The Definition of Hip Hop

From the 1970s when DJ Kool Herc first inspired hip-hop to today, hip-hop has been continuously changing. Hip hop began as a positive creation to draw teenagers out of gang life and prevent violence. DJ Kool Herc founded Universal Zulu Nation to promote this. Now, hip-hop has digressed back to promoting violence, advocating sexual intercourse, usage of drugs, showing that money can buy anything, especially materialistic things, and the degradation of women. Many artists portray women as useless and invaluable through their lyrics. The degradation of women in hip-hop has changed the way society views and treats women. In a way, it is instructing future generation males that it is acceptable to degrade women and future generation females that it is acceptable to tolerate the mistreatment.

Most artists’ songs, especially rappers, describe women as “wh*res” or “b*tch.” Artist K Camp is no stranger to this. K Camp is rapper from Atlanta, GA, but was born in Milwaukee, WI. He started performing with a group called HBC in high school. This led to the start of his career in 2009 when he performed open mic alongside with Waka Flocka Flame and Travis Porter.

During this time, K Camp created a track called “All Night,” but the song was not a big hit outside of the college crowds. This track talks about a woman dancing for money and putting on a show. We take it all the way down to the ground. You got that booty girl, it goes around &’round. How long can you go, I should be throwin’ ones in the air for this show. You take it all the way down, girl it’s show time, your time, girl it’s go time… You take it all the way down, girl it’s show time, your time, girl it’s go time… The lyrics depict a woman as an object to draw men. The next track was “Do It,” in which he created the hook for the song, but it was questionable if he was actually on the song. This song states: “We can start off on this floor. End up on that bed, you rubbin through my head. While I’m all between yo legs. Imma hit it from the front, back, side, side.. Girl I love the way you do it.”

“Do It (Explicit)”

K Camp and Mykko Montana explain women as sexual objects throughout the song and also calling her “b*tch”. Camp continued to create his image and build his reputation. He made releases such as Fan4life, Show Money, and In Due Time privately. Due to his career enduring ups and downs with management, K Camp hired his mother as his manager. He jokes in one of his interviews that his mother knows every song that he has made, even “Cut That B*tch Off.”

With that particular song, K Camp expresses how this song came about (Garland, Maurice. “Who is K Camp? How the ATL Rapper Behind “Money Baby” Turned Setbacks into Get Backs.” Complex Music. 29 January 2014. Web.). Of course it had to do with a woman. One night when K Camp was recording in the studio inside his home, he received a text message from a female he was trying to have relations with saying, “What are you doing?” His response, “I’m recording, pull up” and she response, “Ok.” Later, he runs to the gas station to purchase alcohol and receives a text message asking if he just passed her. In the end, the female states that she’s going to leave, and K Camp becomes upset. When he returns home, he begins to freestyle and creates this song. This freestyle became a popular hit, and once again, one of K Camp’s song disrespects women.

Recently in early 2014, there was a mixtape released called K.I.S.S. PT. 2. All the songs on this mixtape talk about women being used for sexual intercourse or money and how she will allow a man to treat her as he pleases. For example, the song “Blessing” includes lyrics such as: “Yeah I love when your body on top of me when I’m deep inside no stopping me, I’m gone hit it so good you’d be proud of me. We can do what you want but don’t lie to me. Want you to know that you’re blessing.Yeah baby girl you’re a blessing. Want you to know that you are a blessing. Yeah baby girl you’re a blessing.” Because all of K Camp’s songs oppress women, this may explain a lot about his life. He may have negative situations with women since they seem not to be good enough for him. On this mixtape, other artist like Nash B, Young Ex, and Big Fruit also participate in the act. The degradation of women has been in action and around for so long, that many people do not value it nor believe that it is important.

“Cut Her Off (Lyrics)

From a different point of view, in an article called Hip-Hop: The False Advertisement of Women, women are used to represent the success of artists. Women are treated as an accessory to prove that the artist has accomplished reaching the top. Rappers feel if they treat women as a collector’s item, then they can express their new success. Also, the women used in the videos have to be the sexiest women. The reason for this is to draw the attention of younger generations, especially young men, in order to make them believe that the people in the videos are living a good life. But what hope does this give for the future generations? None. It only encourages them to disrespect women, treating them as a product, using money to get them, and keeping the ideology that women are gold diggers. This may create a sense of insecurities for women, low self-esteem, and allow them to feel as if they have no values. Rappers are not thinking about the ideas that younger generations will create when they are sitting in front of the television watching someone state vulgar words, or throw money in the air as if money grows on tress or is easy to come by. These are false expectations.

Rappers and artists need to stop leading younger generations in the wrong direction. What can be changed to create the same idea that they can succeed, but change the message that they do not have to be disrespectful? Some artist and rappers are trying to change the message like the rapper Common. In the article Chicago Rapper Common Says Hip-Hop Artists Can Help Reduce Violence, describes how he is worried about the violence in his hometown of Chicago. Days before this article was published, there was a shooting that wounded thirteen people. Common believes that the key to ending the cycle of violence in hip hop music is to create more educational programs and initiatives. Change is coming to hip hop music, but it’s coming step by step.

Her: The Future Of Soundtracks Is Now



No, it’s not a low budget indie film, though you wouldn’t know by listening to it. Amongst the myriad of blockbuster epics in 2013 from 12 Years a Slave to the Wolf of Wall Street, it was Spike Jonze’s unassuming film Her that stood out from the pack. While the concept of the film offered a unique look into the future of human relationships, with a man falling in love with his operating system, the plot was not the only revolutionary aspect of the film. In an Oscar nominated effort, the films soundtrack brings an indie sound (a blend of indie rock and electronic genres) that has never before been heard in a commercially successful blockbuster, and paves the path for a new future of soundtracks in Hollywood.


Let me challenge you to think of an iconic film score. Take as long as you need. Regardless of your knowledge of film, whether dilettante or expert, this choice boils down simply to one of two options: a score rooted in classical music like Casablanca, Star Wars and most recently Pirates of the Caribbean, or a pop score like Easy Rider, Saturday Night Fever, or recently The Great Gatsby. Invariably when we are asked to think about a blockbuster score our minds naturally gravitate to these two genres because they are the only two that have been used throughout Hollywood history. Dating back to the birth of film, or moving pictures as they were called in the early 1900’s, accompaniment and soundtrack were the means of indicating to the audience the genre of the film before the era of audio. A classical styling was used with Drama and was perceived to be a “higher” art form for a more sophisticated audience. Pop music, or ragtime jazz as it was called during the era, indicated a comedy and a lower art form that catered to the common man through slapstick and ribald humor. As the decades passed and film progressed into the “talkie” era in the 1930’s and onward, these relationships between soundtrack and genre remained more or less unchanged. If a director wanted to establish a serious tone, like longing and heartbreak in Casablanca, or intrepid adventure in Star Wars, they naturally gravitated toward a classical score. If the desired effect was more whimsical, a pop score was the natural choice; exhibited by the 1960’s ballads found in the film Easy Rider and the disco hits of the Bee Gee’s in the film Saturday Night Fever. [youtube][/youtube]

It was not until the late 1980’s, with the emergence of the Sundance Film Festival, that a new brand of movie was created and directors first began to contemplate breaking the established mold of movie soundtracks that had stood for over a century.


