White people are the undisputed masters of making catchy music. American and European pop songs make their way onto the airwaves of the entire world through a robust mechanism of economic globalization and sheer memetic power. But why is the music we make so catchy to just about all ears? And who doesn’t find our music appealing? It would be easy to chalk it up to the undeniable creative strength of our people, but like all endeavors in the arts in the modern world, songwriting has taken on the forms of science and cynical commercialism. The best example to point towards would be that of our Nordic brethren in the fair land of Sweden, the thirdmost productive hitmaker  per capita in the entire world, behind only America and Britain.
Sweden’s public education system is unique in its music offerings. Pupils can choose music as the main track  of their academic career, immersing them in theory, songwriting, performance, and musical professionals who have already made their mark on the industry. Swedish culture places an emphasis on songwriting and music as a career, and not an aspiration — “pop musician” is a job with an education track, rather than an anomaly of fame. This seems noble on the face of it. Rather than leave the arts up to invisible (or visible) hands to fiddle with, the path towards culture is democratized into the hands of Swedish youth.
The success of the Swedish experiment is self-evident. Max Martin , who may be the world’s most successful music producer, insists  that he has “public music education to thank for everything.” He grew up in Stenhamra, a suburb of Stockholm, where he was able to take advantage of Sweden’s music education programs to learn French horn  before forming the glam metal band It’s Alive. Through It’s Alive, Martin met Denniz Pop and others associated with the Cheiron label — Martin’s input in Cheiron helped spawn that perennial favorite , Ace of Base’s Happy Nation / The Sign. He rode this to great success; Martin was the production brain behind everything from Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears, Celine Dion, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, and an endless list of others. Martin isn’t just a relic of the 90s, either; he cracked #22 on Billboard’s year-end list of producers  for 2019, mostly drowned out by American hip-hop producers. Beside producers, Swedish pop acts that saw massive international success include Europe, The Cardigans, ABBA, Rednex, Robyn, Eric Prydz, Basshunter, Avicii, Tove Lo — the list continues. Listen to the radio? You’ve heard plenty of Swedes.
While this success can be partially attributed to good public policy, there is an element missing from the equation. We could dump billions into training American schoolchildren how to be rocket scientists, but unless our nation’s youth have a knack for propulsion, we might not get anywhere. The Atlantic offers a few explanations , even including a tepid disclaimer that the Swedish pop prowess has no biological basis:
Swedes speak English. It’s true — 89% of them . English alone does grant some access to the global market, but that alone isn’t a recipe for success. The Swedes’ English is, however, remarkably good; you wouldn’t be foolish for thinking pop songs penned by Swedes were actually written by an Anglophone. One of the more recent (and in my opinion, amusing) examples of this would be the vulgarities spewed by Swedish cloud rappers .
Swedes are cosmopolitan. That’s undeniable; always at the cutting edge of globalizing forces, Sweden keeps up with trends from abroad and is very happy to force them down the throats of the citizenry. I would crack a joke here about the memes, but that almost seems cruel.
Swedes have many musical role models. National heroes in modern Swedish culture include the behemoths of ABBA, Europe, and other groups that dominated Anglophone airwaves at the height of the glam rock era, setting both an example and a standard for Swedish music in years to come. Imagine Björn Ulvaeus’ spirit looking over your shoulder in the recording booth.
The Swedish government pours money into the industry. Yes.
Even those don’t fully explain the Swedish phenomenon adequately enough. It’s good and well to point at the why’s and how’s of Swedish pop stars rising to prominence, but the music they write must have some kind of substance or innate goodness behind it for it to be consumed worldwide. One could argue from a high place here and claim that the Swedish government is simply handing the tools needed to tap into the European creative spirit to the youth, with great things coming as a result. There is some truth to that, but this ignores a very important piece of the pedagogic puzzle; Swedish music schools are able to turn teenagers into phenoms because they, and the world more generally, have the methods of pop music production down to a literal science.
