by Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website.
Let’s get this much out of the way: The lyrics for “I Gotta Feeling” are not the reason it’s been such a successful chart-topper. But there’s got to be a reason why this song has enjoyed so many weeks on the Billboard Hot 100. This song may be simply joining that long list of songs that gets people’s attention at a certain point in time, without a strong musical reason to explain it.
There’s a natural instinct for writers of music, whether it’s pop song, Classical, or anything in between, to be unique somehow. Most songs are a mixture of predictable elements with some innovation thrown in. For pop song writers looking to score big with a hit, you’ll want that formula to be balanced considerably in the direction of predictability. That’s because in order to appeal to the mainstream of society, you need to fit into that society’s basic blueprint. Depending on how you define success, some might feel that “I Gotta Feeling” could be described as one of the worst songs to be this successful.
My feeling, however, is that when this many people like a song, there’s got to be something there in the architecture of that song that makes it work. What is it?
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“I Gotta Feeling” is simple. It has a basic high energy level that doesn’t really evolve much as the song progresses. It’s got a chord progression that doesn’t change. It’s melody, when it happens, is never altered from it’s original presentation. There is no lyrical development as such. So it begs the question: Does this song work? And if so, how?
There are a couple of elements that help this song succeed. The first to consider is the melodic shape of the chorus and the subsequent development of that melodic material. The melody is comprised of cells that require the singer to reach upward by leap, and then descend by step. That upward leap is a small energetic shot that does what melodic hooks often do: it’s distinctive, short and memorable.
That melodic leap in the chorus also acts as a motif that is used in the verse that begins at 1’50” (“I know that we’ll have a ball..”) In fact, the descending melodic cells become more numerous, building a sort of energy through the verse.
The other element that helps this song succeed is the rhythmic surprises that occur in the verses. These short moments of silence that are thrown into various spots throughout the song give the rhythmic energy a momentary kick. This technique works especially well in songs like this that are so repetitive.
And the final ingredient that helps this song succeed is its repetitious nature. It gets people up. It’s happy. You can’t get simpler lyrics than this. Sometimes, when a song’s message is to simply say,”Get happy..” you can clutter a song up by trying to be more than that.
History has a way of filtering out songs that are weak, or relevant only to a particular moment in time. History will decide if “I Gotta Feeling” will be remembered much in a few years. In that regard it reminds me of “Everybody Have Fun Tonight” by Wang Chung. A big hit at the time, but doesn’t really figure as anything important in pop music history. “I Gotta Feeling” is successful if the point is to sit atop the Billboard Hot 100. And congratulations to you if you can do the same. It’s just… you’d better come up with something a bit deeper for your next hit!
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