Listening for form in popular music
Listening for form in popular music

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Listening for form in popular music

9 Music, meaning and the pre-chorus

There are a number of conventions associated with the chorus in popular songs. The chorus is typically melodic, memorable, and expressively heightened, and the other parts of the song usually build toward it. This is the case in ‘Hang with Me’. During the verse and the pre-chorus, the text is sung in an almost speech-like way, with quick successions of syllables separated by longish pauses. But the words of the chorus are more ‘sung’ and sustained, and the music seems more expressive. This is complemented by a heightening of a more literal kind: each component of the song – verse, pre-chorus and chorus – begins a little higher in the singer’s vocal range.

This is a photograph of Robyn performing.
Figure 10 Robyn performing at Carling Academy, Bristol, 2008. Photo: Lebrecht Music and Arts/Alamy.

How do the musical and formal elements of ‘Hang with Me’ help to convey the meaning of the song? There is a kind of productive tension between what is heard in the words and in the melody. The verse and the pre-chorus suggest the negotiations at the beginning of a relationship, a kind of ‘Are you serious about this? Then maybe it will work.’ Crucially, though, when the chorus arrives – the moment when a more sustained melody is heard and some kind of affirmation might be expected – the narrator pulls back, in effect saying, ‘Just don’t get too serious.’ There is a kind of ambivalence in the structure of the song, then, the lyrics pulling away at the very moment the melody seems to be falling in love.

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