One of the wonderful things about music is that there’s no one right way to make an amazing song.
In fact, oftentimes, two equally great songs can have polar opposite strengths. Lyrics can be stunning in their complexity, or breathtaking in their simplicity. A vocal performance can be touchingly subtle, or earth-shaking and powerful. The music can be full of bass drops that get you our of your seat, or melodies that make you just kinda gaze off into the distance all misty-eyed.
You get the point. Anything can work if it’s executed well.
One shining example of this is “Girls Like You”, the latest smash hit from Maroon 5. Previously in this series of articles, I’ve written about moving details in lyrics, impressive slant rhymes, and varied melodies that keep the song fresh. “Girls Like You” doesn’t really have any of that. The music is simple. The lyrics are simple. The music is repetitive. The lyrics are repetitive.
So why does it work?
Because it is simplicity done right.
It starts right off the bat, with the palm-muted guitar notes laying down a nice steady background for the vocals, which are on the reserved side themselves. The bare-bones approach to the beginning of this song let’s Adam Levine’s vocal talent really shine; he’s not competing with any loud, up-beat electronic noise. It’s just his voice and a guitar, which works beautifully.
And the song kind of follows that formula throughout. Yes, it picks up a bit, and you get some drums coming through, but it keeps grooving along in its nice little pocket. It never gets too big, and it never tries to be something that it isn’t.
Part of this, I think, comes down to artistic self-awareness. When you know you have a simple little melody that’s going to get stuck in people’s heads for twelve weeks in a row, you don’t have to do too much; let that melody breathe.
I also want to draw attention to something that Maroon 5 has been using to great success in a lot of their hits of the last ten years: quarter notes.
Seriously. Listen to “Girls Like You”, or “Payphone”, or “Love Somebody”. All the catchiest parts have DRIVING quarter note pulses, with the lyrics and music lining up on every beat. Humans are, generally speaking, big fans of easily identifiable patterns, and in music, it doesn’t get “easier” than quarter notes.