Is There a Winning Formula Behind Today’s Pop Music?

College of Arts and Humanities

Quick answer… Yes, it seems there may be. The whole story is a bit more complex.

Popular music exists within and often shapes the time in which it was written and released. Because of this, it’s impossible to place a Beethoven Symphony or music by the Spice Girls in a different era and expect it to retain its popularity from when it was originally created. 

Artists like the Beatles have seemingly transcended a number of eras but many students these days don’t know who they are or recognize their music at all. If the Beatles, widely regarded by many as the greatest band of all time, can be so quickly forgotten by subsequent generations, what chance does any musician have? 

Take Max Martin. If you haven’t heard of him, that’s partly by design. He has written or co-written songs for an extremely long list of popular artists from the past 20 years including the Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears, Katy Perry and Taylor Swift to name a few. Since his first hit in 1999, Martin has had 22 songs reach No.1 on the Billboard charts. The Beatles had 20.

What Martin, and other successful songwriters, have in common with the Beatles is that they have both written some of the catchiest melodies in modern history — “Hey Jude,” “Shake It Off,” “Yesterday,” “Roar,” “Let It Be,” “Can’t Stop the Feeling.” Like them or not, these melodies worm their way into our subconscious begging for repeated plays. Artists are often so devoted to their melodies that words are invented, twisted around, and often placed without regard to meaning, to suit the melody. 

Think about some of your favorite songs… hear them playing in your head… why do you like them… and what did you hear first? 

— Dan Haddad, Ph.D., Associate Director of Bands, Director of Athletic Bands