To truly grasp the essence of The Indie Age, one must first grasp what it means to be an indie film. In its purest sense, the term “indie” is short for independent, meaning that the film is not produced or distributed by any of the six major film studios: 20th Century Fox, Columbia, Paramount, Universal, Disney, and Warner Brothers. In addition to that barebones definition, the term “indie” has colloquially become associated with the characteristic that many of the films share such as low budgets, young and upcoming talent, and innovative art techniques from cinematography, to screenplay, to soundtracks. In was in this setting that young directors, most famously Quentin Tarantino, began to experiment with the relationship between music and film in ways that had never been seen before. Tarantino soon became known for breaking the established mold and placing seemingly unfitting pop songs into his gory movies, most notably the Stealers Wheel song “Stuck in the Middle with You “during the torture scene of the film Reservoir Dogs.


While Tarantino was the pioneer of unconventional music placement, it was not until Spike Jonze and Her that the spirit of the indie soundtrack was able to break into the non-indie studio world of blockbuster films.


In creating Her, writer/director Spike Jonze had a very specific vision for the atmosphere of film, which was to be created in large part by its unique soundtrack. To craft this futuristic, yet timeless emotional texture, Jonze called upon his favorite bands and former collaborators, the Canadian indie band Arcade of Fire, electronic composer Owen Pallett and songwriter Karen O.

Rock_en_Seine_2007,_The_Arcade_Fire   Arcade of Fire

Jonze paid such care to the soundtrack that he even co-wrote the lyrics to the film’s main theme “Moon Song” with Karen O to ensure the song conveyed the right amount of heartbreak and tenderness. Come February of 2014 Jonze’s work paid off, as he and the rest of the collaborators earned an Oscar nod and widespread critical acclaim for Her’s soundtrack. Film blog states that the soundtrack does an excellent job of “capturing the film’s vivid color spectrum and melancholic overtones”, proving it to be the emotional lynchpin of the film as soundtracks had always been throughout Hollywood history. However, within the scope of 2013 and the entire history of cinema, no other film pushed the boundaries of convention with regards to music quite as much as Her. In a soundtrack that would have been avant-garde for indie film standards, Her became the first commercially successful film to incorporate a soundtrack comprised of a blend of indie rock and electronic ambient sounds. In an industry that had been divided for over a century into the categories of blockbusters and indies largely on the basis of their soundtracks, the 2013 film Her effectively shattered the barrier through its unique sound and amazing commercial success, with profits of over 25 million dollars and counting.


Her Trailer Pop-up Video


Through it’s revolutionary soundtrack, Her has proven the most influential film of the decade, creating a new amalgam genre of “indie blockbusters”. The question moving forward is to what degree have the “indie” tenants truly permeated into mainstream culture. Surely there will always be a market for huge budget adventure movies with conventional classical or pop scores, but what of more movies like Her? What remains to be seen in whether this trend of blending the indie and blockbuster genres will continue, or if Her and its groundbreaking soundtrack is merely a flash in the pan.


Works Cited

  • “How the movie Her depicts the future of mobile.” WeWork. N.p., 1 Jan. 2013. Web. 21 Apr. 2014. <>.
  • “her: A Spike Jonze Love Story.” Her Official Site. N.p., 1 Jan. 2013. Web. 22 Apr. 2014. <>.
  • “Film Appreciation – A Brief History of Music in Films.” Film Appreciation – A Brief History of Music in Films. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Apr. 2014. <>.
  • “Jan 22 – Feb 1, 2015 Park City, Utah.” Sundance Film Festival. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Apr. 2014. <>.
  • “Independent Film.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 22 Apr. 2014. <>.
  • “Major Film Studio.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 22 Apr. 2014. <>.
  • “Quinton Tarantino.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 22 Apr. 2014. Web. 24 Apr. 2014. <>.
  • “Stuck In The Middle With You – Reservoir Dogs (1992).” YouTube. YouTube, 1 Jan. 2012. Web. 24 Apr. 2014. <>.
  • “Saturday Night Fever Opening Intro (1977).” YouTube. YouTube, 20 Oct. 2013. Web. 24 Apr. 2014. <>.
  • “Spike Jonze.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 23 Apr. 2014. Web. 24 Apr. 2014. <>.
  • “Arcade Fire.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 22 Apr. 2014. Web. 24 Apr. 2014. <>.
  • “Karen O.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 21 Apr. 2014. Web. 24 Apr. 2014. <>.
  • “LISTEN: Spike Jonze and Arcade Fire’s Oscar 2014 Nominee ‘her’ Soundtrack Contends for Best Original Score.” Classicalite RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Apr. 2014. <>.

Alex Coopersmith is a freshman student at The University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. He enjoys acting, singing, television and film. His favorite actor is Joaquin Phoenix and his favorite movie of 2013 was Her.

Is Rap Art?

What would your first thoughts be if you passed the painting below in an art gallery? Would you immediately think it was art? Even from a distance, the colors and contrast would probably catch your eye—at least enough to make you desire a closer look. On closer inspection, you notice the brush strokes that make the subjects hair appear real and the detail of the scenery. Now you begin to develop an appreciation for the skill and technique demonstrated by the artist.,_Ginevra_de%27_Benci,_1474-78.png

Ginevra de’ Benci by Leonardo da Vinci


As your interest grows, you ask yourself, “Why would the artist spend so much time creating this piece? What is the meaning or significance of it?” Observers would never discover these different layers of meaning and value, if they did not possess interest in this form of art or the skills required to evaluate it. Similarly, some listeners of rap music never find the meaning or value in it because they lack interest in it or the skill needed to interpret it. The authors of “An Article On Why Rap Is Not Music…” and “You Call This Music?” have probably never held an interest in rap or desired to learn the skills of evaluating it. Most objectors to rap enjoy it more than these authors but still share their inability to understand rap. Rap, like other forms of art, consists of layers of understanding and interpretation. The surface layer contains artistic elements that provoke various emotional responses, depending on the nature of the elements. The next layer resides within the lyrics, more specifically the wordplay, of songs. Rap artists condense and hide complex messages in few words through wordplay. The deepest layer results from the artist’s reason for writing the song. Artists write meaningful songs to deliver a lasting message that could impact society. This message gives lasting meaning and value to rap songs. Each layer of value can be perceived if the listener closely examines a song.

 *Rap song of value is a term I created to describe rap songs with value and lasting meaing

Replay the scenario described above in your head but put yourself in the car and replace the painting with a RSOV (rap song of value)* you hear on the radio. A good rap song, like the painting, catches your attention even though you know nothing about the song. The artistic aspects provoke various emotional responses inside you that are pleasing to you. Different types of songs make listeners feel certain ways depending on the song. Typically, most rap albums include several types of songs—a hip-hop or radio song, a slower song, and a club banger.


