By Drew Conger
Coldplay, a popular rock band from the 90’s, teamed up with rising stars The Chainsmokers, an American EMP/pop duo, in February 2017 to record their new song Something Just Like This. The song quickly rose to popularity and was listed in July as number 8 in Official Charts’ list of 2017’s top 40 songs (Copsey, 2017). But why is this song so popular? Why does Something Just Like This frequent dances, parties, and road trips? And what is it communicating to us as listeners? How is the music we listen to every day a form of communication?
If we read more deeply into this song, we can see that not only do The Chainsmokers and Coldplay use wildly popular musical techniques, they also understand the way that music is a form of communication.
An astronomical number of today’s popular songs “drop the bass,” a phrase referring to a rise and then dramatic fall in pitch. Something Just Like This utilizes a similar technique, using a slow increase in pitch followed by a popular and intriguing techno rhythm to 1). build suspense in listeners and 2). draw said listener into the music, provide a certain “natural high” that only music produces, and perhaps even invoke dancing or, at the very least, some form of movement.
Something Just Like This is full of change. Lyrical and symbolical change-not so much. But rhythm, volume, tempo, musical change-absolutely. And it’s this change that keeps listeners listening. It’s this change that keeps the song fresh and new and intriguing. It’s this change that makes listeners press the repeat button as soon as four minutes have passed by.
The Chainsmokers and Coldplay understood communication, understood their listeners, and understood how to make said listeners feel something. Music is a powerful medium, and can be very influential. All forms of communication are very influential, if they weren’t, nothing would get done in human society. We rely on communication, and we rely on mass media. Music, being mass media, is a form of communication, and like all communication, has been studied.
In 1949, Shannon and Weaver published their model of how they believed communication worked. This model, however, only operates in one direction, and does not apply to human-to-human communication. But it could apply to music-to-human communication, as listeners don’t have an effective way to immediately respond to Coldplay and The Chainsmokers. Such communication is possible today, with the technology people have access to, but nevertheless, music-to-human communication is largely one sided.
In 1954, Schramm and Osgood published their model of communication, which added to the understanding of how communication functioned but did not complete it. This model shows that communication is an endless process, which is true of human-to-human communication, but is less accurate for music-to-human communication. Like I have mentioned before, music is fairly one-sided because it is not always a simple process for listeners to respond to producers.
Both of the above models were applied directly to communication; the creators likely did not have music in mind when publishing their models. Music, because it varies-arguably more than other forms of communication do-is hard to pinpoint or generalize, and thus hard to generate a model for.
In 2006, Steven Brown published his model on music as a form of communication (Brown, 2006). As you can see, this model has a few more steps than the Shannon and Weaver model, and is much more complex than the Schramm and Osgood model. If we break this model down a little further, it’s noticeable that Brown sees music as general persuader of the masses. I can attest to this, I have been persuaded by The Chainsmokers and Coldplay to purchase Something Just Like This, to listen to the song frequently, to urge my peers to listen to the song as well, and, above all else, support and promote The Chainsmokers and Coldplay and the music they produce.
Music is an incredibly powerful tool, both of persuasion, as Brown argued, and as a means of communication, as is seen in popular culture. Looking deeper into the songs we listen to every day not only cultivates our critical thinking skills, but also hones in our music tastes and our ability to interpret the media we encounter every day.
Copsey, R. (2017) The Official Top 40 Biggest Songs of 2017 so far. Official Charts. Retrieved from http://www.officialcharts.com/chart-news/the-official-top-40-biggest-songs-of-2017-so-far__18652/
Brown, S. (2006) Introduction: “How Does Music Work?” in Music and Manipulation: On the Social Uses and Social Control or Music. Retrieved from http://www.neuroarts.org/pdf/M&M_Chapter_1.pdf
Schramm & Osgood and Shannon & Weaver models pictures acquired from google searches.
Something Just Like This video embedded from YouTube.
Both accessed 9.21.17