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Under The Hood Of An Exceptional Song, part 1 (music)

Katy Perry’s ‘Chained To The Rhythm’ (written by Perry, Max Martin, Sia Furler, Ali Payami, Skip Marley) is an exceptionally good song. Let’s look under the hood:

(As always, I strongly encourage you to play and sing the song… if you do, what follows will have a lot more meaning. But at least listen – video below.)

Harmony. This is the first thing that grabbed me, along with the superb Max Martin production and the groove, which is somewhere between dance and dancehall, with a very active and expressive bass. It grabbed me at least partly because there are so few mainstream pop songs that have more than 4 chords (see here), so this one really sticks out.

More than that, though, the Verse and Chorus chord progression is interesting, utilizing a bunch of suspended chords and 7ths (neither of which one hears much lately in pop songs). The whole song sticks pretty close to the key of Aminor.

The Verse and Chorus, 8 bar patterns, are harmonically identical.

Verse & Chorus

||: Amin7 G/A | Amin7 G/A | Dmin Amin/D | Dmin Amin/D | Dmin/F Amin/F | Dmin/F Amin/F | C | Eminor :||

There’s a 4 bar Pre-Chorus in between, with different chords. Also a 9 bar rap section, basically a Bridge. Harmonically, both of these sections, particularly the chords under the rap, are undistinguished but certainly function well.


|| F  Dmin | C | Aminor | Eminor ||


|| Dmin Emin | F G | Amin | G | Dmin Emin | F G | Amin | G | G ||

Melody. The melody ranges from a ‘C’ down to a ‘B’ an octave and a minor second below; one note wider than an octave – a fairly typical pop song range.

The Verse & Chorus, though they have exactly the same chords, take very different melodic approaches.

The Verse melody has a good bit of space in it and is melodic. The first phrase jumps down… and then jumps up to the highest note – ‘C’ – and comes back down the scale from there. That first phrase – a jump from ‘A’ down to ‘E’ – prefigures the melodic interval which will later dominate the Chorus.

As an interesting side note, bars 5 and 6 of the Verse feature a melody/harmony that’s extremely similar to bars 5 and 6 of Allen Toussaint’s ‘Southern Nights’ (analyzed here). Whether intentional homage or just a coincidence, those major 7ths sound great in both melodies.

The Chorus melody is rhythmically much busier. It only contains three notes (A, E, and G) until its last beat… but compensates with rhythmic variety. Listen to how it jumps, mostly between the ‘A’ and ‘E’, in different combinations, for the first 6 bars, and then, for the repeated Title in bars 7 & 8, moves into triplets (and then there’s a super cool move from triplets back to 16th notes on the last beat).

The most interesting thing to me about the Pre-Chorus melody is how it ends on the lowest note of the song – ‘B’. It’s dark and sad, which is a perfect setup for the Chorus, given the lyric.

Speaking of which, next week I’m going to deep dive into the lyric, which is where, in combination with the above, things really start to get interesting in this song.

Let me know your thoughts in the Comments section below:



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