A hip-hop or radio song typically has an upbeat pace that puts the listener in a good mood during any circumstance. A couple recent examples of radio songs are “Holy Grail” by Jay Z and “Started From The Bottom” by Drake.

“Holy Grail”

“Started From The Bottom”


Artists usually make a slower rap song with a lower pace and less instrumentals. Slower rap songs calm the listener and allow them to listen to the artist even during a relaxing time. Slow rap songs also demonstrate an artist’s versatility and highlight the technical aspect of the lyrics. An example of a slow rap song is “Day ‘N’ Night” by Kid Cudi.

“Day ‘N’ Night”


Club bangers usually become some of the most popular rap song on an album due to the emotional response they induce in listeners. They include strong vocals and a central bass beat that pumps-up and excites listeners like no other music. Two examples of club bangers are “In Da Club” and “Disco Inferno” by 50 Cent.

“In Da Club”

“Disco Inferno” (explicit)


Different types of rap songs incorporate alternate combinations of artistic elements such as background beats, instrumentals, and vocals. These different combinations create distinctive emotional responses similarly to the difference of looking at a bright and happy painting or a dark and dramatic one. The listener can easily experience and interpret this surface layer of artistic value.


When people like a song they know nothing about, they are experiencing the surface level of enjoyment. The musical and artistic aspects of sap songs analogue the artistic elements of a painting. Both initially capture your interest by inducing emotional responses. As an audience likes a piece of art more, they become more interested. Similar to the way observers of a painting take a closer look, listeners of a song pay more attention to the lyrics. Once listeners begin learning the lyrics, they notice the deeper artistic elements. Rap artists typically incorporate wordplay as a means to convey deeper levels of artistic value. Wordplay allows artists to express a message in a clever and cryptic way.  Many experts consider Jay Z one of the most talented rap artists ever because of his talented wordplay. In his song “Ni**as In Paris” he says,


Psycho, I’m liable to go Michael, take your pick,

Jackson, Tyson, Jordan, Game 6


Jay Z says above that he is “Psycho” as in crazy good. Psycho is capitalized because it stands for the first Michael, Michael Mires from the Halloween movie series. Then he references Michael Jackson, Mike Tyson, and Michael Jordan. Each person was one the greatest ever in their profession. He even more specifically alludes to Michael Jordan in Game 6 of the NBA play-offs where he was famous for playing his best under extreme pressure.



Jay Z takes on the character of each super star


In the beginning of one of his most famous songs “Empire State of Mind”, he raps


Yeah I’m out of that Brooklyn, Now I’m down in Tribeca

Right next to DeNiro, but I’ll stay hood forever

I’m the new Sinatra, and since I made it here,

I can make it anywhere, yeah, they love me everywhere


Jay Z tells how he made it out of the Marcy Project houses he grew up in. He then talks about how he now lives in a very wealthy part of New York called Tribeca (triangle below Canal Street) with Beyoncé next to Robert De Niro, a famous actor. Next he says that he will never forget where he came from. He says that he is the new Sinatra referring to Frank Sinatra’s famous song “New York, New York”.  Jay Z also means that, like Frank Sinatra, his fame spreads internationally. The line “I made it here, I can make it anywhere” alludes to a line from his older song The Blueprint – “If I can make it there, I can make it anywhere”. The most genius part of these lines is that “New York, New York” was originally written for the film New York, New York… a musical staring Robert DeNiro. These lines only make up ten seconds of the song and are able to convey all that meaning while matching the rhythm and beat of the music.


Jay Z and Opera visit his old home.


Wordplay acts as the second layer of artistic value in rap songs. It allows artists to indirectly convey a more significant meaning in a cryptic way. Due to its cryptic nature, people require interest and certain interpretation skills to understand the larger messages conveyed through wordplay. The website Rap Genius provides an in-depth background and meaning of every line from almost every rap song. Rap Genius is a great tool that allows listeners to discover everything a rap artists includes in a song.


Once people develop enough interest in a song to digest and understand its lyrics, they begin to wonder about the larger meaning of the song as a whole and why the artist decided to write it. People typically would have to research the life of the artist and commentary by the artist on his or her reason for making a song. The societal message of a rap song elevates it from a catchy radio hit to a RSOV that possess timeless value. Some of the most famous RSOV include “Keep Your Head Up” by 2Pac, “Diamonds From Sierra Leone” by Kanye West, and “Stan” by Eminem. Each of these songs incorporates a music video that provides a visual representation of the issue of discussion.


In “Keep You Head up”, 2Pac addresses the objectification of women and the difficult of being a single mother. The impoverished African American community especially deals with these issues making a rap song even more capable of making an impact.



In “Diamonds From Sierra Leone”, Kanye utilizes his song and music video to comment on and acknowledge the issue of conflict or “blood” diamonds being imported from Africa. In 2006, the song won the Grammy for Best Rap Song. West released a remix featuring Jay Z that addressed the crisis more directly.




In “Stan”, Eminem comments on the disillusionment and obsession of fans. Fans have always idolized artists and celebrities, making Eminem’s message universal and everlasting. Below is a pop-up music video of “Stan” that dissects illusions and meaning.




Eminem tells why he wrote “Stan” while on MTV.




The question, “Is Rap Art?” can only be answered if the audience possesses an interest and ability to evaluate the artistic elements found in rap songs. Rap contains all the same attributes that made you immediately think the painting was art. The artistic value of rap can be observed in three layers—the surface layer (musical elements that provoke enjoyable emotional responses), the second layer (meaning and message conveyed indirectly through wordplay), and the deepest layer (the cultural message and meaning of the song). The artistic value of rap behaves like gold. If you want it, then you have to dig for it, and the deeper you dig the more you get.



Bluegrass, The Story You Never Heard

Bluegrass, The Story You Never Heard

Can you tell me one thing about Appalachian folk music? Exactly! Many people do not realize that this style of music led to many different types of music including modern country music, minstrel tunes, gospel music, but mainly bluegrass music. Several bands are trying to keep bluegrass popular and in the mainstream like Cadillac Sky in their song Redbird. Another example is the band, The Modern Grass Quartet, with a piece called Never Grow Old Blues. Despite the modern popularity of bluegrass music, evidence of Appalachian music first appeared in the early eighteenth century during a time of rapid immigration due to the attraction of cheap and unwanted land.

The Appalachian Mountains extend 1,500 miles from Maine to Georgia and are known as the Southern Highlands covering most of West Virginia and parts of Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, Maryland, the Carolinas, and Virginia. People from the Appalachian Mountains share a common cultural heritage expressed through their speech and dialect, their crafts and building methods, their religions and superstitions, and, most of all, their music. The oldest musical traditions in Appalachia are the least known because there are very few recordings of the music of the Cherokee and other indigenous groups. During the seventeenth century, the most influential groups of American immigrants were those from England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales. This group of immigrants, known as Anglo-Celtic immigrants, were the inventors of “traditional music.” Traditional Appalachian music is mainly based on ballads and instrumental dance tunes that the Anglo-Celtic immigrants brought to this region. Appalachian folk music was first categorized in this style of music.

