My sixth-grade language arts teacher once said, “First you must learn the rules, and only then you are allowed to break them.” Although she was talking about comma splices, the same logic can be applied to producing a smash hit. For starters, it has to appeal to a wide range of listeners or, at the very least, a younger set of ears. Hallmark features should include an energetic beat, the classic pop chord progression and über catchy lyrics — ones that get stuck in your head longer than you’d like them to. To ensure that fans will remember the song — and therefore be able to download/stream/sing it in the shower/request to DJ Carm — it also doesn’t hurt to have extremely simple lyrics that drill the song title into your head at least 16 times. Oh, and apparently we’re so dumb that some artists need to tell us their name within the song, otherwise we’d never figure it out (Jasooon Deruuuuloooo)! But sometimes we need to break the system in order to stand out. Therefore, let’s render our lyrics completely and utterly unintelligible.
Currently on the charts is “Gold” (2015) by Kiiara, identifiable by its space-like wood block use and dreamy vocals. “Gold” has a mysterious style that strays from the typical Top 40 track, which is why its rise to mainstream success is interesting. Most notably abstract is the chorus, an effect that I would try to articulate, but that is probably better appreciated if listened to aloud. To say the least, the lyrics are head-scratching and caused disagreement among my friends. After studying the chorus on loop, we narrowed it down to the following:
“Roof is oying let me loving all in whatcha’s know,” or “Who is calling lemon lovin’ calling watches now” or even my personal vote, “OOFISOOHINGLEMMINOOINGWITCHESNOH.”
While it’s obvious that the words have been heavily distorted and really aren’t meant to be interpreted, we certainly enjoyed trying to make sense of it. Yet, you can almost make out English in it, because it’s likely just a smattering of Kiiara’s vocal fragments. Speaking of which, I can’t help but be reminded of “Work It” by Missy Elliott. Perhaps fittingly off the album “Under Construction” (2002), the song experiments with playing lines both forward and in reverse in its iconic chorus. Those lines are entirely gibberish but closer inspection reveals that we’re actually listening to the previous line “put my thing down, flip it and reverse it,” — only backwards. Still, the song peaked at No. 2 on the chart Billboard Hot 100 in 2002; it just goes to show that lyrics don’t have to be comprehendible to strike a chord with its audience.
Notez-bien, “Gold’s” infectious appeal isn’t limited to the unique chorus. Weighed down by an echoing bass, to be contrasted with delicate vocals, Kiiara’s work achieves exactly the moody, edgy vibe that the (intelligible) lyrics suggest. Ultimately, it’s quite refreshing to hear in the landscape of club-worthy Ariana anthems on Top 40 radio today.