Tuesday, February 05, 2019

a study in what I call Millenial Whooping Cough in songwriting, the American Authors' "The Best Day of My life"

I should probably just start by saying I hate American Authors.  Really, I hate their music.  Although journalists and writers on the topic of music have singled out Katy Perry as an annoying purveyor of what has been called the Millenial Whoop there's a more awful exponent of the trope, that relentless shifting between the fifth and third degrees of a tonic triad in a major key song.

One of the songs by American Authors has some form of the Millenial Whoop show up no less than 47 times.  If we don't forget that "woo, woo-hoo-ooh-ooh" that permeates "The Best Day of My Life" starts with the whoop ... you'll hear the 5-3 chord factor descent or alternation happen dozens of times in just a single song.  They are, thus, one of the more beset victims of a songwriting disease I call Millenial Whooping Cough.  Watch and listen if ye dare.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y66j_BUCBMY
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TjFOdtOyg3c

For a time I confused this band with The Lumineers, another band I find aggravating and which over-uses the Millenial Whoop. 

Part of what makes the 5-3 intervallic gesture annoying is the songwriters who use it don't seem to think of not using it so much as they try to offset it by adding a plethora of other riffs around it.  This song is a case in point.  The singers don't stop whooping it up as they add more riffs to the texture as the song moves along.  Now, I'm not going to say the riffs themselves are that bad.  The band gets a decent grovoe going ... which would be easier to appreacite if they weren't woo-hoo-ing through it. 

But ... you know ... it's not like there weren't predecessors to the Millenial Whoop, when I stop and think about it a bit.  No, I don't mean the journalistically lazy go-to of "Tarzan Boy", because oscillating that rapidly between intervals a perfect fourth apart is harder, significantly harder, than a minor third within a triad. 

Nah, there's other examples of "woo woo!" that go back earlier.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uWepTCBBnLo

Of course Mick and the gang start on the fifth and sit on it for measures at a time before jumping up to the leading tone and then back down to the fifth.  It also doesn't kick in until 2:00 into the song. 

There's a pre-Millenial Whoop that's in the song by R. E. M. called "The One I Love".
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j7oQEPfe-O8

It shows up at 1:33 and it's a REMish sort of vocal tic that I've always found annoying.  It's not really better than the Millenial Whoop at all because, in terms of intervallic descents it's the descending minor third.  What makes it college indie rock is that the would-be whoop is from the fourth to the second scale degrees rather than the fifth to the third. 

So, as annoying as I find the Millenial Whoop in contemporary popular songwriting it's not like it just came out of nowhere.  The thing is, there's a case to be made that the songwriters who use and abuse the Millenial Whoop didn't pluck it out of thin air, there were seeds of it, not in the usual pop song suspects music journalists have tended to list already, but in what's regarded as the classic rock from the 1960s and 1980s from "accredited" bands.  There's no reason to blame Baltimora for a seminal form of the Whoop for using a perfect fourth.  That's not even the whoop.  There's also not a strong case even for the Stones if the Whoop has to be a descending minor third vocal line.  No, there's a much, much strong case to be made that R. E. M. got the ball rolling for what eventually became the Millenial Whoop with "The One I Love". 

And since I never liked R. E. M., either, I don't have any problem making this argument, realizing, of course ,that fans of the band will probably never concede that R. E. M. could bear any blame for even indirectly causing the Millenial Whoop.  But it's right there, once you hear the vocal gesture as something that can be transposed down a whole step.

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