TFW you’re driving and you hear a new song on the radio that makes you pull over to hear it better? I’ve had it three times. The first time was Eminem’s “Stan” in 2000. I just had to know how it ended. The second was in 2013, when I thought Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” was a 1970s disco classic I’d somehow missed. And the third was Billie Eilish’s “Bad Guy,” partly because the production was so original, but mostly because the vocal was so, well, disturbing.
Thematically, the song is about relationship power dynamics. For all the machismo of the “you” character, and that upsetting opening violent abuse image in the first line, Billie herself is the titular “Bad Guy.” She can out-scare and out-dare him. If he wants to “take control,” she’ll go along with it, up to a point, but she holds all the cards: if he steps out of line, there will be mama-disappointing, girlfriend-antagonizing, dad-seducing hell to pay. The production throughout supports this theme, balancing the scary and the ironic as Billie’s vocal performance veers between threat and disinterest.
Welcome to the 2019 Eurovision live musicology blog, now in its ninth year. This site has provided live (or pre-live) music analysis of the ESC final every year since 2011, previously during the UK live broadcast. Since 2016, the text has been written from Boston USA, 5 hours behind UK time and, this year, 7 hours behind Tel Aviv, where the show takes place.
The Contest can be watched on YouTube, and across many European and US networks and time zones. Parts of the blog post are typed as-live, but I’ve uploaded everything in advance so you can follow along with the show. For any non-Europeans who are unfamiliar with Eurovision, the Wikipedia page gives a great overview.
As before, I have posted predictions of the winners before
the voting begins. 2015 is the only year so far that all three were correct,
and in the correct order, but I’ve gotten close with the top few most of
This year I’m including more of the chord loops, so that keyboard/guitar people can play along. These chords are transcribed at speed, and are sometimes slightly simplified for text purposes (e.g. there aren’t always 2nd/3rd time bars etc).
And, as always, I recommend music creative types (particularly songwriters and producers) read Milton Mermikides’ excellent Deux Points’ article, which gives top tips on how to write those fair-to-middling low-scoring ‘Euro-formula’ songs. As you listen to tonight’s show, look out to references to the Aeolian mode aka natural minor scale (in music generally, the least exotic of all the minor scales; in Eurovision terms, an essential signifier of cultural and emotional authenticity).
As a music theory geek, I love to get inside songs and figure out why we like them. There’s something beautiful about the ability of a mainstream hit to bring people together. And when the songwriter and singer is as extraordinary a talent as Ariana Grande, we can be sure we’re putting the very finest pop product in our ears.
So let’s dive in, intro first, middle bit in the middle, and outro at the end, as has been the way since the dawn of time.
We hear a single reverbed synth sound playing half notes, with occasional 8th note passing notes, and no indication of what’s to come. That’s sparse, even for a trap-pop intro. At this point, we don’t even know if we’re hearing 140BPM (fast pop) or 70BPM (slow ballad).
Randy introduces himself and talks briefly about his work in music education, including his publications, talks, and his experience of listening to other songwriters’ work over many years. Today he’s sharing with us the structure of his 16-week songwriting course, and he begins with the philosophy of definition i.e. the question ‘what is a song?’. He suggests that most technical descriptions of a song fall short of the mark of describing its subjective effects on listeners, noting how difficult this intangible would be to achieve. He provides a traditional melody-lyric-harmony definition of a song (i.e. omitting the Sound Recording or arrangement), and then asks the potential student question “If [a song is too intangible to hold], then how can I learn about it?”.
To the great amusement of the audience, Randy now talks us (literally, talks us) through the whole of the lyric to James Brown’s ‘I Got You’, demonstrating that it’s clearly a love song. He now separates the [love] song from the arrangement, describing the horn lick and Brown’s vocal as ‘ear candy’, building on the core lyric’s emotional intent.
André Doehring: Institute for Jazz Research, University of Music and Performing Arts Graz, Austria
Fish and fowl? Mapping the no-man’s-land between popular music studies and jazz studies
OUTLINE: In his article ‘Is jazz popular music?”, Simon Frith (2007: 10) has noticed that the “separation of jazz and popular music studies is an indisputable fact of academic life”. Indeed, due to their historically different developments, both disciplines have established sets of aesthetic norms, separate institutional bases, and specific methods to identify and cope with the musics they have found worth studying. Recently, Matt Brennan (2017) has shown the influence of music journalism on these scholarships. Ultimately, both succeeded – more (jazz studies) or less (popular music studies), at least in the German-speaking world – as distinctive disciplines with developed curricula.
