It all sounds the same. Homogenized. Unadventurous. That’s what many people think about today’s mainstream music. But when you actually listen to songs that hit the upper reaches of the charts, nothing could be further from the truth. Things are different at the top. Most of the hits that climb into today’s Top 10 possess a clever fusion of sub-genres and influencers that:
- Provide the song with a unique nature that enables it to stand out from its mainstream contemporaries via interesting and at times unconventional pairings.
- Increase the fan base and sales potential of the artist and song by traversing multiple genres.
If you turned on the radio during the first quarter of 2015, you would have heard 17 different sub-genres and influencers in the 20 songs that charted in the Top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100. Among these were some of the usual suspects – R&B/Soul, Electropop, and Funk – but also less common influences like Doo Wop, Reggae, Gospel, and even a Waltz. The biggest gainer of the quarter, however, was Retro. Its influence on Top 10 hits saw a dramatic rise from 21% of songs in Q4 up to 50% in Q1. The late 70s to early 1980s was the single most influential period, shaping the vibe of songs such as Jealous, Love Me Like You Do, Sugar, and Uptown Funk, among others.
It takes a creative artist well-versed in songcraft to incorporate diverse sub-genres and influencers and create unique, catchy songs that leap from the speakers – and stand out from their contemporaries. This fusion can be achieved through sectional assignments, where a specific section of a song will possess a specific sub-genre influence, or by using the “blend,” where a specific or multiple sub-genres are in effect throughout the entire song.
Some of the prime examples from Q1-2015 Top 10 hits include:
[Header 2 header=”All About That Bass“]
Meghan Trainor’s infectious hit is perhaps the best example of seamlessly melding multiple styles – it features no less than a half dozen sub-genres and influencers. Listen closely and you can clearly hear Doo Wop, Hip Hop/Rap, Retro 60s (Girl Group), Rock & Roll (Old School), Reggae, and Soul. The song utilizes both sectional assignments and an overall blend to weave these influences into a catchy mélange that sticks in your head. The entire song possesses an ongoing fusion of Doo Wop, Retro 60s (Girl Group), Rock & Roll, and Soul influences in both the vocal and the backing music. Trainor’s vocal within the first verse shows a Hip Hop/Rap influence. And a tinge of Reggae is even discernible at the onset of the last chorus when the organ enters.
[Header 2 header=”Uptown Funk“]
Mark Ronson is an avowed student of the Old Skool, and he has made a name in the business with his blend of styles. From its very title to its last note, Uptown Funk features a raft of sub-genres and influencers, including Funk (natch), Hip Hop/Rap, R&B/Soul, and Retro. These are both Blend and Sectional in nature. The entire song has a Retro late 1970s/early 1980s Funk/Soul vibe, brought about via the vocals, lyrics, instrumentation, and backing music. A Hip Hop/Rap influence is put into effect within the bridge section, when Mars shifts his vocal style to an Old-Skool rapped delivery ala the Gap Band’s “Oops Upside Your Head.”
[Header 2 header=”Jealous“]
It’s hard to miss the Electropop influences in this Nick Jonas smash – the entire song grooves on an Electropop vibe. The singer’s vocal delivery shows R&B/Soul inflections (with a bit of Pop on top), as does the backing music throughout the song. This influence is particularly evident within the verses, which have a Marvin Gaye and Lionel Richie-type feel. The entire song features an early to mid 1980s Retro vibe, primarily due to the backing music and associated instrumentation qualities.
[Header 2 header=”Earned It“]
The Weeknd’s chart-topper might not feature Fifty Shades of sub-genres but it does blend several. And it may be the only mainstream hit in years to feature a Waltz feel. Not only does Earned It play with the old step-step-close, it masterfully blends it with Ballad, R&B/Soul, and Retro influences. Neat trick. The R&B/Soul/Ballad vibe flows through the entire song, and the prominent strings give it a classic feel that harks back to the 1960s and 1970s.
Seamlessly integrating a variety of styles isn’t easy, and it requires an exceptional grasp of songcraft fundamentals, a willingness to take risks and push boundaries, and a bit of personality to weld it all together. The first quarter of 2015 shows the heights you can reach when you do it well.
See just how the best of the best do it in our Hit Songs Deconstructed Genre Report, which features in-depth analysis of the characteristics and trends that define each genre represented in the Hot 100.
Hit Songs Deconstructed PRO subscribers can access the Hit Songs Deconstructed Q1 2015 Genre Report by clicking here. Not a PRO subscriber? Click here to find out what you’re missing.