On December 5th 2019, Berklee staged its annual Singers’ Showcase, and the theme this year was A Night at the Opera—The Music of Queen. As a lifelong fan, I was honored to be asked to write the program notes for the evening’s performance.
Each song entry features a reference to the original Queen recording, and the official video embedded, plus a description of the approach the students took for the Berklee version. Selected excerpts from the show itself will appear online sometime in the future, but for now you can get a great behind-the-scenes flavour of the quality of the performance by watching Marshall Lilly’s terrific drumcam footage.
TFW you’re driving and you hear a new song on the radio that makes you pull over to hear it better? I’ve had it three times. The first time was Eminem’s “Stan” in 2000. I just had to know how it ended. The second was in 2013, when I thought Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” was a 1970s disco classic I’d somehow missed. And the third was Billie Eilish’s “Bad Guy,” partly because the production was so original, but mostly because the vocal was so, well, disturbing.
Thematically, the song is about relationship power dynamics. For all the machismo of the “you” character, and that upsetting opening violent abuse image in the first line, Billie herself is the titular “Bad Guy.” She can out-scare and out-dare him. If he wants to “take control,” she’ll go along with it, up to a point, but she holds all the cards: if he steps out of line, there will be mama-disappointing, girlfriend-antagonizing, dad-seducing hell to pay. The production throughout supports this theme, balancing the scary and the ironic as Billie’s vocal performance veers between threat and disinterest.
Today, we will be talking more about the music than we will be talking about the sex – I mean, the lyrics. Usually with a song analysis, I try to figure out how the words and music work together, and highlight particular phrases that stand out in the musical arrangement. But given that Please Me is a ‘slow jam’, we don’t want all this musicology to kill the mood, so we will mostly let Cardi’s x-rated rapping (and Bruno’s vocal paroxysms) speak for themselves. TIDAL is all about the fidelity, so along with master-quality audio we’ve included the full, un-bleeped lyric. Insert your own asterisks according to taste.
Welcome to the 2019 Eurovision live musicology blog, now in its ninth year. This site has provided live (or pre-live) music analysis of the ESC final every year since 2011, previously during the UK live broadcast. Since 2016, the text has been written from Boston USA, 5 hours behind UK time and, this year, 7 hours behind Tel Aviv, where the show takes place.
The Contest can be watched on YouTube, and across many European and US networks and time zones. Parts of the blog post are typed as-live, but I’ve uploaded everything in advance so you can follow along with the show. For any non-Europeans who are unfamiliar with Eurovision, the Wikipedia page gives a great overview.
As before, I have posted predictions of the winners before
the voting begins. 2015 is the only year so far that all three were correct,
and in the correct order, but I’ve gotten close with the top few most of
This year I’m including more of the chord loops, so that keyboard/guitar people can play along. These chords are transcribed at speed, and are sometimes slightly simplified for text purposes (e.g. there aren’t always 2nd/3rd time bars etc).
And, as always, I recommend music creative types (particularly songwriters and producers) read Milton Mermikides’ excellent Deux Points’ article, which gives top tips on how to write those fair-to-middling low-scoring ‘Euro-formula’ songs. As you listen to tonight’s show, look out to references to the Aeolian mode aka natural minor scale (in music generally, the least exotic of all the minor scales; in Eurovision terms, an essential signifier of cultural and emotional authenticity).
As a music theory geek, I love to get inside songs and figure out why we like them. There’s something beautiful about the ability of a mainstream hit to bring people together. And when the songwriter and singer is as extraordinary a talent as Ariana Grande, we can be sure we’re putting the very finest pop product in our ears.
So let’s dive in, intro first, middle bit in the middle, and outro at the end, as has been the way since the dawn of time.
We hear a single reverbed synth sound playing half notes, with occasional 8th note passing notes, and no indication of what’s to come. That’s sparse, even for a trap-pop intro. At this point, we don’t even know if we’re hearing 140BPM (fast pop) or 70BPM (slow ballad).
Popular Music Education. These three words, even though they have been at the center of my professional life for more than 25 years, continue to challenge and intrigue me because each one generates questions. What do we mean by ‘Popular’? Popular with whom, and for how long? Popular in the sense of widely distributed, or in the sense of culturally influential? When we say ‘Music’, which music… and whose music? The consensus reached long ago in conservatoires about the centrality of the European ‘common practice period’ has no easy parallel in PME, and popular music has evolved into so many forms and sub-genres that it is arguably impossible for any teacher or student to have knowledge of it all. And when we talk about ‘Education’, what, exactly, are we teaching? PME in high schools and in higher education deals variously with listening, performing existing music, creating original music, music technology, the commercial music industry, and (often controversially) the history of various canons, styles and traditions. Which of these should we choose to teach? Each answer to these questions breeds further questions. If we decide that our curriculum supports creativity, then our students will probably need to be songwriters, the song being the dominant creative product in most popular music. But how does one build a suitable grading framework for songwriting, when songs represent personal expression? What if the teacher’s definition of a good song is different from the student’s?