Given up on the radio? Sick of pop music? Think every track in the top 40 sounds exactly like the last? Reckon the music industry is just pumping out the same old bundle of heard-it hooks and tired lyrics? Well, you may just be onto something there, at least according to Aussie producer Styalz Fuego.
As the beat-maker, who’s worked with the likes of 360, Illy, and Kelis, tells News Limited, many pop songs, particularly those released on major labels, are rewritten with the explicit intention of recreating the sounds and vibes of previous proven hits.
“More hit songs than not are written in that way,” Styalz Fuego, real name Kaelyn Behr, tells the news outlet. “Especially on major labels. And for the manufactured pop artists from Idol, X Factor and The Voice. A lot of the time people are writing to briefs.”
“I’ve seen people put a hit song into the Pro Tools session, mute it, do their chords, write their chorus, unmute the song to reference it, think it’s pretty close and then keep going to get the exact same feel and tempo of that original song,” he explains.
“They change enough so it feels new and everyone will love it because it’s familiar. People will get a brief like ‘Write a song for J-Lo that’s like Katy Perry meets Diplo’ and they copy elements from both songs,” he adds. “Sometimes you can have five great writers in one room and make the worst song.”
And this isn’t merely the opinion of one producer. According to a 2012 Spanish study which analysed popular music over the last half-century, modern pop music is not only considerably louder than music in previous decades, but much of it sounds the same.
After analysing the audio and lyrical content of songs from 1955 to 2010, the researchers discovered what they described as “a progressive homogenization of the musical discourse”. In other words, songs are louder and share many of the same chord progressions, melodies, and sounds and tones.
But according to Behr, the situation is not as bleak as it seems. With popular music becoming increasingly homogeneous, truly unique and talented artists are given a better platform to stand out from the rest of the pack. This often means artists who are penning their own tracks or working with visionary producers.
“Songs like Adele’s ‘Rolling in the Deep’, Gotye’s ‘Somebody That I Used to Know’, Macklemore’s ‘Same Love’ or ‘Thrift Shop’ — the production is so weird or different you couldn’t emulate it without sounding exactly like it,” says Behr.
“That Ariana Grande song, ‘Break Free’, that’s a very standard pop song at this point in time, it’d be easy to copy that and base another song off it. The weirder or more unique a hit song, the less likely people are to copy it. And if you put the biggest songs of the past two years together they’re all kind of weird.”
“Lorde’s ‘Royals’, that’s four sounds and a vocal in that song. How do you copy that? The most unique songs are the biggest hit songs. Why don’t we try to all make more unique hit songs? That’s easier said than done. Those songs aren’t about sounding like a hit, it’s all about timing or being so fresh that people gravitate towards them,” he adds.
So the next time you happen to tune into a top 40 station, remember that you’re not out of touch or simply getting old, the last five songs you heard really were pretty much all the same track. But hey, when you hear that one tune that piques your interest with its singular melody and novel production, take it as a sign that still some artists out there that are fighting the good fight.