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Read This: Pop music’s obsession with the millennial whoop

Screenshot: Katy Perry's "California Gurls"

“All pop music sounds the same!” you might have once yelled while shaking your fist at a cloud. Patrick Metzger at The Patterning suggests that your aging ears might not be deceiving you after all, in a piece called “The Millennial Whoop: A Glorious Obsession With The Melodic Alternation Between The Fifth And The Third.” The “fifth and third” refers to the notes on a major scale—so in C-major, e.g., G and E. Metzger calls that repeated alternating between the fifth and third the “millennial whoop,” though it seems unfair to pin this on an entire generation, given that it’s been a part of popular music since such a thing existed (as have, in one form or another, the “whoa-oh” sound that characterizes the so-called whoop). Quartz put together a video of contemporary hits that feature that particular progression, and between Metzger’s blog readers and Quartz, dozens of songs have been identified, from Katy Perry’s “California Gurls” to Kings Of Leon’s “Use Somebody” to Fall Out Boy’s “She’s My Winona.”

Metzger argues that the “whoop” is rooted in “teasing songs like ‘nanny nanny boo boo’ and ‘I know something you don’t know,’” evidence that the alternating fifth-third notes have been a part of the human voice for a lot longer than contemporary pop music. Still, it’s distinct enough that, as Metzger details, Ally Burnett sued Carly Rae Jepsen and Adam Young (a.k.a. Owl City), whose 2012 song “Good Time” allegedly cribbed from Burnett’s 2010 “Ah, It’s A Love Song.”


Both Quartz and Metzger call the sound annoying and grating, but before you shake your fist at the sky again, remember that it’s present in plenty of wonderful songs, from Beethoven’s piano compositions to Of Monsters And Men:

As our own Alex McCown-Levy has pointed out, “There’s no such thing as a purely original piece of art.”

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