I’ve recently started to put Marianas Trench back into rotation on my iPod and I was struck again by their song “Pop 101.” This isn’t a particularly new song of theirs—it was a single they released in 2014—but each time I listen to it I’m struck by both how clever it is and how true the lyrics are. For anyone scratching their heads and wondering who the heck I’m talking about, Marianas Trench is a Canadian band named after the deepest part of the ocean, Marianas Trench. Their music is often described as pop punk. To date, they’ve released 4 full length albums and have won a few awards.
“Pop 101” is exactly what you might think it is based on the title—a song, quite literally explaining how to create a pop song. With a catchy dance beat it’s easy to get caught up in the music and ignore the words but if you listen closely, lead singer Josh Ramsey, is actually taking a jab at the Top 40 format and how much of pop music today follows the same recycled formula. Similar to the videos on YouTube that show viewers how these 20 (or more) popular songs are created using the same 4 chords (usually C, Em, D, and G), Marianas Trench lays out the formula behind a Top 40 hit from start to finish. Some examples from the song:
The chords are 1, 4, 6, 4/ Now I’m talking familiar/ Harmony in 3rd’s not 4th’s/ We’ll take you into the pre-chorus
Here’s some words you should know/ Like DJ never let me go/ Or shots and then we’ll lose control/ Or baby, baby, baby, baby
Some things just go together like/ Higher, desire, and fire
In just over 4 minutes, the band manages to cram in just about every cliché of pop music there is into one space. There also seems to be subtle references to specific super popular songs such as Justin Timberlake’s “Sexy Back”, LMFAO’s “Shots feat. Lil Jon”, Justin Bieber’s “Baby” and the unique enunciation and auto tune reminiscent of Kesha’s early work. In fact, it seems that perhaps the only cliché that may have been left out is something that’s been dubbed the “millennial whoop” which has become increasingly popular in pop music in the last five to seven years.
Personally, I think this song is really clever. I love a song with a good beat and a catchy tune but I really love a song that has all that and can also make you think. It’s a pop song criticizing its own genre and pointing out just how recycled our favorite car jam songs are. Is this going to hurt the Top 40 formula that’s been in place for a few decades now? No. Is it going to make you stop listening to your favorite songs on the radio? Probably not. But is it going to make you take a step back and really think for a minute, comparing the truth of the lyrics in “Pop 101” to some of your favorite tracks? Perhaps. I don’t think that Marianas Trench set out with aspirations to change the way pop music is made with this song; I think they simply decided to lay out in layman’s terms (but in a catchy way to grab our attention) the identical similarities between most songs in the pop genre. Which should (hopefully) make you think. If these themes, chord patterns, and melodies are so repetitive, why do we keep coming back for more?
What do you guys think?