The early 1800s brought the beginning of what was known as “old time music”- a blend of traditional music with vaudeville music, African-American styles, and Minstrel Show tunes. Vaudeville is a theatrical genre of variety entertainment that helped to develop a way of entertainment for bluegrass music. Minstrel Shows became popular and incorporated African-American tunes in the 1840s and led to the use of the banjo. And after the Civil War in the 1860s, the banjo became an essential part of the instrumental sound in Folk Music. After the introduction of the banjo, other instruments changed the sound of folk music including the guitar, mandolin, fiddle, and other stringed instruments. The addition of these new instruments was key in developing the sound of bluegrass music.

The 1900s brought about easier travel and the invention of recording technology. Industrialization led to greater social mobility and forced the mountain communities of the Appalachians to become less isolated. Also, the invention of the radio and the phonograph brought popular music to the region and led to styles crossing. The result of Appalachian folk music becoming more familiar to the world led to string bands becoming nationally popular such as the band, Bog Trotters Band. Probably the most important outcome of the long history of Appalachian folk music was the development of bluegrass music.

In bluegrass, one or more instruments each takes its turn playing the melody while the others improvise around it. This differs from old time Appalachian music in that all instruments play the melody together or one instrument carries the lead throughout the piece. Bluegrass was initially placed under the genre of folk music but was later placed under the country/western heading in 1948. Bluegrass is a style of music that is famous for the instrumentation used in the songs, and this is how bluegrass bands develop their unique sounds. Traditional bluegrass is usually played with acoustic stringed instruments yet some other genres of bluegrass went away from this tradition such as Progressive bluegrass. Progressive bluegrass has roots going back to one of the earliest bluegrass bands. One of these bands was The Dillards. This is an interesting sub-genre of bluegrass music because it uses acoustic and electric instruments and imports songs from other genres. Traditional bluegrass musicians typically do not appreciate the progressive bluegrass style even though they share the same roots.

A modern Progressive bluegrass band from Duluth, Minnesota that is very popular is called, Trampled By Turtles. This band has been together since 2003 and continues to keep the Appalachian style alive. Although their modern style of music is very different than traditional folk music, it still has links to the musicians from the early Appalachian Mountains. The band members have referenced inspirations such as Townes Van Zandt, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, The Rolling Stones, Nirvana and Ralph Stanley.  Their fifth release, Palomino, maintained a position in the Top 10 on the Billboard bluegrass charts for 52 straight weeks.

One of their more popular songs was made in 2010 and is called, Wait so Long. In this song, Dave Simonett plays the guitar and is the lead vocalist with Tim Saxhaug playing the bass, Dave Carroll playing the banjo, Erik Berry on the mandolin, and Ryan Young on the fiddle. This song does a great job in illustrating the instruments used in this Progressive bluegrass band and how this style of music originated from the folk music of Appalachia. The use of acoustic string instruments in this video shows a direct relationship to folk music around the early 1900s when instruments like these became popular. Also, it sounds as if Dave Simonett sings with a twang in this song which goes right along with the evolution of folk music. This song clearly portrays its country/western genre. It is really crazy to think that Appalachian folk music could lead to bluegrass, but there are so many connections and links to the music of the Appalcahia. The themes in bluegrass music are very reminiscent of those used in folk music. This does not mean in any way that the two are interchangeable. Unlike mountain music, the direction and development of bluegrass music has always been set by professional musicians.

There were three main waves of bluegrass music with the first beginning in the mid-1940s and lasting through the mid-1960s. This was when the majority of the legendary acts of bluegrass act had been born such as Bill Monroe and his Bluegrass Boys, the Stanley Brothers, and the Foggy Mountain Boys. The next wave of new bluegrass musicians came in around the late 1960s and lasted until the 1980s. This was when Progressive bluegrass was introduced to the world. Around this time, connections between first and second generation bluegrass styles became highly popular. In the mid-1980s, the last wave of bluegrass developed and almost seemed like a completely different genre of music. It had expanded past the boundaries of rural regions and even national borders. A twist on this genre is combining elements that preceded bluegrass such as old-time string band music with bluegrass music as can be seen by The Silver Mountain String Band.

Appalachian folk music is often overlooked by many music listeners in our modern world because they are clueless about the origin of the music they are now listening to. Folk music has led to so many different styles of music and played an enormous role in the development of bluegrass. Even though it may seem like they are not related, looking back at the history and progression of Appalachian folk music proves that bluegrass music would not have developed without it.


This article was written by a freshman attending the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is from Winston Salem, North Carolina and is interested in Appalachian Folk Music.


Resurgence of the 70’s and 80’s

When I am listening to today’s popular music on the radio there is something that jumps out as familiar. Many of today’s biggest hits are upbeat songs with electronic sounds that get people up and dancing whenever they listen. The winner of the 2014 Grammy for Record of the Year, Get Lucky , by Daft Punk, is a great example of a song featuring these characteristics.


The song emphasizes the electronic sound that has proven to be a hit with today’s listeners around the world becoming the first single to sell a million copies in the United Kingdom in 2013. Listeners are not the only ones getting up and moving to these great songs. Today’s best performers are focusing on getting up and moving with intricate dance choreography for their performances and music videos. For example, Bruno Mars shows off his dance skills in his performances that include extensive choreography and a large cast of back up dancers. His Super Bowl halftime show was extremely successful amongst the viewers because it was a performance focused on dancing as well as just singing.


As you watch these performances and listen to these hit songs you will soon notice their resemblance to the music and performances that were popular in the late 70’s and early 80’s.

The time period between 1975 and 1985 was a fantastic era for music and specifically musical performances. I grew up listening to my mom’s favorite artists from that time period, especially her all-time favorite Whitney Houston. Houston’s hit song, “I Wanna Dance with Somebody”, is a perfect example of a classic 80’s dance song that would get listeners up and moving.


In the Whitney Houston’s Grammy performance, she kicked off the show with an upbeat song featuring numerous dancers in the background. My mom was a part of the audience watching these memorable performances and was born at the tail end of the Baby Boomer generation. This generation created a surge in the United States population. Baby Boomers were listening to the hits of the 70’s and 80’s as they went through high school and college and still remember and cherish those songs today. According to an article in the New Yorker, when people hit their 50’s is when they experience the most nostalgia looking back at their lives and the Baby Boomers have reached that age in their lives. These Baby Boomers are now raising a new generation of music listeners and exposing the new generations to their favorite music and performers. The new generation is now predisposed to the music and dances of the 70’s and 80’s and enjoys the new pop songs that bring back the sounds and performance characteristics of the retro music from the prime days of the Baby Boomers.

