Nat Sloan– With his partner in crime, lyricist Charlie Harding hosts V Vox Switched on pop Podcast, a show “about making popular music and meaning.” With regular gigs as an assistant professor of musicology at the University of Southern California, Sloan is not just a self-styled armchair expert on the subject. In the podcast, he and Harding explore the cultural and social relevance of popular music and the way it works – why do some songs elicit specific reactions from listeners? Why Taylor SwiftOf “Me!“Seems familiar so early? What are all the factors that have to come together for birth?” Lil Nas X.Of “Old Town Road”?
We talked about the similarity of hit tunes with Sloan, and how some songs are able to capture or define a cultural astrologer.
Spotify for Artists: After analyzing melodies over the years, have you noticed a chart-topper or some common elements of a song that become a global phenomenon?
Nut Sloan: This may apply to the end, say, decades of songwriting – I think four-chord loops are the surest way to make your song a bit more appealing. I think the biggest hits of the last decade follow that formula, “he said.HelloBy Adele Or “SlowlyBy Louis Fonsi. A four-chord loop usually contains some combination of major and minor triads that seem really interesting to the audience.
To dig a little deeper, is there an attitude or sound to that most successful song – happy, sad, exuberant?
I think actually people use these four-pronged advances which you can call a certain kind of harmonious ambiguity. Needless to say, the classical era where they were very interested in establishing a clear tonality. Now, popular music of the twenty-first century seems to be more inclined to find four-cord loops blurring the melodic edges. “Despacito” or “hello” is a good example. None of them firmly establish that they are even a major or a minor key. They keep you guessed with a hoax between a major and a minor. And it probably reinforces the same kind of lyric conflict between many contemporary pop, where it’s clearly not sad or happy. It is further exploring the emotional gray realm.
I think it appeals to most people and maybe reflects something – I don’t know what the right word iron is is a kind of ironic, post-truth culture where we live.
Another excellent example might be Justin Bieber– His song “What do you mean?“Also uses a four-cord loop that is full of ambiguity and uncertainty, but it’s one of the biggest hits of the last few years.
Charlie Harding and Knut Sloan
Can you think of recent examples where a pop song really broke that mold, where it was established that it was in a very specific mood but still topped the charts?
Maybe a song “Fight songBy Rachel Platen An unwanted main key, which really resonates with his message. The lyrics of your song, “This is my fight song.” So this is certainly an example of a traditional theological kind, “Here’s a key and here’s my main message.” But I think we can see it becoming increasingly less common. Even the biggest number one hit at the moment, “Old Town Road” is in a vague little key, though it has a message of confidence and boasting. So I think the melodious ambiguity in a four-cord loop is definitely something to use in this pop ecosystem.
Does it involve one-six-four-five advances “the“ advances in ice cream change ”that you mentioned in the episodes of Switched On Pop?
Whenever it’s used, it’s Taylor Swift’s song “ME!” Or going back to a song like “Heart and Soul” in the 50’s, that progress refers to a very clear melodic center. But what you see more frequently now is a variation of the chord progression where you turn those four lights into a new order and what you hear in “Despacito”. Instead of one-six-four-five, you’ll hear six-four-one-five, I guess. Looking at the progress, it’s very familiar and used in thousands of different songs, but it doesn’t have the same kind of harmonious clarity or tonal clarity that can change ice cream progress.
What big, zeitgeisty songs often tap? Is it a feeling or a movement or a tendency?
I think the biggest, most popular song – and I think it’s something unchanged in pop music from the last century – tap into some subtle gradient of what it feels like to experience personal feeling and turn it into something universal. So you are able to recognize the specificity of what the song is saying and feel that it somehow applies to your life and the lives of the people around you.
Speaking of trends, have you noticed the qualities that pop music has been heading in recently?
I hear a combination of acoustic and electronic words. It is sometimes difficult to hear whether this “acoustic sound” is actually sound or electronic. But suffice it to say that for a while I think we were really interested in purely electronic music, and now I think our ears are being drawn to a combination of more one-of-a-kind sounds and electronic sounds. So if you take a track like a soundcloud rap hit “Gucci gangBy Lil pump, That song combines electronic trap drums with acoustic piano and it seems to be something that people find really interesting right now.
What are some ways artists can ensure that their music is in their time? How are they relevant?
I think the answer is that it’s an oxymoron, isn’t it? If you want to be your time, don’t try to be your time. By simply creating and responding to the world around you, you will create a kind of artwork of the moment where we live. I think the composers are facing the composer right now Igor Stravinsky Once called the “Abyss of Freedom” we have at our fingertips much more music history and worldwide music style than ever before and it can be kind of irresistible. “What do I do with all these possibilities?” This is a terrible question. Way 50 years ago it was just as easy, a lot of people have never heard of Setter. Now you can not only hear one but you can conjure one on your laptop with the click of a button. What are we going to do with the alternative of the irresistible amount of musical instruments in front of us? To me, how musicians will answer this question will define the word 2019.
– Matt Williams