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Chartmania is back, and it's better than ever.

Welcome back, pop music scholars, and Look Alive… because we did it again.

Yup, that’s right, we sent an even Better Now, out-of-this-WRLD probe past all the FEFE’s and ZEZE’s that were Meant to Be in the Top 5 of 2018’s Billboard Hot 100 charts, and what we got back was a tally of data and stats Grande enough to satiate all you Nonstop audiophiles’ consonance curiosity. Nice for What? Nice for showing any Childish Young Bunny how to craft a song XXXTensive enough to bang its way into a Top 40 slot, next year and beyond.

Speaking of Top “40,” that’s literally what this year’s list totaled. Yep, there were 40 songs “Boo’d Up” in the Billboard’s Top 5 in 2018.

In case you don't know, we analyzed all the hit songs that cracked the Top 5 in 2017 as well, and
just like last time, our master song specs charts are up first, including: 2018’s trendiest tonalities, keys, tempos, meters, triads, song lengths, chord totals, form sections, and singer genders (compared, of course, to the number of times Drake himself shows up in this list).

And if this macroscopic megablast of knowledge bombs isn't enough for you, you can read individual music theory analyses of every single song here in the full article!

“To B, or not to B.” That is… not a question this year, because none of our songs were in the key of B! It was E♭— minor, specifically — that was our huge winner this year (black keys on the piano in general, really), with low showings for the keys of D and E, once again proving that nobody writes Top 40 pop songs on their guitars anymore.

Since we had some Lydian keys this year, and Lydian is technically a major mode, I lumped these songs in with the major column — above, at least. Below you can see these separated out.

Very similar tonalities used this year, as compared to 2017. The major mode gained a little ground this year, chalking one more song, but it’s those sneaky-sultry minor modes that are still dominating. Worth a shout are the upticks in Lydian and Phrygian, and it’s also interesting that harmonic minor scales doubled their representation from four songs to eight.

Similar to last year, songs lasting between 3:21-3:40 remain on top. The most improved category is the 2:41-3:00 song, increasing its presence sevenfold! And, as long as we’re talking songs and lengths of things, can we talk about Drake already? This is like the ninth paragraph and we still haven’t mentioned the length and breadth of Drake’s magnum double-album opus, Scorpion.

The week his shipping container of beats and buddies dropped (Billboard week of July 14), His Eminent Drakiness had 22 — spell it out: twenty-two effing tracks — that made the Billboard Hot 100 that week. The lowest of which appeared at #57!

What’s this have to do with song lengths? Mainly, this unheard-of achievement outlines, among other things, that song lengths, album lengths, and music video lengths just don’t matter as much anymore. Why?

Because of streaming, because of fancy new Corolla dashboards that talk to you and stuff — that’s why. No, radio is not dead. Not yet, at least. But when you can listen to basically whatever you want, whenever you want, without going to the record store with a million bucks, you know that the days when songs-for-the-masses had to be on the shorter side and, I don’t know, be by different people — yeah, those days are gone.

Looks like a pretty even tempo spread this year with 77-78 BPM eeking out a win. From 71-72 BPM there is still a gap in the chain, similar to last year, and from 113-118 BPM is still a very curious drought-land, at least when compared to all the tempos found in Rolling Stone’s Greatest 500 Songs of All Time list.

I’m not sure if it’s interesting or anti-interesting that our meter chart matches almost exactly with last year’s, at thirty-seven 4/4stwo 12/8s, and instead of the uncommon gatling gun 24/16, we found a somewhat rare-in-its-own-right 2/4 meter.

3/4 time is still at large — anyone with information as to its whereabouts please contact: The Pianoman at 555-Lala-didada-dadum.

Now let’s look at some anomalies for roman numeral chord types used. For instance, the iii and♭VII chord types appeared well above and below their average rates, respectively, and both the major and minor tonalities managed to borrow their opposite tonics, so that’s a fun spice you don’t often get to taste.