There are also many artists from this time period still performing their hit songs from the 70’s and 80’s today. Madonna in particular is an example of an artist from that time period who is still as popular as ever and continues performing for large crowds. It was only 3 years ago that Madonna headlined the Super Bowl halftime show and performed her hit from the 80’s, “Like a Prayer.”


Madonna also teamed up with Justin Timberlake to release the song, “Four Minutes” in 2008 which reached number 1 in 21 countries. Another 80’s superstar, Michael Jackson, also continued performing up until his untimely death. He had planned to hold 50 concerts in London from 2009-2010 which were all sold out before he passed away. He was still prominent in the music industry and popular among younger listeners. The continuation of his concerts would have sustained the music of the 70’s and 80’s fresh in the mind of music listeners.  Michael Jackson’s influence is most visible today in the dance moves of pop superstars Justin Bieber and Usher. Usher has long been a mentor of Justin Bieber and they share similar dance choreography in their performances. Their dance choreography steals some of Michael Jackson’s most iconic moves, in particular, the moonwalk.


Even though Michael Jackson is no longer performing, viewers today can still see the influence of the 80’s in the performances of Justin Bieber and Usher.

Our access to a wider range of music has dramatically increased from even the 70’s and 80’s increasing our exposure to older and more varied music. Today we not only have the common radio stations but also XM and Sirius Radio, online radio stations, and almost any song can be looked up online with YouTube. XM radio features two separate channels dedicated solely to 70’s and 80’s music. On Sundays, each channel features the Top 40 songs from the 70’s and 80’s from a week in that time period. This has enabled music listeners to access older music that may not play often on the everyday radio. For example, after seeing Madonna perform at the halftime show, listeners can go look up older hits from the 80’s and fall in love with the older music. Baby Boomers can also take advantage of the increased music access. They can find songs from the 70’s and 80’s that they never hear on the radio and hear their favorite songs again. This easy access to music from the 70’s and 80’s allows for increased exposure to the music amongst younger listeners.

The successful television series Glee, which first aired in 2009, has been integral in revitalizing retro music from the 70s and 80s and keeping it in the forefront of current culture. Glee reached out to a younger audience of viewers and exposed them to these popular songs and dances from the 70’s and 80’s. One episode on Glee performed only songs from the 80’s, including the songs “Disco Inferno” by The Tramps and “Saturday Night Fever” by The Bee Gees.



Some artists from the 70’s and 80’s had too many hits for Glee to only cover one song from each person. Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston were two such stars from the 80’s who had an entire episode devoted to their music. Glee showcased not only the songs of the 70’s and 80’s but also the costumes and dances from the time period. One of the characters, Arty, wore Michael Jackson’s iconic red suit from the Thriller music video.


During its height of popularity Glee reached 12.45 million viewers. This national exposure helped bring the music of the 70’s and 80’s to televisions across the country and popularized the music to Glee’s younger generation of viewers.

Younger generations have been exposed to the most popular songs of the 70’s and 80’s and have responded favorably to the music of the time period. Listeners today love the electronic beats from that music era as well as the elaborate dance performances. Today’s most popular artists recognize the success of these qualities in their music and make sure to feature them in their work. As a result, they show the influence of the 70’s and 80’s in their elaborate dance performances in concerts and music videos. Bruno Mars recognized the popularity of the dance beat in the most popular songs and channeled that into his song “Treasure”. His music video also capitalized on the appeal of dance with many backup dancers and performers in his video. It is clear that the 70’s and 80’s are making a dramatic resurgence in today’s pop music due to its popularity fostered by past generations, artists performing longer, greater accessibility to the older classics, as well as the hit show Glee.

Cari Albritton is a freshman at UNC Chapel Hill. She is currently working towards earning her B.S. in Computer Science. 


The truth about “Happy” remake or not?

Since its release, Pharrell Williams “Happy” has not only topped the US Billboard Hot 100 chart but has also topped charts in 23 other countries. “Happy” has become a very popular song throughout the last few months. Could it be because the song is a remake? Even though Williams’s takes full credibility of this song, it has been argued that “Happy” is not the original version of its kind. Could it be true that Pharrell adapted another song, changed a few minor details and made it his own? “Happy” by The Velvet Hammer was a song released in 1977 that many people say has similar qualities to that of Pharrells’. Unfortunately, The Velvet Hammer’s version of the song failed to break records whereas Pharrell’s did. A major component that makes the two songs different includes Pharrell’s effective use of psychological techniques such as simple yet catchy lyrics. These lyrics can uplift almost anyone’s mood and allow for a larger targeted audience. Not only the lyrics, but the simple background beat that invites you to clap along, and a music video that makes you want to dance as well help in grabbing the attention of a wide range of ages. The subtle techniques used by Pharrell, which will be analyzed in more detail below, have allowed “Happy” unlike its counterpart to become an international hit!

For those of you who have never heard of The Velvet Hammer’s version of “Happy” before, play the video below. Most people have heard of Pharrell’s version of the song, but just in case you haven’t, click here. What similarities and differences between the two do you notice?


The most obvious similarity is the background 70’s Jazz/Blues tone. The beat for the two songs is very similar as well. Watch this video of a girl dancing to both songs with the same steps showing us how identical the rhythm actually is.

The differences that arise between the songs are due to the subtle changes Pharrell made. Pharrell Williams’ great use of psychology in “Happy” is an important factor to its success. The lyrics especially, play a key role in this song. Having closely analyzed the song word by word, Williams’ selection of lyrics are essentially moral boosters. For example he uses phrases such as

“Can’t nothing bring me down, My level’s too high, Bring me down.”

In conjunction with the uplifting sayings the repetitive use of the word “Happy” impacts the listeners mind creating a more positive mind set in their heads.

It has also been scientifically proven that the tone and beat of a song can cause certain hormones to be released that allow for a change in mood.  In this article, Dr. Victoria Williamson compares how lyrics in both happy and sad songs can influence the listener’s mind. She defines happy music as specifically having “staccato articulation, louder intensities and major mode.” The results of her study concluded that acoustic features are a major component of happy music. In other words music with a strong focus on instrumentals causes the limbic regions in the brain to become strongly activated. Generally the faster the attack and the brighter the timbres (quality of  a musical sound), the more the neural activity occurs in the left hemisphere of the brain.

In The Velvet Hammer’s “Happy” there are numerous times where the singer’s voice is overpowering that of the instruments, whereas in Pharrell’s “Happy”, Pharrell puts a larger emphasis on instrumentals than lyrics. The background music is slightly more overarching than the voice of the singer thus allowing the limbic system to be more activated when listening to Pharrell’s version. Another difference arises in the use of the background music. In both songs a very similar set of instruments are used, but in The Velvet Hammer Version, the beats are more slurred together than that of Pharrell’s. Pharrell uses the idea of “staccato articulation” and “louder intensities” to his benefit. The rhythmic clapping beat in the background of Pharrell’s not only adds sharp articulation, but also invites the listener to clap along. It’s like killing two birds with one stone!

