Why The Black Eyed Peas' "I Gotta Feeling" Has Been Such a Success

by Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website.

b_e_pLet’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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Posted in Song Analyses and tagged , , , , , .

14 Comments

  1. I’m going to have to be the bad guy here… “I’ve Gotta Feeling” has got to be one of the worst songs I’ve ever heard in my life. Ironically, it depresses me greatly despite the “happy-go-lucky” nature of the song (not just the lyrics). I believe there’s a fundamental difference between successfully making a song simple/happy and making it shallow, uninspired, and just plain terrible.

    I’m somewhat of a musician myself, but I’m not going to claim to have a deep understanding of how music works (because I don’t). Also, I’m not what people would call a “snobbish, music intellectual on a high horse”. I can appreciate music on the basic level of “wanting to dance to it”. That being said, here is how I interpret what good music is:

    1. The more simplicity, the more effective the music. Anyone (with a degree in music) can make a convoluted piece riddled with Phrgyian modes, 7/8 timing, and technical jargon for lyrics. I am saying that there is a direct relationship between how good a piece is and how simple it is. But there is also an inverse relationship between that previous relationship and how easy it is to pull off. Crank Dat Soulja Boy is beyond simplistic, but it’s a horrible song. Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady” is essentially two chords, but it has qualities that distinguish it and make it a classic… the lasting power the OP talked about.

    2. In the context of the previous point (simplicity is key), the melody must be inspired and the rhythm must GROOVE.

    3. To some extent, good music provokes. That doesn’t mean everyone has to be Marilyn Manson, but I don’t think that being “harmless” is necessarily a positive trait.

    4. Most importantly, what sets apart a good song is that it will present something NEW. While everyone borrows from someone else, that doesn’t excuse unoriginality. I’m going to have to respectfully disagree with the poster who claims “I’ve Got a Feeling” is relavent to ANY time. I’m sorry, but there is nothing significant, deep, or positive in singing about how “tonight’s gonna be a good night”.

    5. Lastly, soul can, if necessary, stand in place of all other points. The Blues is a perfect example of this. This form of music is about as generic as it gets: lyrics about heartbreak, one (pentatonic) scale, no room for atypical sonic experimentation, an overarching chord structure (E to A, A to E), etc. A huge generalization, sure, but a valid one at that. The difference is that players like Freddie King, SRV, Albert King, Muddy Waters, etc add so much COLOR to this formula which in the end results in sonic bliss (at least for me).

    I’ve Gotta Feeling absolutely fails in all these regards. In fact, it never gets off the ground on all platforms. It’s so void of anything sonically interesting that all it can do is get stuck in your head. If you can dance to it, well then good for you. I just feel like we as a society are always settling for the most generic, manufactured, inoffensive, uninspired BS we can get our hands on. There is a distinction between 50 Cent and The Roots, as much as some might like to validate an affinity towards the former. If all of this makes me an elitist, then I’m guilty as charged.

    For the record, I can appreciate pop music. I like Duran Duran. That Corey Hart song “I Wear My Sunglasses At Night” is a good song, imo. There’s that one song by Berlin that was in Top Gun that I enjoy. Perhaps there’s a kitsch appeal, but for some reason I don’t think I’m going to fondly look back at “Poker Face” in 20 years in the same way that some of my mentors do at Hewey Lewis and the News. Perhaps I’m a pessimist. Sorry for bringing the “haterade”.

    As a closing thought, it ticks me off that apparently musicianship isn’t required in music anymore. Lip synching has always been the musical equivalent to Leprosy, but now autotune is celebrated. Sorry for the rant, but I will truly be surprised if anyone will remember “I’ve Got A Feeling” in a couple years’ time. Does anyone remember that Kelly Clarkson song where she’s breaking things in her apartment? Didn’t think so. Oh well, at least she can actually sing for real.

    • Agree with Narsen-
      I G A F is a placebo

      NO soul
      Rudimentary and uninspired lyrics
      Complete computerized drivel

      Great Live Show though

    • “I will truly be surprised if anyone will remember “I’ve Got A Feeling” in a couple years’ time.”

      Worldwide “I Gotta Feeling” by The Black Eyed Peas has sold nearly 13 millions units, becoming one of the most successful songs in the history of popular music.

      SURPRISE!

