About three weeks ago, Miley Cyrus published a new song called “Flowers,” which you probably already heard. If you haven’t, here’s the music video:
When I first heard it, I didn’t like it, particularly the chorus. At first, I didn’t care much about it and thought it was just another song I didn’t like.
With the promotion of the song, which probably included paying big influencers to promote it on TikTok, I heard the chorus in more and more videos, particularly on TikTok.
At one point, when I heard the song again, I switched on my conscious mind to figure out the melody notes and the chords and I realized why I didn’t like the chorus.I don’t do this all the time, but sometimes I consciously figure out the melody notes of a song when I listen to it, either because I like the song or because I don’t. Both are good lessons in learning what works and what doesn’t.
While I don’t have absolute pitch, I have a good relative pitch. So I can’t tell you the key of the song, but I can tell you the melody notes and the chords just by listening to it without using any instruments. This is a really important skill for songwriting, by the way!
It’s one thing to know all the theories I teach in my courses and books, but it’s more important to recognize them by ear.
So first of all, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying this is a bad song. There are many factors that determine the quality of a song, such as production, arrangement, or the vocalist.
But of course, I truly believe that the melody, the chord progression, and the relationship between the melody and chord progression are the most important aspects of any song. And that’s exactly what I don’t like about the chorus.
Let’s look at the chord progression. These are the chords of the chorus:
Am – Dm – G – C
VIm – IIm – V – I
If you’re familiar with jazz standards, you know that this is a jazzy chord progression, despite the fact that they’re only triads. This is, partly, the chord progression of the classic jazz standard “Autumn Leaves,” but it’s also the chord progression of “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor from 1978.
While this set of chords is very often used in today’s pop songs, the order of the chords makes this chorus sound outdated. For example, play these same four chords in a different order, like this:
C – Dm – Am – G
I – IIm – VIm – V
It sounds more “modern” or less outdated, right? After analyzing more than 2,000 songs, I’ve realized why certain chord progressions and melodies sound outdated or overused. And that’s what I teach in the songwriting course.
The chord progression can make the chorus sound outdated and overused. To make the song sound more modern and fresh, try out this chord progression with the original melody:
Although this chord progression (VIm – IV – I – V) is also a bit overused, if you listen to the melody with these chords, it will have a more modern sound.
Some may argue that many songwriters today are drawing inspiration from the 80s. That is true, but not in terms of melody and chord progression. They create the 80s sound with the arrangement and the instrumentation, but the chord progressions and the melodies are very modern.
For example, the arrangement and instrumentation of Ed Sheeran’s “Overpass Graffiti” sound like something from the 80s, but the melody and chord progression are very modern. If you just play the chords and the vocal melody of this song (like in this acoustic version), it will sound modern. It is exactly how songs have been written in the past 5 to 10 years.
So in other words, if you write a melody that is not outdated or overused, but modern, your song will sound fresh, no matter the instrumentation! It would sound modern and fresh even if you perform it only with a guitar or a piano. (If you want to learn how to do this, go through my Songwriting Essentials course.)
Now you may question why I criticize the song when it is successful, having reached 150 million views on YouTube in under three weeks, and undoubtedly many people like it.
It’s important to note that the song itself is not the sole factor in its success. This is especially true for well-known artists. Miley Cyrus, is a well-known brand worldwide, with close to 200 million followers on Instagram, 17 million on YouTube, and 47 million on Facebook.
In addition, a significant amount of money was likely spent on promoting the song. For instance, 150 million views on YouTube can be bought by spending approximately 200,000 dollars on ads, which is not a large amount of money for a major artist. Major record labels typically spend about 1 million dollars to promote just one song.
I’m not saying that all of those views are due to YouTube ads, but the mere number of views doesn’t necessarily indicate the quality of a song. The reality is, it’s challenging to determine what contributes to such high view counts for a popular artist.
Well-known artists may “get away” with releasing mediocre songs, but for an unknown artist, this type of chorus likely wouldn’t succeed.
The song isn’t fundamentally flawed; it is well-produced and performed, and there are other songwriting techniques and tools used in it. However, the chord progression and melody concepts are definitely not typical and sound outdated.
One thing is certain, I didn’t like the chorus melody from the first (or several) listens, and this is just a theory as to why that may be. What’s your opinion? Do you like the song?
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About the Author
Producer, songwriter at Bánhidy András, and Barrio Latino Hungría. Author of The Rhythm Code.