Today, a rather interesting blog post found its way into a Safari tab of mine—one entitled “The Millennial Whoop: A Glorious Obsession With the Melodic Alternation Between the Fifth and the Third,” by The Patterning:
I like to call this melodic snippet the “Millennial Whoop.” It’s a sequence of notes that alternates between the fifth and third notes of a major scale, typically starting on the fifth. The rhythm is usually straight 8th-notes, but it may start on the downbeat or on the upbeat in different songs. A singer usually belts these notes with an “Oh” phoneme, often in a “Wa-oh-wa-oh” pattern. And it is in so many pop songs it’s criminal [emphasis added].
The post features some 10-15 YouTube embeds, each with a timestamp chosen by the author, calling out a specific portion of the song containing the “Millennial Whoop.”
I listened to almost all of them. Maybe half of the songs were familiar to me, but I’ll admit not all of them were.
One thing stands out: while the author of the post is wholly correct that the “Whoop” tends to focus on the alternation between the third and fifth intervals, there’s also a whole bunch of root (or first interval) alternation, too. (Maybe that goes without saying?)
And more generally, there were other musical realizations to be had. I’ve always wondered what made certain songs so instantly catchy. When listening to an album for the first time, I typically skip songs until I find one that is immediately pleasing. I don’t have the patience to listen to each song all the way through—at least not on the first listen. Eventually, I’ll listen to the whole album, but those first-listen catchy ones—those are always my favorites.
Why is that? I think the author of this post said it best:
Humans crave patterns. The reason pop music is successful to begin with is because almost every song is immediately familiar before you get more than 10 seconds into a first listen. Between the formula of European classical scales and chord progressions that have gelled over hundreds of years and the driving heartbeat rhythms that stimulate our internal organs at the right decibels, listeners are immediately hooked in by familiar structure and themes that have likely been ringing in their ears since they were in the womb. And with the pervasive nature of pop music, where everything is a remix, a feedback loop has been created in which songs are successful because they are familiar, so in order to be successful, songs are created that play on our sense of familiarity.
While it’s not always the case, those immediately catchy songs are likely ones whose bass/drum rhythm (harmony as well) are reminiscent of older songs.
If you haven’t seen the “Everything is a Remix” video linked above in the block quote, go do so.