An Interesting Question: Is Pop Music Addicted to Hand Clapping?

A Fitz and the Tantrums’ “Handclap” earworm has been going through my head for a week now. It. Just. Won’t. Stop.

I know. Even though you didn’t click on the video, the song is so ubiquitous that it’s going to run through your head for the rest of the day. Sorry about that, but this will just help make my point.

Is it the song or the handclapping that’s trying me nuts? And is it just me or are more songs relying on this rhythm trick? Maybe, looks at music’s resurgent addiction to hand clapping.

Everyone knows how to clap their hands, but no one thinks clapping is cool. The sound dredges up unwanted memories of kid songs, campfire sing-a-longs, and hokey DJs that can’t stop playing “Cha Cha Slide.” Hand clapping is the unpopular cousin of whistling. You won’t find Paul McCartney clapping at the end of a Kanye track. Nor would anyone still remember the indie earworm “Young Folks” if it not for its infectious whistle.

If hand clapping sounds old fashioned, well, that’s because it is. As a way to show applause, we’ve been doing it dating back to Roman times. And as a musical instrument, its earliest use is from the 1800s. But hand clapping didn’t really start to become ubiquitous until the 1960s and 70s, when Motown groups used it to enhance the catchiness of their songs and disco artists clapped to amplify snare drums.

Then, almost as suddenly as its popularity had grown, hand clapping fell out of favor. Perhaps it had something to do with counterculture snaps — or the rise of punk and the collective exile of disco. Either way, hand clapping collected dust throughout the 90s and early aughts, only seeing consistent use in hip-hop music as a snare replacement (see: “The Humpty Dance”).

Fast-forward to 2016, over thirty years since hand clapping ceased to dominate the airwaves, and we’re in the midst of a resurgence across all genres.

Keep reading.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.