Hemingway and Britney Spears

 Song chart

“It wasn’t by accident that the Gettysburg address was so short. The laws of prose writing are as immutable as those of flight, mathematics, and physics.” – Ernest Hemingway, 1945

Sam Cooke knew it. Chuck Berry knew it. Elvis and the Beatles and Britney Spears know it well. Pop songs should be 3 minutes long.  TOPS. If you start flirting with 4 minutes then you’re doing something wrong. Check out this post to get an idea of what I’m talking about.

Blame it on human attention span, nature, or convenience… the fact remains that there’s something magical in the concise. You’re able to devote so much time and energy into appreciating it because you know you don’t have to sustain that type of attention for very long. This leads to an appreciation unlike any other. Your attention isn’t simply sustained, it’s condensed. It’s more potent. Some people dismiss this as a sign of sub-par work, the same way short novels are derided. Those people are wrong.

Symphonies? bah, they’re more like movies anyway. Their characters are human emotions and their setting is the human mind. Sound tells an elaborate tale, however abstract it may be. Jazz? It’s appeal comes from improvisation–the moment-to-moment creative spontenaity, but moments themselves are even concise! Besides, pop music occupies a niche in everyone’s heart that is as illogical as it is undeniable, and this notion is based on pop songs.

My favorite writer is Ernest Hemingway, my favorite singer is Sam Cooke, and my favorite president was Lincoln. I think I’m beginning to know why.


2 Responses to Hemingway and Britney Spears

  1. I don’t agree with your absolutist stance, but you bring up an interesting point. A pop song is in a genre all its own and there is a formula that generally works the best, but to say that a pop song over or under 3 minutes is wrong is simply off base and is entirely a matter of taste.

    Baby shoes for sale. Never been worn.

  2. lithe says:

    It’s true–I was a little staunch in my opinion here. I’m just trying to stress how important this aspect of pop music is. Some of my favorite pop songs are over 4 minutes. And look at “Bohemian Rhapsody” or “Good Vibrations”!!

    But I think 3min20sec, or close to it, approaches the “ideal” in pop song length. It’s the Golden Ratio of Top 40.

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