  2. The opening couple of lines are all I listen to and they become like an ‘ear worm’ making me want to sing them over and over,sometimes out loud to others,because they’re happy,catchy, and optimistic and tend to get me in a good mood,something like the song that goes ‘I can see clearly now the rain is gone…”.The rest of the song is just OK for me but I like when the song comes on the radio…and I’m in my 50’s! So there seems to be some common song characteristics that carry on through time and make songs appealing from genre to genre and generation to generation.

  3. A lot of this music is played in clubs, bars, etc. and the people that attend such venues not only like to dance, but they often “have a feelin” (or at least a hope) that the night will be really adventurous and memorable… or as the BEP put it, “a good night” …it’s a salute to that culture and those people in addition to being a high energy dance song with catchy hooks and easy to sing lyrics.

    That’s my interpretation from a non-technical aspect. It’s as much a cultural hit as it is musical.

  4. Actually, I am an outsider of music. I just enjoy listening music. For ” I Gotta Feeling “, first time I listen it, was in youtube.com with their MV. This song gave me a strong feeling that it is a bitter song. Maybe that was the worst moment in the World after WWII, this song gave me a sense that a person lack of confident for the future, so let’s enjoy NOW. It remind me the hippy in 70s. But “I Gotta Feeling” is a good song in 2009, it worth to stay in Billboard Hot 100 for long week.

  5. I don’t think the song works, actually. Trying to understand why it’s a hit by analyzing at its musical qualities is like looking for that proverbial black cat. The cat isn’t there – it’s all about marketing. It’s succesfull because there’s big money behind it, no more no less.

  6. A lot of people hate the black eyed peas, and I can’t understand why. It’s a killer band with almost no weaknesses. Great songs, great rapping, great singing, they got the looks, the production values and are really original.
    The song “I got a feeling” it’s completely diferent than any other song they recorded before. I think it was a real gamble. Wich makes it even more merit worthy. In my opinion what sets this song appart and makes it a hit is the production approach by Will I Am. I know we are taling about songwriting. But in this case I believe the recording is what makes it so special

  7. Pingback: Universidad de Quebec – I Gotta Feeling | Lo Mas Interesante

  8. Good point. And you know what, rereading what I said, made me see the hypocrit in me. 🙂 I don’t have enough academic background in music to speak to the fundamentals of music composition, but I’ve Gotta Feeling they are similar in many respects to the fundamentals of visual art. And I believe composition is key to success in visual art. Even when you break compositional conventions, it’s the other conventions that often ensure the work still succeeds. (or fails)

    When I think of those, and translating them, the ones that seem to make the song work for me are:
    – repetition – lots of it – but with enough variation to sustain interest
    – a variety of vocal “textures” evident on most of this band’s work
    – combinations of both hard edges – those sudden stops – and soft edges where the verses and passages bleed over into each other.
    – but most of all, the I get the narrative of the song not just through the lyrics, but through both the vocals and the instrumentation. There is a feeling throughout the song of more and more anticipation of something good about to happen. I think it is the melodic steps up you talk about, but the volume steps up too, and the vocal highlights (oooooh hooooo) punctuate the top of the steps.

    Thanks for making me think more about this. Time to listen to some more music!

  9. I agree that it’s successful (hence the title of my posting). And I think you make an important point, that music, more than anything, needs to move people – affect them in some way. Music that impresses our intellect without moving our hearts is doomed to be quickly forgotten.

    But (and here’s where opinion comes into it) I do believe that the songs that have staying power are the ones that can move our hearts as well as give us something unique, something special, that stimulates our intellect.

    On Twitter earlier today, I tweeted about two songs that reached number 1 on this date: “Hey Jude” in 1968, and “Rock Me Gently” by Andy Kim in 1974. Both were number 1 hits, but you’d have to wait a long, long time to hear “Rock Me Gently” on the radio these days, while “Hey Jude” is still being played every day somewhere.

    So in my opinion, while I agree with your assertion that successful music moves people, I would say that most people need more than that for it to have long-term staying power.

    Thanks very much for your comment!

  10. Successful music moves people. Whether the lyrics, the percussion, the melody, or the vocal dynamics are simple or complex, if it moves people, it works. Elitism and academic critique doesn’t fool people who are inspired to dance or sing-along. This song is hard not to like – even for elitists.

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