These Are the 3 Ingredients Behind the Hit Pop Songs of 2014

Source: YouTube screenshot

Pop music is a lot like fast food. We don't consume it because it's good for us, but because it's consistent. Whenever you go into a Taco Bell, you know what you're going to get. The same idea applies to pop music, and YouTube sensation Brett Domino's new video "How To Make A Hit Pop Song" is the Food, Inc. of the pop music factory.


In the video, Domino points out the three key elements that almost guarantee that a pop song will be a hit in 2014. Artists need 1) a wonky horn sample over a funky beat 2) a sexy, provocative, easily repeatable (maybe nonsensical) vocal hook and 3) a handful of generic verse lyrics that reiterate the provocative theme of the hook.

In less than five minutes, Domino comes up with a simple melody and horn line on his bassoon. Then, he thinks up a sexy hook to repeat through his chorus, and settles on "You look sexy when you do that." Then, he lets loose. The track is instant pop gold.

It's a hilarious video, and all the more so because the list of popular songs that sound nearly identical to Domino's "You Look Sexy When You Do That" goes on for days. Most obvious is Jason Derulo's awful "Talk Dirty" and his latest "Wiggle," both of which Domino mentions in his instructional video. Macklemore's "Thrift Shop" offers all the buzzed-out horns a listener can stomach. Ariana Grande's smash "Problem" hits the formula to a T.


It's a formula that's been around for awhile, though. Jennifer Lopez's 2005 hit "Get Right" is one of the earliest instances of the song that's been cropping up in music with increasing regularity. You can hear pop producers starting to perfect the balance between obnoxious and catchy on the horn.


But this is how pop conventions evolve. A song with a new musical idea becomes a big hit, producers pick up on it, develop it, exhaust it and then move on to the next trend. A lot of pop songwriting is reverse engineering a big smash. As hit songwriter Savan Kotecha, the man behind many of One Direction's biggest songs, told Mic, "Obviously, someone can release a song — like 'Blurred Lines' — which changes the landscape, but the goal is for you to write that song. And if you didn't, you've gotta work hard to catch up and keep and open mind."

The formula outlined by Domino — instrumental hooks, syncopated horns and rap features — is the sound of pop today. How much longer it will endure is anybody's guess.

People crave the familiar in their music and in their lives up until a point, and then they need something fresh. To return to the fast food analogy, adding new menu items will get the customer base excited and up sales for a while, but it won't be long until customers eventually just resort to buying Big Macs again. It's the same with pop music — the fancy new toppings come and go, but you can always fall back on the same four chords and make a hit.

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Tom Barnes

Tom Barnes is a senior staff writer at Mic focused on music, activism and the intersection between the two. He's based in New York and can be reached at tom@mic.com.

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