Saturday, 2 November 2013

How to Write a Chart Hit in 10 Easy Steps

For the past few months, when I’ve wanted to put my mind onto something other than Shadows, I’ve been making these little Youtube videos about chart music.  For some reason it’s something I’ve needed to get off my chest as it’s worked on my mind for a few years now.  In my day job, the worldly job I have that means I can also straddle into the world of filmmaking, I have the radio on as I work. Out there I get to listen to a lot of current music.  Don’t get me wrong, I choose to put the radio on.  It helps pass the time and gives me something to think about…

What I can’t help but wonder about as I listen to the lyrics recited daily on our radios, is the culture it’s creating and the society it’s shaping.

So many songs seem to be about partying, about losing control, and losing our minds.  Having noticed these lyrical patterns, I can’t help but wonder what this effect of repetition has.  People hear these songs, they sing along in the car, kids record their own versions and upload to YouTube, wannabes belt these tunes out in talent shows or on karaoke machines at the pub, or pop star games on computer consoles.

If you've got the money, you can even pay to have a pop star makeover.

Words sung to music wields a great power – music generates emotions or resonates with existing emotions, helps people to hear that someone feels as they do, people find their identity in it, people express themselves through it, an observation made so succinctly by Stewie in an episode of Family Guy, "I took a bunch of pictures. You can see 'em on my MySpace page. Along with my favorite songs and movies and things that other people have created but that I use to express my individualism”.  Look at random profiles on Twitter and see how long it takes to find people who list pop groups and singers as part of their profile of who THEY are. Directioners, Beliebers. Young, impressionable individuals who are identified by manufactured personae from a money making industry.

This sort of music makes people feel good about themselves – tells them they don’t need to think, that they can escape their lives and join these superstars in this endless party where they can surrender to this unadulterated hedonism.  If you were particularly skeptical you’d see this as some sort of opiate – people beavering away at their 9 to 5 jobs through the week, listening to this music in their cars on the radio to and from work, through their ipods as they travel the tube, maybe even at work, pop stars singing about having a good time as every worker looks forward to the weekend and losing control through drink. 

The pop singer becomes our ever-dependable friend, promoting this lifestyle of hedonism as we’re invited to personally join them in their partying and feel as special as they are.  At the same time the news reports the acceleration of the binge drinking culture and such.  But these songs wrap their arms round us warmly and literally tell us ‘everything’s going to be okay’, making us feel like superstars as we dress up ready to hit the town and ‘own’ the night.  Come Monday morning the cycle starts again.

The line that intrigues me the most, which I open with in Part 1 is about “putting your hands up in the air”.  What is it with this particular lyric that has made it so entrenched in the lexicon of current pop music?

See, even the pope liked to throw his hands up in the air sometimes and say "Ayo, baby let's go".

Is it about surrender? We complain of governments taking away our control, but we’re so willing to surrender our control to the authority of the pop singer or the DJ. It’s an instantly accessible way of creating interaction between the singer and the listener.  “Everybody in love go put your hands up”… pop singers provide us the means to express our love by a simple action and thus help shape our identity, someone who’s in love.  Is it just a simple game, a throwback to our childhood, like Simon Says?

Or have I got it wrong and this is being used as empowerment, encouraging people to raise their hands in a salute of power?  Power over what, though?

Is it part of the celebrity culture, the idolized stars on their pedestals – or sitting in their judge’s seat as they cast their authoritative opinion on the masses who strive to be like them – exerting their authority and control over the populace?  This is a time of following and being a ‘follower’.  Is it a sign of our submission, showing our allegiance to these celebrated individuals whose voice is more important than any of us mere mortals?  Yet when our celebrities are old or dead we now seem to be learning how they were, quite literally, fucking us over.
Yeah it's him again.

I’m not really picking on any of these songs in particular (although I am inclined to for a certain few songs).  I don’t actually hate this music as much as you might think I do.  In fact, some chart songs I hear I actually do like, even some of the ones in these videos (shock, horror!).  I’m not that pompous to dismiss all this so readily.  Perhaps this chart music is necessary escapism. Sometimes it can feel that we’re bombarded by so much negativity that this music becomes a blessed oasis.

What I’m getting at is the frequency of these same messages that are repeated again and again in chart music songs.  Week after week we hear the same messages of “we’re losing control” and “we’re losing our minds” etc.  All I’m saying is, on some level, that must have an effect on the mass audience.  All I’m suggesting is that we bring a little more consciousness to this.

There’s nothing wrong with each of these songs in and of itself. Taking time out, letting one’s hair down, having some fun… that’s all part of the human experience.  But it’s not the only part, and I think the music industry has got it out of balance.  Whether it’s an opiate, or whether the industry has just stumbled upon a winning formula which it’s keen to repeat, or whether it’s a combination of things, I think it needs questioning.

Can you think of any lyrical clichés that I may have missed?  Am I looking at all this too literally?  Am I too cynical and could do with loosening up?

Because I go on a bit, I had to split these videos up into 3 parts.  I have to give a word of warning about part 3 as, although it starts with my satirical silliness, it also has some graphic visuals in it along with, as Simon Bates puts it “sexual swear words”.

All the video material and songs that appear in my videos were taken from YouTube.


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