The Hit Songs Deconstructed Wire

What Makes ‘Stay’ Stand Out when Compared to its Mainstream Contemporaries?



What Makes Stay Stand Out when Compared to its Mainstream Contemporaries?

Released in February 2017, Stay is a collaboration between EDM DJ/producer Zedd and vocalist Alessia Cara, whose emotive vocals bring the lovelorn lyrics to life. While the song possesses many characteristics that enable it to easily connect with a wide mainstream audience, it’s the atypical characteristics that enable it to stand out and get noticed. Among the most notable are its Retro Disco and Funk influences, instruments such as vocoder and a ticking clock, and an atypically fragmented chorus that grabs the listener’s attention and doesn’t let go.

To date, Stay has landed in the Top 10 on 20 charts throughout the world, peaking at #1 on three including the Billboard US Hot Dance/Electronic Songs and US Mainstream Top 40.  

Below we explore some of the key compositional characteristics that made Stay stand out from the pack and connect with the listener on a heightened level.

Genre Standout: Retro Disco

Late 1970s / early 1980s Disco is not a typical influence found in the Top 10. It’s even more rare for a song to feature the influence in only one particular section. However, this is the case with Stay, which shifts into Retro Disco mode for the first and only time in the second pre-chorus. This differs from other mainstream hits that feature the influence throughout the majority of the song, such as I Feel It Coming and Get Lucky.

Genre Standout: Funk

Funk is not a typical influence found in current Top 10 hits. In Q2-2017, only two other songs featured the influence – I Feel It Coming (The Weeknd featuring Daft Punk) and That’s What I Like (Bruno Mars).

Melodic Standout: Rhythmically Fragmented Chorus

The chorus vocals in Stay are more rhythmically fragmented than is commonly found in Top 10 hits. This provides the chorus, and the song, with a unique standout quality in relation to many of its mainstream contemporaries.

Instrument Standout: Vocoder, Ticking Clock and Marching Snare

Vocoder, marching snare, and the tick of a clock, which are used to great effect in Stay, are quite rare in the Top 10 of the Hot 100. Two of the most notable recent and semi-recent hits that feature vocoder are Starboy (The Weeknd featuring Daft Punk), and Get Lucky (Daft Punk, Pharrell Williams, Nile Rodgers). A clock tick was featured in Justin Beiber’s What Do You Mean, and no recent Top 10 hits utilize a marching snare drum.

Harmony Standout: Augmented Chord

The Ab augmented chord found in the instrumental breaks, second pre-chorus, and third chorus is an extremely rare chord type to find not only in the Top 10, but anywhere in mainstream music. It’s more prevalent in Jazz and Funk music.

Sample Standout: Hummed Vocals

While the use of sung and spoken vocal samples in the Top 10 is commonplace, hummed vocals are not. Bearing a strong resemblance to Banks’s Poltergeist and featured in select sections throughout the song, this downtrodden, hummed vocal sample both accentuates the impact of the narrative and provides Stay with a unique quality compared to many of its mainstream contemporaries.

Section Standout: Instrumental Break Post Chorus

The instrumental break post chorus was not a common section in Top 10 hits in Q2-2017. The only other song to include this section was Country crossover Body Like A Back Road, which only contains one (Stay contains two).

Narrative Standout: Time

Love/relationships is the most widely used lyrical theme among songs that land in the Top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100. In order to provide it with a fresh and engaging spin, it’s communicated with a “time” connotation as portrayed in the chorus. The impact of the narrative is cleverly accentuated by the use of the ticking clock in the accompaniment.

Line 1: All you have to do is stay a minute
Line 2: Just take your time
Line 3: The clock is tickin’
Line 4: So stay
Line 5: All you have to do is wait a second
Line 6: Your hands on mine (ties in with “hands” of a clock)
Line 7: The clock is tickin’
Line 8: So stay

Last month Hit Songs Deconstructed released Stay deconstructed, which takes a deep dive into the songwriting and production techniques that helped make it a global hit.  

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