This keynote argues, by pointing to examples throughout the history of recorded music, that this neat division of the musical world is precarious because it prevents a fertile exchange between jazz and popular music studies; for instance, the development of (still) so-called New Jazz Studies during the last twenty years has only occasionally led to serious discussion in the popular music field. Moreover, this separation excludes a lot of musics, musicking and musicians in between these two fields. In particular, by using an example from the realm of electronic dance music, the lecture advocates a joint effort to fill the void in between the front lines of jazz and popular music that, potentially, may lead to structural changes in teaching and researching jazz and popular music.
BIO: André Doehring is professor for jazz and popular music research and head of the Institute for Jazz Research at the University of Music and Performing Arts in Graz (Austria). Before, he has been assistant professor at the University of Gießen (Germany) where he received his doctorate in musicology and had studied musicology and sociology. He is president of the International Society for Jazz Studies (IGJ), member of the scientific board of the German Society for Popular Music Studies (GfPM), co-editor of GfPM’s online journal Samples and since 2017 of IGJ’s yearbook Jazz Research and Studies in Jazz Research. His main research topics are the social histories and historiographies of popular music and jazz, analysis, and music and media. Currently, he is involved into establishing a European network for transnational jazz studies.
PUBLICATIONS: Song Interpretations in 21st Century Pop Music (Eds. Appen/Doehring/Helms/Moore, Ashgate, 2015); “Andrés’s ‘New For U’ – new for us. On analysing electronic dance music” (Ashgate 2015); “Modern Talking, musicology and I: analysing the forbidden fruit” (Routledge 2016); “Male journalists as ‘artists’: the ideological production of recent popular music journalism” (Éditions des Archives Contemporaines 2017).
[with apologies to André for not hearing the start due to background noise as people came in]
André laments the relative historical disinclination of academe to be prepared to engage musicologically with pop and jazz. He states that there is still a percentage bias against non-classical musics, citing as evidence the tiny proportion of popular (as opposed to classic) musicology professorships in German universities. He leads us through the history of some pioneers, including Marshall Stearns, who founded the Institute for Jazz Studies in 1953 New Jersey, USA. We are led through the gradual growth of jazz studies in (mainly US) Higher Education from the 1950s onward.
This week I’m at the biannual conference of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music. Our hosts are the University of Kassel, Germany, and the conference features presenters from all over the world.
Our opening keynote speaker this morning is Robin James, whose academic work spans philosophy, pop music, sound studies, and feminism. One of the pleasing trends I’ve been seeing in academic conferences in recent years is the increased willingness of presenters (particularly younger scholars) to post their work online. Robin has generously shared not only her slides but the full text of the talk. The keynote goes into considerable depth, so I won’t attempt to summarise it here, other than to say how much I enjoyed Robin’s acrobatic thinking as she leapt gracefully from Pythagorean philosophy to big data, US neoliberalism, YOLO and Chill culture, and illustrated all of this with a brief musical analysis of Harry Styles’s Sign Of The Times (embedded below) and Beyoncé’s Lemonade.
[edit – posted the next morning, Sunday 13th May 2017]
My predictions were:
Italy (actually 6th)
Sweden (actually 5th)
(or 5.) Bulgaria (actually 2nd)
Not my best year so far, but not my worst either.
Successfully predicted the winner (Portugal)
All my top 3 were in the top 6
I was too snarky about the Moldovans (though I maintain it’s a terrible song)
I was right to stick up for plucky Bulgaria
The voters liked Belgium’s misery-fest more than I did
Italy might have scored higher but apparently self-sabotaged their performance on the night with a dancing gorilla.
[original pre-live blog below, with videos embedded]
[Written at at 9:14pm GMT on May 13th 2017, before voting begins]
(Bulgaria also somewhere in the top 5)
How to use this blog entry
When the show begins, scroll down to the first performer (Israel) and read the text live along with the show, or just watch the videos. Intro
Welcome to the 2017 Eurovision live musicology blog, now in its seventh year. This site has provided live music analysis of the ESC final every year since 2011, previously during the UK live broadcast. Since 2016, the text has been written from Boston USA, 5 hours behind UK time and 7 hours behind the International Exhibition Centre in Kiev.
