[Smt-talk] Smt-talk Digest, Vol 62, Issue 8

Asaf Peres asafp at umich.edu
Fri Mar 28 13:00:06 PDT 2014

Thank you for sharing this article. I was a bit surprised that Mr. Pallett
decided to focus his entire analysis on the chord progression and rhythmic
properties of "Teenage Dream," especially due to the fact that he is a
fantastic musician in his own right who produces popular music and knows
that a song doesn't make it to number 1 on the charts solely due to a
clever chord progression and a well placed syncopation (if that were the
case, 19th century music would be all the rage among kids these days).

There are so many factors that are more significant in their contribution
to this song's success. For example the constant intensification of the
music through extremely subtle layering of sound. Take the three iterations
of the chorus (0:52, 1:56, and 2:52). On the surface, they sound identical.
However, there is an added layer of sound with every repetition: a synth
pad is added to the second repetition and is very gradually crescendo-ed
throughout that chorus. In the third repetition, background vocals are
added, along with a subtle white noise that intensifies the pad even

Another interesting element of this song is the spatial play. The drum-less
guitar riff that opens the song persists throughout the entire song, but
constantly moves in the musical space between the foreground, middleground
and background. The dropping out of the drums also happens at the halfway
point of the first verse and just before each chorus (as well as at the
very end of the song), in order to accent the intensification, which is
comparable to the salt that is added to Oreos in order to bring out their
sweetness (yes, "Teenage Dream" is a musical Oreo...). Before the third
chorus, it coincides with a filter sweep (2:45) that iconizes the sonic
roller coaster that is experienced throughout the song.

There are too many other musical factors to include in this message, and
this is before we consider the subject matter of the song along with the
visual aspect of the video - both extremely sexual without being explicit,
which inevitable activates the imagination of its hormone-flooded target
audience (and, by the way, relates to Mr. Pallett's idea of the song being
about suspension).

As I mentioned earlier, I highly doubt that Mr. Pallett is unaware of the
sonic factors that I described. However, it seems that like many other
musicians, he has bought into the perception that in order for musical
analysis to be valid, it needs to be heavily focused on issues of harmony,
rhythm, and other notatable factors. When it comes to contemporary pop
music, which is primarily produced in the studio and is focused much more
on crafting the sound than on harmonic or metric development, I believe
that this approach is very limiting.

Asaf Peres
PhD Candidate
University of Michigan
asafp at umich.edu

On Tue, Mar 25, 2014 at 3:11 PM, <
smt-talk-request at lists.societymusictheory.org> wrote:

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> Today's Topics:
>    1. music theory on slate (Dave Headlam)
> ----------------------------------------------------------------------
> Message: 1
> Date: Tue, 25 Mar 2014 09:48:31 -0400
> From: Dave Headlam <dheadlam at esm.rochester.edu>
> To: smt-talk at lists.societymusictheory.org
> Subject: [Smt-talk] music theory on slate
> Message-ID: <5331892F.1070104 at esm.rochester.edu>
> Content-Type: text/plain; charset=windows-1252; format=flowed
> Dear smt'ers: Can't vouch for the veracity of the actual analysis, but
> music theory is in the news on Slate.com, explaining the "genius of Katy
> Perry" (in a song which the author compares to Black Sabbath, Paranoid,
> of all things . . . ) --
> http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/culturebox/2014/03/katy_perry_s_teenage_dream_explaining_the_hit_using_music_theory.html
> by Owen Pallet (Owen Pallett is a violinist, composer, and songwriter,
> living in Montreal. He has an album titled In Conflict coming out in May.)
> "In the days since Ted Gioia published his essay in the Daily Beast,
> alleging that music criticism has devolved into lifestyle reporting,
> with little or no attention paid to how the music itself works, I've
> been challenged by friends on Facebook to write a 'not boring' piece
> that explains a successful pop song using music theory. My bet is that
> it?ll be boring, but I'm going to do my best not to bore you!"
> my favorite line: "And the gooey heart of the song, the 'skin tight
> jeans' bit, is rhythmically entirely straight, voice tumbling out of the
> tonic-focused cage of the verse and chorus, like long-hair from a
> scrunchie released."
> Now I know how to describe those cool Beethoven codas to the sophomores!
> Dave Headlam
> --
> Dave Headlam
> Professor of Music Theory
> Eastman School of Music
> 26 Gibbs St.
> Rochester, NY 14604
> david.headlam at rochester.edu
> http://theory.esm.rochester.edu/dave_headlam
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> End of Smt-talk Digest, Vol 62, Issue 8
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