I hear it everywhere. Airports, shopping malls, restaurants, bars, coffee shops, car washes and supermarkets… pretty much anywhere that blares some form of pop music from their sometimes infuriatingly hidden speakers. Maybe I always have and am just particularly “tuned in” to it now, but it does seem to be an unmitigated and maybe even sinister musical phenomenon. I pretty much hated it from the first time I caught it, like the stomach flu. There seemed to be the same amount of retching, anyway…
Actually, I should admit that’s not exactly true.
The first time I can remember its presence in my life is as a child, playing hide and seek. At a certain point in the game, after all of the counting and a great deal of fruitless searching, there comes a time to summon back the “winners” who have successfully eluded discovery:
“Olly olly oxen free! Free, free, free-ee!”
Not long afterward, a cough drop manufacturer introduced an iconic television commercial that featured a Swiss and/or German man perched high atop a picturesque mountain, bellowing his appreciation for an herbal throat lozenge whilst surrounded by sheep and edelweiss: “Riiiicolaaaaa.”
I also liked it in Morris Day & the Time’s guilty pleasure workout “Jungle Love,” although it’s a minor-key variant, as is “Ring Around the Rosie.” No, no… the first time I remember noting its usage and being very, um, dissatisfied with that listening experience was when MTV began airing “Tarzan Boy” from one-hit-wonders (and believe me, I’m still wondering) Baltimora, a pop group from Italy that turned a Tarzan yell into one of the most cloying and regrettably memorable hooks of 1985.
It is short and simple. Almost a yodel, but without all of that work. A simple melodic ostinato between the 5th and major 3rd intervals in the song’s key.
Mostly and maybe even increasingly, it serves as a clarion call to all of those like-minded, digitally proliferating emoji-laden voices that belong to the generation born between 1980 and 1999 that say: I am Millennial. Hear me shrug.
Sure, I’m being a little sarcastic for semi-comedic purposes, but there’s undeniably a veritable plethora of commercial advertisements utilizing this musical device and most appear to be aimed squarely at this particular demographic. The name of this tuneful portent is as potentially fearsome as it is cool, albeit in a Hunger Games kinda way.
They call it The Millennial Whoop.
Musician Patrick Metzger recently coined the term in “The Millennial Whoop: A Glorious Obsession with the Melodic Alternation Between the Fifth and the Third,” an article he authored and posted on Patterning.com. He describes it as “a sequence of notes that alternates between the fifth and third notes of a major scale, typically starting on the fifth. The rhythm is usually straight 8th-notes, but it may start on the downbeat or on the upbeat in different songs. A singer usually belts these notes with an ‘Oh’ phoneme, often in a ‘Wa-oh-wa-oh’ pattern. And, it is in so many pop songs it’s criminal.”
He later goes on to list many of the more notable songs that have utilized this musical figure, citing Katy Perry’s 2010 song “California Gurls” as a prime example before name-checking Fall Out Boy, Demi Lovato, Frank Ocean, twenty one pilots, American Authors, Filter, Imagine Dragons, One Direction, the Lumineers, Chris Brown, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, Justin Bieber, Kings of Leon, Green Day, Death Cab for Cutie, and dozens more, ending up at the previously mentioned “Jungle Love” and “Tarzan Boy”!
He surmises that the phrase imparts a sense of security and well-being to millions of Millennials, which is a pretty big find as it is. Add in the fact that these people just happen represent trillions of dollars in consumer spending and a lot of heads start turning.
My question is essentially, who started it? Who was the music or advertising exec that began saying “Okay, you gotta have the whoop in there! The kids, they love that.” Who did they say it to and subsequent to that, did these artists actively pursue placing the whoop in their songs? Who is this secret society? Is there a special password or a weird handshake involved? What are the dues? Who do you pay? How come I didn’t know about this earlier?
The usual concerns. It does sort of freak me out though, because for the first time, I felt there was concrete evidence of an intention to target music into a more tight-fitting, specifically shaped box than ever before; something I cast my eyes upon with great suspicion.
Look, I get it: This is Pop Music. It’s meant to appeal to a lowest common denominator, blah, blah, blah… but look at all the great legends of pop music—Led Zepplin, the Beatles, the Stones, Buddy Holly. Their music hasn’t endured because of their music’s similarities to that of other artists, but because of their unique differences.
As a pop artist and producer and, really, as a pop music fan, I think it is always wise to stay abreast of what’s happening throughout many of the musical facets within the current pop culture. Regardless of how much you may not like it or agree with their musical and sonic decisions, there is a certain empathy that is engendered through that perspective. Our favored touchstones will always inform our choices, but having an awareness of the current benchmarks in style, sound and feel, as well as the emerging technologies employed can make a significant difference in the ease in which you communicate with others in the studio and out of it, too.
Sven-Erik Seaholm is an independent record producer and performing artist. (www.kaspro.com)
Check out the Patrick Metzger article here: