Reader Bryan called my attention to the 13-minute video below made by “Inside the Score”, a person who usually posts discussions of classical and film music (his/her Patreon account is here). This video diverges a bit from that theme, but I think it’s on the right track. Bryan said this about the video:
WEIT readers have lamented modern music, in comparison to older music. This YouTube piece discusses a particular trend in many number 1 hits: weak to no melody.
Here’s the YouTube notes:
Article: “Where Did the Melody Go?” – written by Yuval Shrem, in Keyboard Magazine
Video: What Makes Good Melody
This video explores the Death of Melody – a phenomenon observed in pop music, film music, and even classical music Examples range from Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, One Direction, and Billie Eilish, to DJs, Remix culture, James MacMillan, Hans Zimmer, John Williams, and so on! Towards the end, we talk about musical hooks, and such, and how rap, hip-hop, and the likes have changed the way we think about melody.
The author documents the decline of melody in pop and rock, and although he gives anecdotal examples from people like Taylor Swift and Billie Eilish as melody-poor (and those of Eric Clapton, Queen, and the Beatles as melody-rich), I think the death of melody is something that anyone would notice who’s followed the modern history of popular music.
He does consider the riposte that “melody is just out of fashion”, and that’s probably true, but it surely hasn’t made modern rock and pop very good. As I’ve pointed out repeatedly—to the irritation of many—modern pop and rock hits are not going to be heard on “oldies” stations in the future. Taylor Swift will not be seen in fifty years as someone who produced music as iconic as did the Beatles.
At the end, the author offers several theories about why melody is dying, and, though I can’t prove it, I think the idea that people in the tweet-heavy digital age “don’t want longer streams of thought any more: they just want something bite-sized, immediately digestible, which can both satiate them and numb them immediately.” Why? Perhaps because more complex melodies require more attention, and that attention span has shortened.
Don’t think melody is dead? Here’s the immensely popular Taylor Swift with her top ten hit from last summer, “You Need to Calm Down.” Catchy melody, eh? NOT! I just googled “Taylor Swift latest hit” and this is what I got. Granted, it has a progressive anti-homophobic message, but that’s all it’s got. Not only that, but it’s too heavy-handed and preachy.
(The following song may begin with an ad.)
I aso know that Lizzo is very popular these days, so I Googled “Top hit Lizzo” and got this one from 2017. It, too, is tuneless, but that’s because it’s got rap-like overtones, and rap, of course, has hardly any melody.