Also, as our ♭II chord types were technically diatonic (aka “regular”) to the Phrygian mode, our non-borrowed-or-secondary weirdo-chords this year were the viis (when it was once a ii/V/♭VI and once diatonic to Lydian) and also a I+ (augmented).

Here we see that we’ve flattened out into a bit more of a bell curve rather than that middle-finger looking thing from 2017, with the four-chord song still being the norm. Panic! at the Disco threw some jazzy borrowed and secondary chords our way and pushed the collective envelope one column further than 2017, with an all-out eight-chorder.

Pre- and post-choruses were a little less aggressive this year, even while variations on these chorus-abutting sections saw an increase. Interestingly, only “The Middle” dispensed with any intro material this year, and only Eminem’s “Killshot” got into the Top 5 without any chorus or refrain material, but I mean, he did say right at the start of the song that he wasn’t gonna repeat himself, so there you have it. (And yes, I said “chorus-abutting sections” back there, and yes, I had Morgan Freeman’s voice in my head when I said it … “chorus-abutting sections.”)

Oh! And look up over there on the right. I’m very excited to share with you a new statistic I collected this year. Would you believe that 22 songs out of 40 were based off of just one single loop only (loop variations allowed)? That’s more than half. You may now commence to argue over how uncreative music is these days, or over how Einstein really did prove that “less is more.”

I’m sorry to report that women artists didn’t gain much ground this year. And even though male-female duets saw a healthy bump, not even one strictly female duet showed up to the party, while a full third of our 2018 “Top 5-ers” had at least two dudes in the room! I don’t know, maybe blame it on the surplus of Drakes lying around?
 

One chart taught me love / one chart taught me patience / one chart taught me pain / this is amazing / thank u, next / I’m so freaking grateful for these pop-song specs.


Alright, well, there you have it: 2018’s Billboard Chartmania! Next up, it’s the lowdown on all 40 songs, ordered by weeks at #1, then on down to weeks in the Top 5 in descending order. Head over to Flypaper to check that out now!

Dean Olivet, Flypaper author & supergenius

Here's what else we're talking about on Flypaper this week!

On this day...
In 1575, Queen Elizabeth I granted a music press monopoly to composers  Thomas Tallis and William Byrd for polyphonic music and a patent to print and publish music, which was one of the first arrangements of that type in the country.

Tallis was Byrd's teacher and colleague, and a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal. He composed and performed for Henry VIII, Edward VI, Queen Mary, and Queen Elizabeth, and remains one of the most important English composers. Tallis' monopoly covered 'set songe or songes in parts,' composed in English, Latin, French, Italian, or whatever other tongue, so long as it served as music for the Church or chamber.

This monopoly granted the pair exclusive rights to print any music, and in fact, they were legally the only composers allowed to use the paper that was used in printing court-approved music at the time. Tallis and Bryd took advantage of the patent to produce a grandiose joint publication under the title Cantiones que ab argumento sacrae vocantur, consisting of 34 Latin motets dedicated to the Queen herself. 
Your challenge this week:
Write in two modes or tonalities

Since we finally published Dean Olivet's massive analysis of 40 Top 5 hit songs from 2018, we'd love to take a page out of Childish Gambino and Travis Scott's book for this week's challenge.

Although their songs "This Is America" and "Sicko Mode" both feature two completely different tonalities in the same song, these songs do it by essentially layering what sounds like fragments from separate songs that are just copy-and-pasted together.

Can you write a couple of chord progressions in different tonalities or modes that fit together fluidly? How might you approach that challenge? Does timbre, or instrumentation, or even tempo affect your process?


Let us know all of that! As always, we'd love to see what you come up with, so feel free to get in touch and share your work with us if you'd like our feedback. This challenge can be written out or recorded in audio — either one works. Good luck, and have fun!
Here's Garren Smith's final project for The Creative Power of Advanced Harmony. It's a forward-moving, shape-shifting synth piece that makes use of a ton of chords and chord shapes, but since it's driven by the strength of its melody, it never feels "ungrounded." This sketch is a great example of how important voice-leading is in establishing the context for chords to expand in different directions. 

Check out "Stranger Beginnings" by Garren Smith here.
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