The Hit Songs Deconstructed Wire

Scream & Shout



Futuristic, egotistic, repetitive, dark, evocative, generic, clever, cliché, unique, familiar, ultra-infectious, fun and of course, “Britney bitch!” These are just some of the terms that describe Will.i.am’s collaboration with Britney Spears on the third single from his forthcoming album, #willpower.

Since its release back in November 2012, Scream & Shout has gone on to hit #1 in an astounding 21 countries on 23 charts.  Amongst the many factors that aided in making the song a top-charting hit, one of the most important was the nature of the vocal melody. Here we’re going to take a look at one specific section – the first stanza of the second verse. It’s a good representation of what made the vocal melody so effective throughout the entire song.

Key: Green Diamond (Eighth-Note), Yellow Diamond (Sixteenth-Note) – Red Diamond (Rest)


As you can see in the graphic above, it’s built on one core premise – simplicity. But simplicity doesn’t necessarily mean a lack of effectiveness. On the contrary, it’s very effective.

First, regarding the progression notice that the entire section is sung with a monotone G delivery EXCEPT for the last lyric/syllable of each phrase, which drops down an octave to conclude. It’s this subtle differentiating factor that keeps the section from becoming overly monotonous and wind up causing the listener to lose interest.

Next, notice the length of each phrase and how they end. They’re all short and “segmented” from one another by an eighth-rest and drop an octave down to G to conclude as previously mentioned. What this does is enhance the memorabilty and engagement factor of the section by giving the listener that split second to have each phrase sink in. Think about it as trying to remember a phone number. It’s much easier to remember 212-555-1212 than 2125551212!

And third, considering the mostly monotone nature of the vocal delivery, it’s up to the rhythm to come to the rescue in order to make the section infectious. In this case, each phrase in the stanza consists of eighth and sixteenth notes, except for the start and end of the section. Notice that each of those phrases consists of an eighth – sixteenth – eighth – sixteenth – eighth – eighth – eighth – eighth rhythm, which brings us to why this melody gets totally engrained within the listeners head – uniformity and repetition:

  • Besides the quick “rock & roll” lead-in, all of the phrases utilize the exact same rhythm.

  • Each phrase consists of 8 syllables.

  • Each phrase is segmented by an eighth-rest.

  • Each phrase concludes by dropping down an octave on G.

  • Each phrase is sung with a monotone G delivery.

Now – you might be saying that this style of melody is everything that’s wrong with Pop music today. It’s “shallow,” “repetitive,” “devoid of emotion and pretty much monotonous. What you need to keep in mind, though, is what the intended use is for the song. People aren’t listening to Scream & Shout for a deep, life altering listening experience. They’re listening because its entertaining, and it makes them FEEL GOOD. And here the vocal melody is acting as more of a rhythmic instrument to accentuate the dance vibe rather than tryiuto achieve anything Adle in nature (apples and oranges).

So no matter

Will.i.am’s vocal in this section (and Britney’s in verses 1 and 3) are being used more as rhythmic instruments than to provide a soaring, engaging melody (that comes during the chorus – but that’s a whole other topic to be discussed). Remember, people aren’t listening to Scream & Shout for a deep, life altering listening experience. They’re listening because its entertaining, and it makes them FEEL GOOD.

No matter what type of music you write.