Millennial Lullabies

Part of what makes pop songs so pleasurable and unchallenging is the familiarity of certain chord progressions and musical tropes embedded inside. Like walking into a mall and knowing there will be a Starbucks, a Uniqlo, and a Victoria’s Secret, listening to pop songs with familiar sonic signposts can offer the comfort of predictability.

And in a fascinating analysis of what he calls “The Millennial Whoop,” blogger Patrick Metzger thinks he’s found that generation’s chord progression.

“It’s a sequence of notes that alternates between the fifth and third notes of a major scale, typically starting on the fifth,” he writes on his blog The Patterning. “A singer usually belts these notes with an ‘Oh’ phoneme, often in a “Wa-oh-wa-oh” pattern.”

From Katy Perry’s “California Gurls” to Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Good Time,” during which not 5 seconds elapse before you hear a Millennial Whoop, the sound is all over pop music from the last few years.

These four “wah oh wah oh” syllables, argues Metzger, “evoke a kind of primordial sense that everything will be alright. You know these notes. You’ve heard this before. There’s nothing out of the ordinary or scary here…You don’t need to learn the words or know a particular language or think deeply about meaning. You’re safe.” Other readers chimed in that infant-directed speech or baby talk uses this interval, and another described the interval as “mom calling you from inside the porch.”

We’ve talked about what we call The New Sobriety among Millennials, a toning down of drinking and other vices motivated in part by a scary world you need to have your wits about you to survive. The Millennial Whoop could be said to be the soundtrack to this new sobriety, a musical version of a trend we call Extreme Safety, an excessive focus on safety and preparedness. Or in this case, a desire for no surprises.