Dr. Ellen Weber’s research  gives us more insight as to how different styles of music rather than different moods of music impact the brain. She mentions how certain styles such as baroque induce enzyme activity in the brain and thus help for focusing, while saying that a Jazz or Blues tone, the category which both “Happy” by Pharrell and The Velvet Hammer fall under, can uplift and inspire people by releasing deep joy. “Happy” seems to parallel exactly what Dr. Williamson and Ellen have found through their research.

A subtle technique Pharrell also uses, that was mentioned above, is the uplifting words. Many people in our time period, due to our restricting societal views, especially because of media, have a lack of self-esteem and confidence in them. This article on Building Confidence and Self Esteem, states that you should “Think positively about yourself. Remind yourself that, despite your problems, you are a unique, special, and valuable person, and that you deserve to feel good about yourself. Identify and challenge any negative thoughts that you may have about yourself, such as ‘I am a loser’, ‘I never do anything right’, or ‘No one really likes me’.” Pharrell’s lyrics are all about building self-esteem. First off, the lyrics are so catchy and simple to memorize that after listening to the just once, you’ll have the gist of them down. Second, almost every word in the song is a morale booster. If you sing the song to yourself, you automatically begin to feel better. My dad used to say, “Even when your sad, just smile a few times and you’ll automatically begin to feel happier inside.” Similarly, repeating the word “happy” to your-self multiple times has the same effect. Unlike Pharrell’s version, The Velvet Hammer version is talking about a girl, so the same morale boosting effect doesn’t occur. Although the word “happy” is used in this song in multiple places as well, the context is completely different. Compare the lyrics for Pharrell’s version and The Velvet Hammers version to notice the difference.

Another Aspect that although could be due to the time period that The Velvet Hammer’s version of “Happy” was released, yet makes a big difference is the music video. The Velvet Hammer version does not have a video whereas Pharrell uses his music video to his advantage to target an even larger audience. He uses normal Americans in their day to day live to show how happy anyone no matter who they are, can be.

The use of normal people with varying styles allows for a larger targeted audience

Try listening to “Happy” when you’re down, it really does lift up one’s mood! It works for me, let me know if it works for you too! Look at the popcorn video below of “Happy” to learn some interesting facts about the song.


Isn’t it cool that Pharrell’s song has its own version of music videos all across the world? It’s even the first 24 hour long music video! Having been used as a soundtrack in a popular kid’s movie also helped Pharrell’s version gain lots of popularity.

Now let’s take a look at the popcorn video for The Velvet Hammer

Even though many people argue that Pharrell’s Happy is a remake of The Velvet Hammer’s version, the two songs are very different from each other. The way Pharrell has put his song together through the use of abundant subtle techniques makes his version different from The Velvet Hammer version. His use of simple yet catchy lyrics, a Jazz/Blues tone, a happy mood, overarching background music, and a music video that targets a large audience all add immensely to his song that it is very different from The Velvet Hammer version and should not be called a remake.

Nitika Arora is a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill taking English 105 under Rae Yan as a Biology Major

Anti-Bullying Is Not Just Mainstream

We The Kings Just Keep Breathing single cover
We The Kings Just Keep Breathing single cover

Travis Clark, lead singer for We The Kings, considers “Just Keep Breathing” as “one of the most important songs” he has ever written.

We The Kings Travis Clark, drummer Danny Duncan, and lead guitarist Hunter Thomsen attended school together in their hometown of Bradenton, Florida. The three, along with bassist at the time Drew Thomsen, formed the band in 2005. In 2011, the band added backing vocalist, guitarist, and keys player Coley O’Toole, and bassist Charles Trippy replaced Drew Thomsen. The current members of the band were bullied while in school and were brought together because of this shared experience.

We The Kings

Included on the band’s most recent album, Somewhere Somehow, is “Just Keep Breathing.” Clark explains many times before playing this song live at concerts that he, Duncan, and Thomsen formed the band as an attempt to get girlfriends, but it quickly became more than that. After being bullied as a child, Clark wrote the song as a way to fight back against those who bullied him and to give a voice to others who relate.

Along with creating a band to talk to girls, the members were able to reach out to help others. Clark often uses the phrase “to help make the world a better place” in his section of the album thank-you and in his daily vlogs on YouTube as a way to express what he is hoping to portray through his public image—positivity that will hopefully make a difference in the world.

This difference that Clark hopes to make involves making a difference in the lives of people who were also bullied at one point in their lives. The lyrics of “Just Keep Breathing” encourage people to do just as the title says. Lyrics such as:

…remember that you’re not alone…
…when love is all too hard to hold, just take a breath and let it go…
…it’s not too late to start again, when hope is all too hard to hold, just take a breath and let it go

convey to listeners that when times are difficult, taking a deep breath and having perseverance prevails.

Wade Tatangelo quotes Clark explaining how this particular song has helped many fans that have realized the song’s message and taken it to heart. Searching Twitter, it is not difficult to find those who tweet recognition to the band for helping them through a difficult time in their lives. Tweets such as: “Whenever I get an anxiety attack I play Just Keep Breathing to help me get through it. Thank you” or “I really think you should listen to Just Keep Breathing by @WeTheKings helps me through hard times and I hope it will help you too” add to the wide variety of ways in which the song comforts listeners.

To Write Love On Her Arms
To Write Love On Her Arms

The encouragements to keep breathing and offering the notion of community to those living with difficult situations such as bullying, depression, and self-harm have been touched by many organizations. Organizations such as To Write Love On Her Arms and Hope For The Day are sponsors of Vans Warped Tour, a national concert tour with many music artists and nonprofit foundations. This tour allows fans and bands to interact with one another. We The Kings has been included on this years Vans Warped Tour starting in June. By being part of the Vans Warped Tour, We The Kings takes their empowering song to fans all over the country and provides the opportunity for those fans to interact with a band whose song may have helped them through a difficult time. This face-to-face interaction potentially strengthens ties between the fans and We The Kings because they can physically see they are not alone in the world.

Hope For The Day
Hope For The Day

These organizations offer opportunities and outreach to people through music and community dealing with depression and/or thoughts of suicide. To Write Love On Her Arm’s vision is based on the dedication to present hope and help in order to allow people to “know you’re not alone in the places you feel stuck.” Hope For The Day is an organization that employs music as a “defense mechanism to suicide.”

These two organizations, along with many of the sponsors of Vans Warped Tour, embody what more people need to realize—bullying and its consequences occur at an alarming rate in today’s society and something more needs to be done to help those struggling. In a society with so many online resources, there are many more opportunities for people to communicate with others and be reached out to in order to help them in their troubles and offer a source of encouragement and positivity.

One Direction and Office Depot together against bullying
One Direction and Office Depot together against bullying

Recently, other artists and celebrities, such as One Direction, Lance Bass, Demi Lovato, and Anna Kendrick, have participated in anti-bullying initiatives, with larger corporations such as Office Depot and Love Is Louder. Office Depot launched the campaign “Together Against Bullying” through the sale of school supplies, and a portion of the sales was donated to bringing educational programs to schools across the country in the form of assemblies in middle and high schools. Love is Louder is a movement in which supporters write “Love is louder than the pressure to be perfect” on their hands and photograph themselves in order to express the organization’s mission of “love is louder as a way to address issues like bullying.”

