Tune Up: Many cooks dish pop slop

22 May 2015 - 02:07 By © Neil McCormick, The Daily Telegraph

What does it take to write a pop song? After all, it is rarely more than three verses, a chorus and a hook. But publishing credits suggest that huge teams are involved in concocting even the most trite contemporary hit.The current number one single in the UK, Cheerleader by Jamaican vocalist Omi, is credited to five writers, two producers and a remixer. All this for a bouncy bubblegum ditty rhyming "cheerleader" with "I need her". The whole top 10 features 40 different writers and 19 producers. You have to ask: Just how many songwriters does it take to change a chorus?The age of the singer-songwriter, which dawned with the rise of Bob Dylan, elevated the notion of the singular troubadour, writing and performing songs entirely solo. But today the award for most-performed work is likely to go to a rather different kind of singer-songwriter.Sam Smith has been nominated for Stay With Me, credited to five composers, two of whom were not even in the room while it was being written.The convoluted nature of contemporary songwriting was brutally illuminated when Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke were ordered to payR88-million to the Marvin Gaye estate after their global smash Blurred Lines was judged to have been based on Gaye's 1977 hit Got To Give It Up.How did songwriting get this complicated? The sampling culture of hip-hop certainly played a big part in changing the way songs are created, legitimising the notion of constructing new tracks out of old ones.In 2011, a US radio station worked out how much it cost to create Rihanna's Man Down. It established that R625000 was spent in advance just bringing the four writers and producers together. According to witnesses, it then took all of 12 minutes to write. The final budget for recording and marketing was an eye-watering R13-million. But the single was a flop.A recent hit, Take Me To Church , a powerful, gospel blues attack on organised religion, written and performed by Irish singer-songwriter Hozier, was recorded in the attic of his parents' bedroom.It's a song that rose up from the depths of the internet to become a global hit and, potentially, a modern classic. Even Hozier has proclaimed himself astonished by the song's success."Whatever it is, it's not pop music," he said. But that's where he's wrong, because even in our overly self-aware age, it turns out that pop does not always have to be cynically manufactured and designed by committee. Sometimes, it just takes a bit of magic.

This article is reserved for Sunday Times subscribers.

A subscription gives you full digital access to all Sunday Times content.

Already subscribed? Simply sign in below.

Registered on the BusinessLIVE, Business Day or Financial Mail websites? Sign in with the same details.

Questions or problems? Email helpdesk@timeslive.co.za or call 0860 52 52 00.