Last week, Lorde dropped this new track on us. Before you go any further in this post, you might want to give it another listen.
A lot of time, talent and money went into making sure this song had as much hit potential as possible. To understand exactly what, we need to get into a little music theory. This is from Noisey.
Heard next to each other, Lorde’s lead singles from each of her albums couldn’t be more opposed in sound. “Royals” had the New Zealand singer/songwriter memorably stalking the plentiful space around kick drums and snaps, while new single “Green Light” embraces the busy pulse of both house pianos and producer Jack Antonoff’s signature tumbling percussion. While the latter song’s sharp departure from Lorde’s hip-hop-indebted style makes sense given the legions of moody clones that have sprouted in her absence, it’s surprising nonetheless and (perhaps intentionally) doesn’t paint a clear picture of what to expect from her upcoming album Melodrama. The connecting tissue between the two songs–aside from the unmistakable vocals and wry lyrics–is the use of a common but not readily obvious melodic scale. It’s called the mixolydian mode and it’s the best, most rock and roll songwriting choice one can make.
A brief, nerdy explainer: the mixolydian mode is an old-as-shit scale that’s mostly associated with blues-based and alternative rock. You know it from “Sweet Home Alabama,” “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” and Tom Verlaine’s mind-bending guitar solo on Television’s “Marquee Moon.” The chord theory behind why these songs sound exotic is complicated to explain in words (this page does a good visual and audio lesson) but to simplify, let’s leave it at the fact that “Sweet Home Alabama'”s chord progression of D – C – G, in the key of D major, is the most mixolydian progression of all (and before any other music theory dweebs come for me in my mentions, I know that you can also interpret that as being in the key of G major). You eventually know them when you hear them, but mixolydian melodies are otherwise ridiculously tough to describe as they don’t fit into a major (happy) or minor (sad) feel. This is also what makes them special, especially when someone like Lorde unleashes them in the pop world.
You may not listen to music the same way after you read the read of this article. Thanks to Daniel for the link!