Probably the most clever aspect of Taylor Swift’s “You Belong With Me” is the melodic construction. Beautifully contoured, it’s what really makes the song work. It even displays writing technique usually reserved for more high-brow compositions, including melodic inversion. Here’s why the song is charting as a #1 on the Country charts, and is currently the #2 pop song on Billboard.
The song itself is a standard verse-chorus-bridge construction, with no surprises. Here’s a map of how the song unfolds:
As I mentioned, it’s the construction of the melody that makes this song winner. Largely pentatonic (F#major), the melody displays generally downward moving pentatonic melodic cells that work brilliantly with the melancholic lyrics (“I’m in the room/ It’s a typical Tuesday night/ I’m listening to the kind of music she dosen’t like/ And she’ll never know your story like I do”)
For the pre-chorus, the melodic cells become upward moving pentatonic cells, almost an exact melodic inversion of the verse patterns. This adds crucial cohesion to a melody without the listener even being aware of it, and it’s a technique you really should try for your own songs. The upward moving melody adds a plaintive “why-can’t-that-be-me” quality to the lyric, and sets the chorus up beautifully.
The chorus melody features the tonic (key) note more, and sits substantially higher, as chorus melodies should. The higher tessitura works because the lyric is far more emotion-laden. In fact, as you analyze the partnership of lyric and melody in this song, you’ll see that the melody always moves higher when the text moves from being narrative (verse) to being more explicitly emotional (chorus and bridge).
The energy of the song is also beautifully controlled. The choruses are more energetic than the verses, except for the reintroduction of the chorus immediately following the bridge. The bridge, as bridges do, offer more lyric information, and an intensity of emotion (“I remember you drivin’ to my house in the middle of the night/ I’m the one who makes you laugh/ When you know your about to cry/ And I know your favorite songs/ And you tell me about your dreams..”). But the energy is allowed to completely dissipate as it approaches the return of the chorus. This dissipation of energy is important because constant high-energy music can dull the musical senses to the message of the song.
So the message we should take as writers from “You Belong With Me” is that being a clever songwriter does not mean being overly complicated . It simply means making intelligent decisions about the construction of your song.
And how you know that the song is successful is if, as with this song, it all feels like it happened without a writer’s active intervention.
“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” shows you how to write great songs. It’s just one of a suite of 6 songwriting e-books written by Gary Ewer. (His newest e-book, “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting- Chord Progression Formulas” is being offered for free when you purchase any other of his songwriting e-books.) Let these six e-books show you every aspect of how to write great songs! Read more..