The phrase “Top 40” is usually said with a sneer nowadays. If you listen to Top 40 music, you will be insulted or looked down on by those who listen to less popular music. The idea that being different makes you “cool” has not been swayed from the public mindset in the last fifty years. However, music is popular for a reason, right? To find answers to this question, we must look no farther than the most popular songs in the United States right now, and break them down to the best of our ability.
The glaringly noticeable thing about the most popular songs in the U.S. is that they are all sung by popular singers. Right now, Justin Bieber, Cardi B, and Bruno Mars are in the top three. Does this mean that those three artists or their songs are the greatest or most beautiful music produced in the United States right now? Unquestionably, the answer is no. So perhaps the majority of Americans do not listen to music for its beauty, but rather for recognition’s sake.
Picture this: You’re in your friend’s car, jamming out to music like you usually do. Your friend plays a song you have never heard before, and it is strikingly brilliant music. You enjoy it, though you don’t know the words of the beat, for the quality of the music delights your ears. It’s better than most music you’ve ever heard. Then, the song ends, and another begins. This time, it’s a song by your favorite singer, and you know it all by heart. This song is your anthem, it's on your “drive to work” playlist, and in your mind, you sing it like a star. So for this song, you thump the car and loudly sing along, annoying your friend but having so much fun. So which song did you enjoy more? The beautiful one, or the one you already knew by heart? If the top charts in the United States are anything to go by (and they are), the answer is the latter.
So if familiarity is one big factor in what makes certain songs more popular in the United States, what other factors are there? To determine this, we must look again at what the current most popular songs have in common. The songs “Driver's License” by Olivia Rodrigo, “Blinding Lights” by The Weeknd, and “Good Days” by SZA have all been in the Top 40 for what feels like forever. Of course, these three songs are all performed by popular artists. They also all have memorable lines and choruses. Memorability (in other words, easily memorized choruses) seems to be a big factor in song popularity. If you can memorize a song, you can sing it better, which makes the whole experience more enjoyable.
Beyond familiarity and lyric memorability, other popularity factors seem to be harder to pin down. Genre ranges, and there is no one genre that monopolizes Top 40 music. However, rap and pop are obviously disproportionately represented.
Next time you play music in the car, I dare you to leave your comfort zone. Whether you listen to Top 40 music or some indie band that no one has heard of, expanding your range is never a bad thing. An open mind will open the door to some great music you would have never experienced otherwise!