Princess Stomper deconstructs the Art of the Pop Song
But surely, I hear you cry, there must be room for some sort of experimentation in how music is written? Of course there is, but those who subvert the rules must understand them in the first place – why they’re there, how they work, and only the people who have a complete mastery of music can bend or break those rules. This is why Foetus can make pure noise sound like this but when you-spotty-goth try to make a ‘noise rock experimental’ track, it just sounds like random s*** by someone who doesn’t know how to make music. I’ve heard way too many ‘experimental’ tracks in my life by people who view it as some sort of easy option, when it’s just about the hardest music to make.
The bands that subvert the rules tend to make the music very densely layered with easy-to-hook-into melodies and lots of variety. What you never feel is bored. The song might not be doing what it’s supposed to, but it’s not doing the exact same thing for more than a few bars at a time.
Most of the songs that are in the charts and just ignore the standard rules of songwriting aren’t deliberately trying to subvert the rules of songwriting in order to experiment, they’re just crappy songs. This is why you quickly get bored of them and why those songs are very, very quickly forgotten.
It’s why really beautifully-written songs like ‘Umbrella’ or ‘Hazy Shade Of Winter’ or ‘Easy’ are so lauded and covered – because a well-written song can be presented a dozen different ways and still preserve its power. A great song entertains and inspires and moves and excites. It’s why people absolutely jump on songs that are well-crafted – listening to ‘Umbrella’ after years of drivel like ‘Push The Button’ is like a rainstorm after a drought. ‘Umbrella’ spent 71 weeks in the top 100 (including 10 weeks at Number One) in the UK, because people just wanted to keep on hearing it.
That’s not to say that popularity is an indicator of quality – we all know how many crap songs have reached Number One in the charts. It’s just interesting to note on a bestseller’s list like this how many of the songs actually deserve to be on there. Sure, there’s plenty of crap, but there’s Cathy Dennis’ Ivor Novello award-winning ‘Can’t Get You Out Of My Head’ for Kylie, William Orbit’s dreamy ‘Pure Shores’ for All Saints, Gloria Estefan’s ‘Whenever, Wherever’ for Shakira, and Girls Aloud’s ‘Sound Of The Underground’ – all not just popular, but really bloody good songs that, without exception, conform to traditional pop songwriting structures. Even novelty hit ‘Asereje (The Ketchup Song)’ is a really superb song if you listen to it with an open mind.