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Princess Stomper deconstructs the Art of the Pop Song

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by Princess Stomper

Listening to MGMT yesterday, I began to wonder if people had forgotten how to write great songs. “How can you say that?” I hear you cry. “‘Electric Feel’ is a great song”, to which I’d counter, “‘Electric Feel’ has a great hook; it is not a great song”.

Great songs have rules – surprisingly rigid ones at that. It’s not that the songs that obey those rules are automatically good, but that the ones that break those rules are almost universally bad.

They’re bad because … well, let’s take that MGMT song. It does at least divide the song into verses and choruses, but there is no melodic variation between the verses and choruses: they’re almost exactly the same except for the repetition of the lyrics that points to a chorus. Musically, there’s not a lot going on until the 2:40 mark, when we finally have a bridge. It’s a part of the song that sounds different to the rest of the sound, and it’s taken over two thirds of the song’s length to get there. By which point, I’m so bored, I don’t care that the song’s doing something else, even if it stays doing something different for the rest of the song. In terms of its duty to entertain, the song is a failure.

This is the problem I have with Arcade Fire: they don’t use traditional song structures. Some people count that as their strength, but each part of the song is so long that I’ve long lost interest by the time it does something different. I find myself thinking, is this all the song is going to do for the rest of its running time?

It’s a modern problem, I think. Songs designed for ringtones rather than proper listening. I mean, seriously – does anyone over the age of eight think ‘Push The Button’ is a good song? It’s the same notes all the way through – it does nothing else at all for the entire song.

Then again, Cracked accurately listed ‘I Gotta Feeling’ by The Black Eyed Peas as the worst song ever made. In every case, you hear the first few bars and think “this could be an OK song” and find yourself staring at the screen in disbelief. Is. This. All. It. Is. Going. To. Do. For. The. Entire. Song? The Black Eyed Peas song does at least have a bridge and chorus of sorts, but like the other offenders on my list, by the time it does anything different you’re just too bored to care.

Compare these for a second to widely-loved songs like Britney’s ‘Toxic’. Note how many different parts there are to the song – how it builds up and breaks down, how it doesn’t go more than a few bars without changing into something that contrasts with the section before. This is what makes the song sound “interesting”.

(continues overleaf)

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51 Responses to Princess Stomper deconstructs the Art of the Pop Song

  1. Pingback: Who makes the rules for music? « Reinspired

  2. Pingback: “We criticise because we care” <– this is still one of the best things I wrote – Cold Turkey Music

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