Hit Songs Deconstructed - Powerful Analytical Tools for the Music Industry

Top 10 Deconstructed

The Hit Songs Deconstructed Top 10 Deconstructed Report provides an in-depth look at the compositional characteristics and techniques utilized to craft all of the songs that land within the Billboard Hot 100 top 10 each quarter. This article spotlights some of the key characteristics of a hit song chorus.

During the last quarter of 2014 (October – December) 24 songs had the distinction of charting within the Hot 100 Top 10. They were a diverse group, spanning five primary genres and 18 different sub-genre and influencer categories.

Among them are the classically influenced Dance/Electropop song Rather Be, the Hip Hop/Rap and Trap influenced Hot Boy, the “wedding ready” Ballad Thinking Out Loud, and the Doo Wop, Hip Hop/Rap, Retro 60’s (Girl Group), Rock & Roll (Old School), Reggae, and Soul inflected All About That Bass, to name a few.

Despite their differences, the key commonality they all share is their meticulously well-crafted nature. All of the songs are primed for maximum impact with their core target demographic, containing a wealth of hooks, clever elements, and wow factors to get the job done.

Our Top 10 Deconstructed Report explores the what, how, and why behind today’s hits, revealing what makes them so infectious, engaging, and memorable. What follows is a sampling of the many factors and characteristics that are explored throughout the report.

[Header 1 header=”Backing & Creative Vocals”]

One key characteristic that many of Q4’s hottest hits share is the inclusion of backing and “creative” vocals within the mix. These vocal treatments help to heighten the engagement factor of a song and take its infectious nature to the next level. A few of the many examples include:

  • Militaristic “hey” proclamations (Animals):  “so what you try’n to do to me – (HEY) – It’s like we can’t stop we’re enemies – (HEY).”
  • “Whooo” vocal flourishes & repetitive lyrics (Love Me Harder): “whoo-oo-oo…love me, love me, love me, whoo-oo-oo…harder, harder, harder.”
  • Doo Wop/girl group backing vocals (All About That Bass): “shoo-wop-wop” and “that booty-booty.”
  • Nonsense vocal hooks (Uptown Funk):  “Doh, doh, doh”
  • “Creative” vocals:  “animals-mals” (Animals), “chandelier-ier” (Chandelier – the “ier” goes up in pitch, taking the intensity and the catchy nature of the chorus to an apex).

[Header 1 header=”Payoff!”]

The first chorus (payoff) is arguably the most important section within the entire song. This is what the listener has been patiently waiting to hear since the beginning, and it needs to “seal the deal.” If it doesn’t, they’re pushing the skip button.

The first order of business is to get to the payoff as quickly as possible. During Q4, 25% of songs wasted no time at all and featured the chorus prior to the first verse.  These include hits like All About That Bass and Animals.

Another key factor is the nature of the transition into the chorus. Among the numerous methods utilized was the transitional pause/lull. This is where most or all of the backing music is pulled from the mix prior to the full chorus hitting with a full band backing, and is usually featured in conjunction with a “vocal lead in” transition.

A good example of this is the second chorus within Animals:  The backing music is pulled out from under the “baby I’m” vocal and is followed by the backing music slamming in on “preyin’ on you tonight.” This type of transition is especially useful in enabling a powerful chorus hit with increased perceived impact.

[Header 1 header=”Instant Engagement”]

While the first chorus generally locks the listener in, it’s the intro that needs to hook them into the song in the first place. If this section falls short, there’s a good chance that the listener won’t stick around to find out what comes next.

75% of Q4’s top 10 hits feature an intro within their framework. They include various types, such as the “backing music” intro, the “multifaceted” intro, and the “narration & artist plug” intro to name a few.

Blank Space is a good example of a song that achieved a lot with its intro, despite consisting of just two instruments – drums and Xylophone. It sets up the song’s primary instrumental hook, establishes the song’s minimalist, straight-up Pop vibe, and provides for a seamless transition into the first verse.  Most importantly, it’s all achieved in just four-seconds. Functioning as a “hit and run” type intro, it instantly hooks the listener, engages them, and wets their appetite for things to come. The listener has absolutely no time to get bored or distracted.  Before they know it, they’re already in the verse, followed by the chorus sealing the deal.

These are just a few of the many techniques that today’s hit makers utilized to launch their songs up the charts during the last quarter of 2014.

To view the full Q4-2014 Hit Songs Deconstructed Top 10 Deconstructed Report, click here.


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