as automated as the music can often sound, it is the singer who is the most prominent in pop because there is no room for instrument flash or a breather. The music ends but, in case after case, the singer hasn’t finished yet.

If you like the latest tunes, that might not be a bad thing for you, and I would like to add that it isn’t necessarily a development that’s ruining my world either. It is, however, a hint to those singers out there looking for something that will help them to get noticed, that if you try structuring your songs with a little deference to the music behind you, allowing that music to overshadow you just for a brief few moments, you might be able to be a “new sound,” if only by respecting the old sound in the process.

It’s just a thought.

A post-script to this: there’s an awful lot of instrumental sound in LMFAO’s huge hit “Party Rock Anthem.” I’ll leave it up to your particular tastes to determine whether it is musical or not.

 

 

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