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The Hit Songs Deconstructed Wire

Technique Spotlight: Holy’s “Say It Again” Hook Technique

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Following its September 2020 release, Holy hit the Billboard Hot 100 Top 10 in early October, marking Bieber and Chance’s third Top 10 collaboration following I’m The One (2017) and No Brainer (2018).  To date, Holy has reached the #3 spot on the Billboard Hot 100, where it has spent an impressive 14 weeks and counting in the Top 10.  The song has additionally reached the Top 10 in 18 countries worldwide.

While every aspect of the song is strong, including its clever love/religion-themed lyrics, engaging arrangement and unique blend of gospel, R&B, pop and hip hop genres, arguably its most memorable characteristic is its song title hook.  The hook employs what Hit Songs Deconstructed calls the “say it again” technique, which is when the same lyrics and highly similar melody are repeated in a back-to-back manner to take infectiousness and memorability to the next level.  This technique has been used in a wide array of both current and classic Top 10 hits, including Ariana’s 7 Rings, Olivia Newton-John’s Physical, Michael Jackson’s Beat It and Post Malone’s Circles, to name just a few.

Holy‘s Chorus Structure

KEY

Main Melodic Structure: Main melodic parts, such as upper-case A, B and C, reflect the main melodic structure of each line in a song section. Lines with the same main melodic part have the same or highly similar melody.

Sub Melodic Structure: Sub-melodic parts, such as lower-case a, b, c, reflect melodic structure both within and across lines.  Sub-parts with the same letter and number (i.e. a1 and a1) are identical, while sub-parts with the same letter and a different number (i.e. a1 and a2) are slightly different from one another.

/: Represents segmentation within a line, separated by a melodic changeup, rhythmic changeup or rest.

Holy‘s Chorus Melody

KEY

Lines: Represent melodic patterns.  Each individual point represents a pitch.

The listener is hit with the first “say it again” hook right at the top of the chorus, featuring the repetitive lyric “that the way you hold me, hold me, hold me, hold me, hold me.”  The lyric is paired with a stepwise descending melody that strongly adheres to Hit Songs Deconstructed’s K.I.S.S. ME principle (Keep It Simple, Singable and Memorable), creating an infectious, roll-off-the-tongue hook designed to get stuck in the listener’s head.

In addition to its infectious melody and lyrics, there are a few other key characteristics that help enable the hook to stand out and connect on a more profound level:

  • It is set up by both a partial accompaniment pull and the “yeah, it’s makin’ me say” lyric at the end of the verse, which helps the hook to hit with maximum impact.
  • Its higher, more vibrant melody contrasts the lower-register melodic setup in the verse.
  • It is doubled by a vocal choir, which both helps it to stand out against the solo vocal in the verse and heightens the religious connotation of the song established previously (e.g. “I hear a lot about sinners / don’t think that I’ll be a saint”).

However, one interesting thing to note is that the first iteration of the “say it again” hook does NOT contain the song title lyric, “holy.”  Instead, it features the closely related lyric “hold me.”  This in turn creates both rhyme connection and alliteration with the melodically-identical song title hook that follows, “feels so holy, holy, holy, holy, holy.”  Furthermore, Bieber sings the lyric “hold me” in a very loose manner that drops the “d” sound in “hold,” which helps the lyric to sound even more similar to the song title, “holy.”  Together, these lines present the clever love/relationship and religion-themed summation of the narrative in a highly infectious and memorable manner, while the lyrical changeup keeps the hook fresh.

Following the hook repetition across the first two lines of the chorus, lines 3-5 introduce two new melodies to heighten engagement and prevent the hook from becoming overly redundant.  This changeup is then followed by a return to familiar territory with a reprise of the “’Cause the way you hold me, hold me, hold me, hold me, hold me” hook in line 6.

Line 7 then closes out the chorus with a variation of the song title hook, “feels so holy.”  However, while the melody feels brand new, the beginning of it is actually very similar to the “way you hold” melody from lines 1 and 6 and the “feels so hol-“ melody in line 2.  Furthermore, its last two pitches (“ho-ly”) are identical to the last two pitches of all of the previous “say it again” hooks, both melodically and rhythmically.  This, in addition to the line ending on the root F#, closes the chorus out on a fresh yet familiar and resolute note.

All in all, Holy is a great example of the widely used ”say it again” hook technique, expertly fusing its infectious melody with repetitive yet engaging lyrics to create one unforgettable hook.

Subscribers can check out the full Hit Song Techniques Library here. Each technique includes analysis, visualization and audio clips.

About the Hit Song Techniques Library:

This curated library provides you with some of the most effective tools and techniques that today’s hitmakers use to send their songs to the top of the charts. Each technique includes analysis, visualization and audio clips.

Technique analysis categories include: Hook Techniques, Intro Techniques, Outro Techniques, Duet/Group Lead Vocal Structure Techniques, Audience Participation Moment Techniques, Energy Techniques, Section Impact Accentuator Techniques, Sub-Genre Fusion Techniques, Chorus Vocal Structure Techniques, Departure Section Techniques, Prosody Techniques, Rhyme Techniques, and Motifs.

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