Written by Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting“.
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Paparazzi is a recent single from Lady Gaga’s “Fame.” It’s written in a standard verse-chorus format, and it’s worth looking at various compositional elements, particularly chord progression and melodic shape. We’ll discover a few nuggets that demonstrate solid writing skills, ideas that can be easily incorporated into your own songwriting method.
To begin our study, here is a basic formal analysis of the song:
The clever part of this chord progression is that though the verse is in minor, switching to major for the chorus, all the chords actually come from one key: A-flat major. The benefit of a verse in minor with a chorus in major is obvious: it prevents the song from getting stale, and brightens the mood. The added benefit of using chords that can all be tied back to one key offers a harmonic connection that works like a musical glue. In this sense, I think of the verse as being “from” Ab major, rather than “in” any particular key.
Here are the chord progressions:
VERSE: Cm Ab Fm (from C minor, the chords would be analyzed as: i VI iv; from Ab major, they are: iii I vi)
CHORUS: Ab Eb Fm Db
The verse harmonies are “fragile”: Depending on what the songwriters choose to follow it with, you could find those chords in Ab major, F minor (with a minor V), Eb major, and so on. The chorus harmonies are strong progressions solidly indicating Ab major. The balance of fragile and strong progressions are sensibly organized; you want more fragile ones for your verse, and stronger ones in your chorus.
If you’re trying to construct harmonies that give a sense of cohesiveness to your song, I highly recommend this procedure of choosing all your chords from one key, but focusing on the minor side of the key for your verse, and the major side of the key for your chorus. As I say, the verse of this song isn’t in Ab major, but is rather a succession of three chords from Ab major. It’s the chorus that puts the song solidly in Ab major.
The melodies for both verse and chorus are beautiful and simple, an interplay of stepwise motion and melodic leaps. The verse uses a motif of a descending 5th as an important melodic element (We are the crowd, we’re c-comin’ out/ Got my flash on, it’s true..”). This descending figure is coupled with a partial descending minor scale (“We’d be so fantastical”). These two ideas are brought together in the chorus, this time with descending major scale melodic figures (“Promise I’ll be kind/ But I won’t stop until that boy is mine..”)
Like many structural elements in good songs, these may not be things we notice right away. For many listeners the actual architecture of a song may remain elusive. But relating one part of a song to another is what causes good songs to really click. What’s beautiful is that many songwriters do this instinctively, without really being aware of it. And the beauty of music analysis is that it allows us to take a song apart to discover why it works, and (most importantly for songwriters) what can we do to add this kind of songwriting intelligence to our own songs.
Gary Ewer has written six songwriting e-books that can get you writing the kinds of songs you’ve always known you could write! Read more about his books here.