Monday, September 23, 2013

"The Fox" and "Gangnam Style"

Psy asks: is someone copying me?

One of these things is just like the other

To build on last week's post about "The Fox", you may have noticed that people often compare "The Fox" to "Gangnam Style," starting with the first comments on the YouTube video. "Why?" you might ask. "Well, that's simple," you might answer: they are both comedic YouTube viral music videos with an emphasis on dance.

It turns out, however, that it's more than that—there are some remarkable musical similarities, too. The two songs are the most similar in their choruses. First of all, both verses build to the chorus in a similar way, with repeated eighth notes that grow in dynamic until a big pause of silence. Following this pause, both choruses start with a short exclamation ("What does the fox say?" and "Oppan Gangnam style"), followed by a strong, danceable bass beat. Both choruses then alternate between these short exclamations and dance breaks. Even the tempos of both songs are almost exactly the same.*

Are all clones created equal?

If this type of chorus is so successful, why does "The Fox" succeed while "Gentleman," PSY's own followup clone of  "Gangnam Style", was so bad? While "The Fox" only copied some aspects of "Gangnam" (and I'm not saying it was intentional, though it could have been), "Gentleman" tried to copy almost everything: the beat, the form, the lyrical meter, the sliding electronic instrument, the crazy group and solo dancing, the weird music video. But "Gentleman" left out what really made "Gangnam" pop—any sort of harmonic progression. "Gentleman" is just one chord all the way through.** "The Fox", on the other hand, while having some similarities with "Gangnam", is very different in a lot of ways.

And that's what makes good music—taking something familiar that works (like form or texture or harmony) and doing something innovative and different with it, something that will strike people in a new way.

Vocab: tempo, texture, harmony

*"Gangam Style" is just a bit faster.

**"Gentleman" may be also borrowing from another viral hit of the year, "Harlem Shake", which also has only one chord; there's some surprising melodic similarities, too.

PS I'm pretty mad at the Abercrombie and Fitch lip synch version of "The Fox", which they put right in front of the official music video, as if it was the real one. But being mad at Abercombie is nothing new. Sigh.

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