The original version of Cheerleader was released in 2012 by independent label Oufah. It features a traditional Pop/Reggae rhythm section – drums/percussion, electric bass, and electric guitar, as well as prominent sax. What it doesn’t contain are modernistic Pop or Dance/Club elements that are indicative of today’s hits. The original version found success in Jamaica, Hawaii, and Dubai, but failed to reach mainstream success in the U.S. or Europe.
Fast forward to 2013, when OMI signed to U.S. dance label Ultra Music. Ultra commissioned two remixes of Cheerleader, one of which was the Felix Jaehn Remix. This version of the song would eventually peak at No. 1, both in the U.S. and throughout the world in 2015.
In this article, excerpted from our Cheerleader Deconstructed Report, we take a close look at the compositional characteristics and elements that were changed, and in some cases remained the same, in order to turn this moderately successful Reggae-influenced Pop song into a massive international hit.
[Header1 header=” Original Version: Instrumental/Vocal Omissions”]
- Backing vocals
These elements, as they’re featured in the original version of Cheerleader, are in tune with a traditional Reggae vibe as opposed to current mainstream Pop and even less so a Dance/Club format.
These omissions were a creative choice (i.e. they COULD have been incorporated into the remix), but were important in order to make room for the other elements that would fill the void.
[Header1 header=” Original Version: Instrumental/Vocal Carryovers”]
- OMI’s lead vocal
OMI’s lead vocal was the defining characteristic in the original, so it made sense to feature it in the remix as well. The qualities remained essentially the same (i.e. a host of effects weren’t lapped onto it in the remix), with the sole difference being its sped up nature in order to match the new tempo.
Claps/snaps were featured in the remix as well, since they’re commonplace in many of today’s Pop and Dance/Club hits.
[Header1 header=” Remix Version: Instrumental Additions”]
- Kick (Electronic – four on the floor Dance/Club quality)
- Ride Cymbal (Electronic)
- Synth Bass (Percussive and sub bass)
- Synth effects
Along with the bump in tempo, the addition of the four on the floor electronic kick, percussive bass, sub bass, and synth effects helped to prime the song for success in a modern Pop & Dance/Club arena. The addition of the congas provided the song with a unique rhythmic spin, but what was arguably the most interesting changeup was the shift from sax to trumpet.
To find a sax in a mainstream hit is relatively uncommon (though there was a resurgence a while back), but to find a trumpet featured front and center delivering a key hook is almost unheard of. This clever addition provided the remix with a unique twist, which further enabled it to stand out from its mainstream contemporaries.
[Header1 header=” Remix Version: Hook Additions”]
While the original version is infectious in its own right, it doesn’t contain any prominent, distinct hooks save for the vocal in the chorus, which is a must-have in a mainstream hit. In order to further prime the song for mainstream success, the following instrumental hooks were incorporated into the song, which took its appeal and impact to the next level:
- The “Baba O’Riely” influenced piano hook in the intro, verse, instrumental break 1, and instrumental break 2.
- The percussive / sub bass hook in the chorus, instrumental break 1 Part X, instrumental break 2, and verse 2.
- The trumpet hook in chorus 2, chorus 3, instrumental break 1 Part X, and instrumental break 2.
[Header1 header=” Stylistic Changes: Remix Vs. Original”]
[Header2 header=” Harmonic Changes”]
The remix features different chord progressions, E-B-A (I-V-IV), and E-A-B-A (I-IV-V-IV). These are featured in the piano and reinforced by the bass lines.
[Header2 header=” Rhythmic Changes”]
Because the remix does not contain the original guitar part, gone are the offbeat guitar rhythms from the original, which provide it with much of its traditional Reggae vibe. The piano, the main harmonic instrument of the remix, instead plays very long rhythms (whole notes and half notes), leaving lots of open space.
The low end has also been significantly changed up for in remix. The electric bass of the original has been replaced with a grooving, syncopated synth bass part, comprised of percussive and sub bass textures. This bass line style and associated sound is characteristic of modern Dance/Club music.
The drums and percussion have been dramatically changed as well, both rhythmically and sonically. The heavy dance kick in the remix plays a four on the floor dance-style beat, where as the original features a syncopated, funkier acoustic kick part. The electronic ride cymbal in the remix matches the rhythm of the kick, playing straight quarter notes. Compared to the offbeat acoustic hi-hat rhythms of the original, this is a major departure, and more inline with a current Dance/Club vibe.
[Header2 header=”Tempo Changes”]
- Original BPM: 100
- Remix BPM: 118
The bump in tempo from 100 to 118 is exceptionally significant in the feel and appeal of the song. It instantly expanded the song’s reach both into a Club environment and a mainstream arena, where it fit right in with other upbeat, danceable, “Summer ready” hits such as Time Of Our Lives and Want To Want Me.
[Header1 header=” Vibe: Remix Vs. Original “]
The original version of Cheerleader possesses a Pop/Reggae vibe both in its vocal and backing music qualities. The remix keeps the Reggae vibe in effect primarily via the characteristics of OMI’s vocal, while the addition of the congas and percussive bass provide the song with a World/Island vibe as well. As for the sub bass and kick, they provide the song with its modern Pop and Dance/Club vibe.
[Header1 header=” The Power Of The Remix “]
Cheerleader is a perfect example of how a song with a strong foundation can be given a new lease on life with the right tweaks in order to expand its reach and success potential. In addition to Cheerleader, remix/alternate versions of other songs such as Summertime Sadness (Cedric Gervais Remix), Cruise (Remix feat. Nelly), and Bad Blood (Alternate featuring Kendrick Lamar) have all outperformed their original version counterparts on the charts.