Take the aforementioned legend Max Martin, for instance, whose production style  of slamming American bass-heavy, hip-hop-inspired beats together with lighter melodic interspersions led to the sound we hear on the radio all of the time now. Songs are crafted assembly-line style; people with the ears for melody compose beats and shoot them off towards pop songwriters in a very efficient process that helps keep pop radio chock full of commuter fodder. These are the methods taught to Swedish music students; methods that have some pretty solid psychological credibility.
Even still, we haven’t fully explained why pop music is so catchy, just how catchy songs are made so easily and quickly — and who makes them. Researchers Alison Pawley and Daniel Mullensiefen at the University of London teased out the common attributes  of England’s favorite pop tunes of all time, identifying four key characteristics:
- Longer and detailed musical phrases.
- A higher number of pitches in the chorus hook.
- Male vocalists.
- Higher male voices with noticeable vocal effort.
Of course, there are exceptions to all of these things, as well as important caveats. Martin is fond of vaguely describing pop music as being complicated, but not too complicated. Male vocalists work great across many genres, but are less favored in dance music, where a low register could interfere with the bassline . It is two and four that are most interesting for our purposes, which is getting at the memetic power of a pop track; significant variation in the melodic arrangement of the chorus hook means that there is greater distinction between notes in the chorus, making it easier for us to remember because of our highly-refined sense of relative pitch memory , a phenomenon also observed by Mullensiefen. In other words, the more different notes in a chorus are, the more likely we are to remember them. This could explain, in part, why the so-called “millennial whoop ” is a mainstay in pop music; simple enough to be exceedingly familiar, yet it hits the sweet spot in melodic variation: up, down, up, down, up, down!
The “noticeable vocal effort” component is worth a mention as well, since in the aforementioned study by Mullensiefen and Jakubowski, the memorability of a tune was impacted by the “music-elicited emotions” from the song — in other words, does the track make us feel something? It’s why we remember Kurt Cobain screaming about mosquitoes and his libido, even if you had no idea what the hell he was saying at the time; he was saying it like it meant something. These textbook pop rules are subject to some constraints, of course — the average Joe likes hearing music that stays in key and doesn’t hurt our eardrums, which is why industrial never truly saw its moment in the limelight despite following all of these rules. Or, at least, until Trent Reznor composed Pretty Hate Machine in verse-chorus structure and sampled Prince. But that’s beside the point.
When a song is truly catchy, it doesn’t need to make much sense at all. I mentioned “Teen Spirit” and its blablublabloowww refrain, but there are endless examples of pop tunes that are either unintelligible or consisting of lyrics that are complete nonsense. This is another area in which the Swedes seemed to have hit upon something true about how the human mind understands music: lyrics play a backseat role  when crafting a banger beyond their ease of reproduction:
“For Sweden [melody is] number one and has always been,” [Ace of Base member Ulf Ekberg] says. “While the Americans, it’s the lyrics first, production second and melody last. I am not saying the lyrics are not important, but for us Swedes, for whom English is our second language, we just try to make it understood by a world audience. Because of this focus on lyrics, some of the American songs are complicated and can sometimes be not much fun. While for us, we always try to reach to as many people as we can, so we have feel-good melodies and simple lyrics so everyone can have fun.”
Got it. Keep it simple, catchy, fun; fly me to the moon, and let me play among the stars. The message of the song seems to bypass our higher-level faculties, instead becoming a vehicle that carries an earworm melodic hook. That’s fine when lyrics are either meaningless or just amusing. But what happens when this curiosity of the Western mind gets turned against us? What happens when pop music is taken over by people who have ill wishes against us, who might start injecting catchy hooks full of brain poisons of the worst kinds? I am a young man, so I have been mildly inebriated and irked in one too many house parties with “Mo Bamba ” blaring on the speakers. I find white teenagers slurring “I got hooooeeeees” a bit unbecoming.
Will we even notice just how absurd the music we’re dancing to is? Some of us have, and have therefore tuned out, judging by my readership’s taste in music. Far too many of us are still plugged in, though, which is less of a glitch in the mind of our people than it is an attack on the very thing that made us great in the first place. Like many things made possible by the clinical, observant minds of whites, the precision of pop can become a vector for the worst possible of mind viruses.
But just what kind of propaganda could be pushed through radio hits? And more importantly — what can we do about it?
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