The Contest is now broadcast in the US, which would be a 3pm start time here, but the final usually (as this year) coincides with my students’ Commencement. So blog will still be ‘pre-live’, but the comments and predictions are published an hour or so ahead of the live broadcast of the final. This means I’m working from the published running order and watching the videos on the ESC website. For any non-Europeans who are unfamiliar with Eurovision, the Wikipedia page gives a great overview.
As before, I’ve posted predictions of the winners before the voting begins. 2015 is the only year so far that all three were correct, and in the correct order, but I’ve gotten close with the top few most of the time.
(scroll down along with the show, or if you’re reading this after the show has ended, watch the videos)
1 Israel – IMRI – I feel alive
Lots of builds here, harmonically and dynamically. The whole song form is three big ramps; the first is from the intro through verse 1 to the end of chorus 1; the second from verse 2 to the end of chorus 2; then a drop bridge, with a final ramp to the end. There are really two 8-bar pre-choruses, both of which use the chorus chord loop of Ab | Cm | Bb | Fm – so you get the feeling of chorusyness two, arguably three times. The song could be called ‘breaking me to pieces’ and have a perfectly good chorus, but when he hits the high autotuned C note on the title’s “I feel alive”. I’m typing this based on the video – so for those watching it live, see how they manage that high falsetto note. His ability to hit it (or mime convincingly to it as a ‘backing’ vocal) could affect the score bigly. Sorry, typing this from America.
In the next couple of days I’ll post proper transcriptions of the two with audio and some discussion points. For now, here’s an interview I did yesterday with BBC Radio 5 live, discussing the songs with presenters Sarah Brett and Ore Oduba.
This is a blog post about 5 bars of music. As reported in Rolling Stone and The Sun recently, the melodic similarity between Sam Smith’s 2014 song Stay With Me and Tom Petty’s I Won’t Back Down (1989) resulted in an amicable settlement between the writers and publishers sometime in 2014, resulting in Petty and Jeff Lynne, who originally wrote I Won’t Back Down, receiving a 12.5% share of the royalties. The PRS database in the UK confirms the share (members only access).
And subjectively, the songs are pretty similar, as bloggers had been pointing out since mid-2014.
But everyone was relaxed about the settlement, and Petty issued a statement to this effect:
About the Sam Smith thing. Let me say I have never had any hard feelings toward Sam. All my years of songwriting have shown me these things can happen. Most times you catch it before it gets out the studio door but in this case it got by. Sam’s people were very understanding of our predicament and we easily came to an agreement. The word lawsuit was never even said and was never my intention. And no more was to be said about it. How it got out to the press is beyond Sam or myself. Sam did the right thing and I have thought no more about this. A musical accident no more no less. In these times we live in this is hardly news. I wish Sam all the best for his ongoing career. Peace and love to all. (Petty, 2015)
Here’s the thing. Petty used the term ‘accident’, which one might interpret as meaning the copying of the melody was inadvertent. Sam Smith’s representatives claimed that the similarity was the result of a ‘coincidence’:
I’m en route to the UK & Ireland IASPM conference in Cork. I was at the International one in Spain last year – the branch and International IASPM conferences leapfrog each other every other year, so for 2014 we’re back in our respective countries. I’ve submitted an abstract for the 2015 conference in Sao Paulo, Brazil (about chord loops in the Eurovision Song Contest – regular readers will know this is an interest). Waiting to hear if it gets through peer review.
So here’s my abstract for the forthcoming conference. This is part of a panel about similar themes — other presenters are Holly Holmes (Chester), Dan McKinna (BIMM) and Marcus O’Dair (Middlesex).
As always I’ll live-blog from the conference where possible.
Where is creativity? Locating intellectual property in collaborative songwriting and production processes
(Joe Bennett, Bath Spa University)
Songs lie at the centre of popular music’s Intellectual Property framework. They represent the starting point for the industry’s two most important creative products: the live performance or the recorded audio artefact. In the early 20th century, US and European copyright conventions were established whereby two separate objects could be ‘owned’: the song and the sound recording, the latter being a derivative work of the former. This state of affairs, where ‘song’ and ‘track’ are separate copyrights, remains at the industry’s administrative core, and has led to awareness among creators of the economic benefits of ‘keeping a slice of the publishing’.
However, in real-world songwriting and production situations it is not always easy to ascertain who contributed to ‘writing the song’ and who acted as an arranger, performer or producer. Inferring creative contributions from the audio artefact itself is fraught with methodological challenges; from a listener’s point of view, there is no experiential distinction between song and track. Drawing on the theoretical work of Moore, McIntyre and Csikszentmihalyi2, together with interviews with professional songwriters and the author’s own experience as a songwriter and expert witness forensic musicologist, this paper argues that the artificial administrative distinction between ‘song’ and ‘track’ is simultaneously a constraint upon creators and a silent driver of creative practice itself.
