Weekly Billboard Theory — I Don’t Wanna Live Forever
More like “I Don’t Wanna Write About This Song!” Ah, we have fun. There’s nothing wrong with the 50 Shades Darker anthem, but it doesn’t have anything particularly interesting either. A lot of aspects of this song have been covered in prior weeks but we’ll dive in irregardless.
ZAYN, Taylor Swift
Tempo: 118 BPM
Key: C Major
After last week’s writeup, this will be much more digestible and it’ll serve as vocabulary guide to help ya look smarter when discussing music. “IDWLF” (which I’ll be referring to it as from now on because that’s a pain to keep typing) is pretty simple. Like many pop songs, it only utilizes four chords: IV, I, V, vi in that order. This is a LITTLE bit interesting because every song ever uses those chords in a slightly different order.
Above, you’ll see the bassline and chord progress. Nothing particularly interesting but also not uninteresting. The coolest part is circled above. If you were able to get through last week, you’ll remember that I mentioned that accidentals typically have functions that lead us somewhere. The G# circled above has passes from one chord to another so we call it a passing tone. Pretty simple stuff right? Passing tones don’t have to be chromatic like up above, we use the term for any non-chord tones that link any of the notes found in a chord. They’re usually everywhere in music, but since we often will only utilize the pentatonic scale in pop music they aren’t necessary. ZAYN and Taylor dip their toes in the water outside of the pentatonic scale during “IDWLF.”
If you point your eyeballs above, you’ll notice that I circled all of the non-pentatonic notes in the melody of the chorus. So yeah, IDWLF uses the full 7 pitches of the major scale throughout the song compared to some of the other hits that we have looked at. Does this make the song any better? Not necessarily, just something to notice.
What I think makes this song interesting isn’t anything hyper-analytical but rather the performance of the singers. The vocal range of a piece refers to the distance between the lowest an highest pitches that are sung. ZAYN (and Taylor to a lesser extent) demonstrates a pretty impressive range when comparing the verses to the chorus. The first half of the chorus, the part that goes “I DON’T WANNA LIVE FOREVER” is sung with ZAYN’s falsetto. Basically, falsetto is a way that male voices can sing notes that are higher than their standard range. From my experience, a lot of guys can’t sing in falsetto particularly well. ZAYN isn’t one of those guys. Justin Timberlake isn’t one of those guys. Adam Levine isn’t one of those guys. Aaron Marsh isn’t one of those guys.
You get the point. Singing in falsetto is a huge power move. Like, yeah a guy singing super high is ridiculous but if you don’t care about dumb gender norms then you can crush Vanessa Carlton songs at karaoke. Trust me, I speak from experience. Because this part of the song is over the top in how it’s sung, I can almost guarantee that all of my guy friends will be belting this part the next time we hear it out at a bar.
Despite ZAYN’S (do I have to keep using all caps for that?) performance, Taylor Swift’s leaves a bit to be desired. Her vocal range is much narrower throughout “IDWLF.” There’s really only two brief sections of the song where Taylor sings with any power and both of those are at the end of phrases. However, this raises a deeper question. Why do we listen to Taylor Swift?
It’s not because she’s a particularly great singer. I’m not gonna be a hater and say that she’s bad, but let’s be real, she’s not an incredible singer. In fact, MOST of our favorite singers aren’t conventionally “good.” Yeah, this raises the question “what is good?” but that’s something for another time. Although Taylor doesn’t have much power behind the majority of the notes she sings in “IDWLF’ she does do an incredible job of emoting through her performance. This is kind of impossible to mathematically measure, but she sounds “believable” when she sings. The inflection of her words are more important than the actual pitches themselves. Her verse comes to a climax as she belts out “What is happening to me?” and the increase of energy in her singing translates to a sense of urgency. What if she really doesn’t know what’s happening to her? What if she realizes that public opinion of her is changing?! Moments like this are why we listen to music. Especially pop music! We appreciate each singers individual “voices” rather than the actual pitches that they sing, and this is a fascinating thing! This also helps explain why we can’t stand certain singers.
So yeah, like I said, a lot lighter on information than last week. As a wrap-up, “IDWLF” had a cool passing tone in the bassline, used more than 5 pitches in the melody, utilized ZAYN’s great falsetto, and Taylor sounded believable. There’s obviously millions of reasons why something will be a hit song, and “IDWLF” has a decent amount going for it. Ed Sheeran, Migos, and ZAYN/T. Swift are still up top so I’ll be talking about Lady Gaga’s “Million Reasons.” I tried to find a way to link up those two sentences but I’m feeling lazy. HOWEVER, I will tell you that I can’t stand the majority of Lady Gaga’s music. Is her new hit an exception? FIND OUT NEXT WEEK!