Defending Pop Music: The 8 Hour Challenge and The 4 Chord Song

Every so often, someone comes along and writes a song, makes a witty t-shirt, records a video, writes an article, or uses some other medium to poke fun at pop music and how simple it is to write a hit song.

“All you need to know is four chords to write a hit song!”

“Pop music is formulaic!”

“Pop stars don’t even write their own music.”

Many of these assumptions are completely true, and I can’t even begin to name all the horrible pop music out there. Nevertheless, I’d like to argue that pop music gets a bad rap sometimes. There is plenty of music in any genre that doesn’t make the cut as “listenable”. With pop music, however, some of it ends up floating around on the airwaves so it’s a little more visible for the 15 minutes it gets on our nerves.

A couple more comedic videos make light of the straight-forward structure of pop songs.

You can make a hit pop song in eight hours, apparently:

Does every pop song use the same four chords?:

For all the people who decry the popularity of some of the more simple hit songs on the Billboard charts and iTunes Top 10, I sympathize. I too see the beauty in the technicality of progressive metal, the musicianship and melody of jazz, and the soul in a blues guitar lick. But in pop music, there is something that separates a song that is a hit for a month with a song that stands the test of time as a pop classic (no matter how cheesy it is). There is an elusive catchiness that is often missing in the genres that many artistic folks consider more reputable or refined.

If you can make something appealing to the masses with just four chords, you’re doing something special to those four chords that someone else couldn’t do with the same resources at their disposal. Sometimes pop stars who already have had a hit song get by with another hit that is mediocre at best, but their careers don’t usually last long.

Abba, Michael Jackson, Britney Spears, and other pop sensations are remembered because they transcended the typical duration for a pop career. Why? Because sometimes a persona mixed with just the right hook, over and over again, is just enough for us to keep coming back for more.