2 Allan F Moore, Song Means : Analysing and Interpreting Recorded Popular Song (Ashgate, 2012); Phillip McIntyre, “The Domain of Songwriters: Towards Defining the Term ‘Song,’” Perfect Beat: The Pacific Journal of Research into Contemporary Music and Popular Culture 5, no. 3 (2001): 100–111; Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, “Society, Culture, and Person: A Systems View of Creativity,” in The Nature of Creativity : Contemporary Psychological Perspectives, ed. Robert Sternberg (Cambridge University Press, 1988), 325– 339.
In my recent research I’ve become increasingly interested in the way mainstream songs behave like a Darwinist ecosystem (this is the book chapter where I set out these ideas in more detail). The theory goes that successful characteristics of songs self-propagate because hits influence songwriters to do more of the same – although this may eventually lead some songwriters to challenge what become mainstream norms. So it can be interesting to analyse the most successful ‘organisms’ in the environment to see which musical, structural and lyric characteristics are evident.
Early in 2013 I looked back at the top 10 airplayed songs of 2012 (see Take Me Down Like I’m a Four-chord Loop) and found a number of musically similar characteristics, notably a prevalence of four-chord loops and surprising lack of variation of tempo – half of the songs had a tempo of 128 beats per minute.
Putting the product back in the process: on fluxus, viruses, organisms and the Instant Composers Pool
In this paper I connect musicological interest in performance with the new materialism that is growing in the broader humanities, and use this background to argue for a reconsideration of the score in relation to performance.
Between a rock and a hard place: discourse, practice and the unbearable lightness of analysis. Methodological challenges in studying creative process in Iranian (classical) music
Since the late 1980s, an important strand of my research has sought to understand the underlying creative processes of Iranian classical music, a tradition where the performer plays a central creative role and which is therefore often described as ‘improvised’, both in the literature and – since the mid-20th century and drawing on concepts initially adopted from European music – by musicians themselves. Methodologically, perhaps the greatest challenge is tracing the relationships between musicians’ verbal discourses – usually taken by ethnomusicologists as evidence of cognitive processes – and what happens in practice. Of course, the relationship is a complex one and the dual ethnomusicological methods of (a) ethnography and (b) transcription and analysis don’t always tell the same story. In the case of my work, there was a disjuncture between musicians’ discourse of creative freedom, albeit underpinned by the central memorised repertoireknown as radif, and the analytical evidence which showed the music to be highly structured around a series of what could be termed ‘compositional procedures’, but which are not explicitly discussed by musicians.
Our opening speaker is Prof Eric Clarke, who opened the day with a discussion of the recent shift in musicology from a product-based to a process-based approach. He cited Christopher Hasty’s book Meter As Rhythm, which takes such an approach to rhythm. Eric cites Margaret Boden’s definition of creative products as “ideas or artefacts that are new, surprising or valuable” – this is the product-based definition I use in my own work (that is, I’m not researching songs that do not exhibit all three characteristics). This is contrasted with more nuanced approaches including Ingold (2007) and Howard Becker’s Ethnomusicology and Sociology (1989). Becker takes the view that ‘Art is something people do together’. All of these authors (including, I infer, Eric himself) eschew the idea of the ‘lone creative genius’. His view (and I agree) is that both approaches are necessary in understanding creativity.
He goes on to identify some of the challenges of research methodology, and notes that the documentation of process itself (for research purposes) can paradoxically create an artefact that is itself a product! Many of the artefacts (figures, scores, graphs etc) are fixed objects that do not fully represent the music – they are reductive of the music but not necessarily of its process – often to a single ‘snapshot’ of an aspect of the music (frequency curve, amplitude over time etc – for example a Sonic Visualiser diagram).
Here’s a rather close to the wire song that, to my ears, owes rather too much to the verse of ‘Don’t Worry Be Happy’. Compare Emily J’s vocal in the advert [0:00] with Bobby McFerrin’s [0:28] first melodic phrase. And note the identical harmony in bars 1-4 of the verses.