These popular artists and celebrities embracing an anti-bullying position raises the pressing issue at hand in which bullying is a serious situation that needs to be dealt with. If you ask a teenager today, it is probable that he or she will remember a time in their lives when a bully criticized them, and there is no doubt this continues in school today. The possibility of bullying occurring in schools today is more widespread with the highly social society in which we live. Websites such as Facebook and Twitter allow bullies more ways in which they can talk to others.

On one hand these websites can be a means of bullies stretching their hold over others, but, on the other, these websites can also be a means of support for those who are bullied. Just by searching on Google for anti-bullying, so many websites are brought up. These along with in-school educational endeavors offer victims of bullying multiple ways to seek help and assurance.

Although these initiatives taken by many celebrities spread hope and information to the public, bands such as We The Kings have long been taking this initiative already. Due to his difficult childhood, Clark is able to understand those in a similar position now. This, in addition to the fact that Clark is very involved in meeting fans at his concerts, puts We The Kings on a closer level to the listeners who deal with bullying or depression. In a way, Clark and the other members of We The Kings are able to better understand what others are going through. Their stance on anti-bullying stemmed from their childhood experiences, which, in turn, pushed them to create the band.

“Just Keep Breathing” is not only a way to reach out to others but is also a mechanism of coping for Clark. He is quoted explaining the song as “one of the most important songs” he has ever written and how he waited fifteen years to be able to write the song that takes a stand against the ridicule he received. He also admits he wrote the song in hopes “to save someone’s life.” In a time that bullying and self-harm is so prevalent among teens, We The Kings’ song “Just Keep Breathing” offers fans and other listeners support and hope. Not only did the song help Clark deal with his past, but it also helps others deal with the present—something some may say possibly makes the world a better place.

Author Information:

My name is Ciara Hanlon (my first name is pronounced as “key-ra”). I am an undergraduate student at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. My major is Biology with an intent to pursue a career in the medical health field. I love music, and We The Kings is among my favourite bands.

Classical or Rock?: The Story of 2Cellos

Classical or Rock?: The Story of 2Cellos

When you think of cellos you don’t think of rock and roll, but the duo 2Cellos is known for their AC/DC and Michael Jackson covers. The group 2Cellos has been rising in fame recently. Their newest cover, Thunderstruck, has been the topic of several articles including Sarah Barness’ in The Huffington Post, who praises the duo for their ability to “make a song their own” even when it’s an extremely, well known and loved song. 2Cellos first appeared in 2011 with a cello cover of Smooth Criminal played by Luka Sulic and Stjepan Hauser. This duo is changing how we think of classical and modern music by taking a classical medium, the cello, and playing modern rock and pop songs.

Sulic and Hauser are both classically trained cellists who have been playing since they were children. As some of the best cellists in the European Union they became rivals, though they didn’t meet each other until years later. Their first meeting was not in the Balkans, their homeland, but in the UK while both were studying music in college; Sulic at the Royal Academy of Music in London and Hauser at the Royal Northern Academy of Music in Manchester. But the story of 2Cellos began in 2011 when they posted a video of their cello duel of Smooth Criminal online. Immediately after posting their cello-off, they were grabbing the internet’s attention. In what felt like overnight to the duo they were famous, famous enough to grab the attention of Elton John, an alum of Sulic’s college. Elton John took a liking to the pair and invited them to tour with him and to even open for his concerts. If they weren’t already famous enough from their video, this skyrocketed them into the public eye. They were soon recording their first album produced by Bob Ezrin, who has also worked with Lou Reed, Alice Cooper, Kiss, Pink Floyd, and Peter Gabriel, and chalked full of covers of rock songs.

Although 2Cellos has gained many fans in the past three years, not everyone likes their fusion of classical and modern music. There are critics, many of whom are conservatives in the classical music world, who don’t like what 2Cellos does. They feel that 2Cellos is misusing the instruments to play other music. While they aren’t the only musicians using traditional classical instruments to play modern music, they are part of a very small group.  Rather than seeing their music as a way to introduce cellos to a wider audience, their critics see it as an affront to their classical sensibilities. However, this doesn’t deter Sulic and Hauser. They are both carefree and enjoy what they do, and as long as they like rock music they’ll keep rocking out on their cellos.

Sulic and Hauser feel that they are bringing attention to the cello, which doesn’t get a lot of respect even within the classical music world. The cello is a very versatile instrument. It can rock like a guitar or sing like a human voice because it is the instrument best at mimicking the human voice. This is what allows them to play an entire song, fully of diverse instruments, on just a cello. However, they’re playing is rough on their cellos and bows. Cellos are instruments built for classical music which has calmer melodies, but rock has a much quicker pace and more intense rhythm. They usually play on electric cellos or carbon fiber cellos because they are much more durable thanwooden cellos. There is no way to reinforce their bows though and they go through hundreds of bow strings because during each song they break many strings.

Classical music has become less popular over the past decades. Sulic and Hauser are changing how people, especially young people, view this music. Most people know them for their covers of songs like Smooth Criminal and Thunderstruck, but they still play classical music. They incorporate the music of Bach and other composers into their concerts, starting their sets with classical music that increases in tempo until it morphs into rock. The thousands of people in their audiences, many of whom have never given classical music a chance, and they enjoy all of the songs that they play. They introduce the music of composers like Chopin to their audiences, while also showing them that classical musicians and their instruments don’t have to be confined to the classical genre. And those people who are just discovering classical music through 2Cellos often find that they like it.

Their listeners who don’t know anything about the cello discover they also like its sound. 2Cellos is bringing not just classical music, but instruments that have been forgotten with the classics, to a new generation. And conversely they are introducing rock music to classical music enthusiasts in a medium they can enjoy. They’re not just trying to save the genre, they’re also trying to show people the wonders of string instruments other than guitars and basses. The cello is extremely versatile, but it is often overlooked because it is difficult to play and it is outshined by more glamorous instruments in the classical world like the piano and the violin. In orchestras the cello is often used to create harmony and set melodies while the violin take the leading role. Its versatility isn’t often explored when playing symphonies, either. And as Sulic and Hauser demonstrate, it is versatile enough to round out an entire song, playing the fast and wild notes just as well as the slow and calm. (1)But regardless of how they’re making their mark by breaking musical barriers, the most important thing is that they enjoy what they do. They play songs that they like and put their passion into what they play. It’s easy to see this passion when watching them perform. In classical concerts the audience is quiet and reveres the musicians. The musicians are focused and composed, only showing their emotions through their facial expressions. You won’t see Luka and Stjepan sitting quietly while performing. They could perform onstage with any rock group. The wilder the song is the more they are absorbed in the performance, banging their heads and adding tricks and flares, liking spinning their cellos around. They’re stage performances are as visual as they are auditory. Stjepan is especially energetic onstage, where his playful nature shines through. This can especially be seen in their video if Thunderstruck where he spins his cello around in the middle of the song and falls on the floor by the ending, strumming wildly at his cello. The pair’s carefree, fun-loving spirit and the passion they put into their music gives them a great stage presence that modern music fans expect.