PopMAC Day 3: 42 years of Popular Music Analysis Teaching in 21 Minutes (2 years per minute). Philip Tagg #popmac
Philip accepts the ambitious timescale of today’s title, so states his intention to take an historical overview. Overview – Background and aim; ‘Tonality’; ‘Time’; ‘Totality’ or ‘form’; and ‘Que faire?’. He provides a brief CV in three acts – from practitioner and teacher with an increasing analytical approach since the 1970s. EPMOW articles came out 1998-2001 (encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World). He then notes the different undergraduate courses available (e.g. at Liverpool) – and highlights the problem of classification (using a wonderful ‘precipitation’ analogy). The history of tonal language, comparing variously ‘modal’, ‘pre-tonal’, ‘euroclassical’ and various arguably ‘post-tonal’ languages, which he asserts are not linear, observing that this is less a spectrum than an orbit as regards the analytical language of tonality.
Tonal terminology was naturally historically developed to define monometric music whose pitches divide tonally/chromatically into the octave, and that this is its strength and its limitation. We see some basic definitions with etymological language derivatives;
Annoying tunes: mobile ways of listening. Amparo Lasén (Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Spain) Chair: Hector Fouce
Annoying tunes: mobile ways of listening. Amparo Lasén (Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Spain) 2013
Mobile phones used as portable sound technologies entail a contemporary urban way of listening to music, which remediates previous ways of listening: youngsters and young adults who carry their phones in their hands, playing tunes loud, when being on their own or in group, using public transport, strolling in a Mall, walking on the streets, or sitting in a park or a square. This is understood as a way of sharing and signing the listening, which elicits controversies and generates online and offline debate. It is characterised by aspects common to other mobile phones uses: personal comfort when being in the move; the multi- sensuous relationship with the device, with the relevance of touch; personalisation as a form of mutual stylisation between people and devices; the creation of a personal space in public places; and the mobile as part of the public performance of how to be and act as a stranger. Some of these aspects related to territoriality, such as personal comfort and personalisation, are also characteristic of music listening and consumption, and both converge in this particular practice of digitally mediated lo-fi music listening.
Amparo started, appropriately enough, with a tinny playback of Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance on her phone, which leaked into the microphone, briefly obscuring her voice. If this was unintentional it was apposite; if not, it was a brilliant piece of theatre! She then played back a video excerpt from Star Trek: The Voyage Home (1986) where Spock uses his Vulcan powers to silence an obnoxious 20thC individual travelling on a bus with a loud ‘ghetto blaster’ – and is applauded by the fellow travellers.
The Wiggles: Australia’s most popular unpopular musical export. Liz Giuffre (Macquarie University, Australia)
[abstract] Children’s songwriters, musicians and performers The Wiggles have regularly appeared on the Business Review Weekly (BRW)’s list of highest paid entertainers in Australia, and have also become an unlikely embodiment of Australian success internationally. This paper argues that The Wiggles produce undoubtedly popular music for their target market, but given that this demographic is almost exclusively children (particularly those of pre-school age), they have been overlooked by the popular music academy. This omission reignites questions of exactly what is popular music, but also draws on cross-discipline arguments such as those in television studies which challenge how we gauge ‘quality entertainment’ and its audience. Children (particularly those of pre-school age) are not a demographic that is often considered in examinations of popular music or media (beyond studies of educational impact or narratives of children’s relative vulnerability to exposure to certain ideas or concepts), however I will show how the niche marketing and success of this band and their broader music and media work functions in much the same way as other popular music subgenres. I will show that The Wiggles remain unpopular with scholars and researchers because of the band (and wider franchise’s) continued focus on its core, preschool market.
[this session included my own paper which I will post separately with slides]
Authorship and originality. Chair – Anahid Kassabian
Authorship in the age of Digital Reproduction. Anne Danielsen (University of Oslo, Norway)
[abstract] In the field of music, authorship traditionally resides in the musical work. In practice, this notion relies on the possibility of separating the performative aspects of music from the pre-composed. Authorship has thus been linked to the ‘frozen’ aspects of the musical process, to the structure that is left behind when the performance is over, either in the form of a notated score or a memorable melody. With the advent of recording techniques, the importance of the performance-related aspects came to the surface since in a recording also what were traditionally regarded as expressive means were fixed and thus possible to repeat. Previous to digital music production it was not possible to extract such performance-related aspects from the totality of the recorded sound. In the age of digital music production, however, this is different. In this paper I will discuss some examples of musical practice where the question of authorship is complicated, either because the creative contribution made by a specific author has not been acknowledged as part of the protected work, or because there are difficulties related to the very act of identifying wherein the authorship lies.