The rising fame of 2Cellos has been spurred by their unique take on modern music and their blending of genres. There will always be critics, but the general reaction to the duo is positive. Their covers of Muse, Michael Jackson, and AC/DC songs bring new dimensions because of their use of cellos. The cello which is often overlooked has the versatility to play the parts of many instruments within a song, while bringing a unique sound that instruments typically used in modern music don’t have. 2Cello’s star is on the rise and are watch as they’ll only continue to get better.

The Four Chords of Pop and their Prevalence in Hit Songs


While sitting in his recliner smoking a cigar, my grandfather used to turn on the radio to see what kids were listening to these days. He would grumble and groan at the whiny moans and auto-tuned voices that flood today’s top hits. With a huff under his breath, he muttered, “All pop songs sound the same” before changing the station to something more his style. I would often wonder how he could take ten, twenty, or thirty songs and fail to see the difference between them. Besides, each song had a different artist, different lyrics, a different theme, what was it that made them all so similar?

Listening closely, I had a revelation. Many of these songs are a combination of the same four chords, (I V VI IV).  Which, in the key of C major, the most common key, these chords correspond to (C, G, Am, and F).

No wonder many of these songs sound the same; they all include the same progression! With the help of Wikipedia and TV Tropes, I have concocted a list of songs that use I V VI IV, as played in the popcorn video here (kept pasting weird, here’s the link).

Songs like Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing”, Lady Gaga’s “Paparazzi”, Train’s “Hey Soul Sister”, and many more are all variations of I V VI IV. The Beatles “Let it Be” includes this progression, and even some country rock songs like John Denver’s “Take Me Home Country Roads” have these same chords.

But is this phenomena limited to recent music? The answer is no, not at all. The first instance of this progression is in Pachelbel’s Canon, which was written centuries ago and rediscovered in 1919.


Previously Pachelbel had only been known to be a friend of the Bach family. He somewhat influenced J.S. Bach’s work; but the resurgence of Canon has made him somewhat of a “One-hit wonder” among classical musicians.

Musicians of the last century have taken note of the success of this chord progression. In the 1950’s these chords were considered the Doo Wop progression. If you’ve ever listened to children play the piano, you’ve probably heard the song “Heart and Soul” which was originally written in 1938, but became famous by playing in the background of commercials for Quaker Oats and iPad Mini. When learning the piano, it is often one of the first songs one learns to play, primarily because of its catchy tune and easy chords and rhythm.

Modern artists have noted how “catchy” these chords are when used properly, and they have used this to their advantage. Even though the I V VI IV progression is the most popular, these chords are arranged in all kinds of ways. One of the other popular progressions using the same exact chords is VI IV I V, which was quoted the “sensitive female chord progression” by Boston Globe columnist Marc Hirsh. It’s seriously the same progression, but it starts on the VI chord instead of the I chord. Songs such as “Love the Way You Lie” by Rihanna and Eminem and “Grenade” by Bruno Mars are technically written using this progression. But, it’s basically the same chords with a different start.

So what does it take to write a hit song? According to the Australian comedic rock group the Axis of Awesome, all it takes is these four chords. In a live performance, they played roughly fifty songs such as “You’re Gonna Go Far, Kid” by the Offspring and “I’m Yours” by Jason Mraz using only these chords on a keyboard, guitar, and with their voices.


The video has over 30 million views on YouTube as of today, and views are continuing to climb. Looking through the comments, it’s amazing to see how many people don’t realize that the I V VI IV progression dominates today’s popular music scene in all different genres like rock and country. It’s the progression that makes millions. But its familiarity is what is causing all these songs to sound the same, and it seems that this is not letting up any time soon.

write-a-great-songEven though the same chords over and over again are repetitive, it does not necessarily mean that the quality of music is going down. Writing songs using this progression is similar to learning how to draw using a certain technique. This technique works, so an artist would use it, but it doesn’t mean that all their work is the same. There are colors, lines, shapes, sizes, and many other things that differentiate pieces from one another. It’s the same thing with songwriting. The instruments, beat, tempo, lyrics, and vocals are all different, even if the background chords are all the same.

That being said, many of these recent pop songs are short lived, and that may be due to their unoriginality. They tend to fade in and out like a popular teen romance novel. Once the song is the most popular song of the month; then it fades away to the group of forgotten songs on an iTunes playlist. Some may attribute this to the use of repetitive chord progressions, but if you know anything about music theory (or even if you don’t), you might realize that some chords just belong together. The chords C, Am, F, and G are meant to be, if in the key of C major.

What do you think is a result of repetitive chord progressions in popular music? From a songwriting standpoint, it gives songs a familiarity, almost a “sing along” vibe, which tends to bring people together. “I V VI IV” has been around for centuries, and it’s popularity is resurging in the recent decades. It might be the chord progression that defines our generation, or it might just be the most common recipe for a quick-fire pop song.



Works Cited

  • “Don’t Stop Believin'” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 21 Apr. 2014. Web. 24 Apr. 2014. <>.
  • “Doo Wop Progression.” RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Apr. 2014. <>.
  • “Grenade (song).” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 19 Apr. 2014. Web. 24 Apr. 2014. <>.
  • “Heart and Soul (1938 Song).” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 21 Apr. 2014. Web. 24 Apr. 2014. <>.
  • “Hey, Soul Sister.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 14 Apr. 2014. Web. 24 Apr. 2014. <>.
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  • “I’m Yours (Jason Mraz Song).” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 19 Apr. 2014. Web. 24 Apr. 2014. <>.
  • “List of Songs Containing the I-V-vi-IV Progression.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 23 Apr. 2014. Web. 24 Apr. 2014. <>.
  • “Love the Way You Lie.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 22 Apr. 2014. Web. 24 Apr. 2014. <>.
  • “Pachelbel’s Canon.” RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Apr. 2014. <>.
  • “Paparazzi (Lady Gaga Song).” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 19 Apr. 2014. Web. 24 Apr. 2014. <>.
  • “The Axis of Awesome: 4 Chords Official Music Video.” YouTube. YouTube, 20 July 2011. Web. 24 Apr. 2014. <>.
  • “The Axis of Awesome.” The Axis of Awesome RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Apr. 2014. <>.
  • “The Four Chords of Pop.” RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Apr. 2014. <>.
  • Four Chord Song.” Axis of Awesome – Four Chord Song (with song titles). YouTube, 10 Dec. 2009. Web. 24 Apr. 2014. <>.
  • “You’re Gonna Go Far, Kid.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 19 Apr. 2014. Web. 24 Apr. 2014. <

Heather Caudill is a student at UNC Chapel Hill who majors in Studio Art. She is a self-published author on Amazon and a blog writer at Hubpages.