Is the bridge becoming a lost art form?
As usual, the issue seems to involve TikTok.
“Why are pop songs with a bridge a dying breed?” tweets Australian pop musician Hatchie, garnering thousands of retweets and comments from pop fans around the world.
Hatchie’s tweet sparked a conversation among music fans, with many thinking about the lack of bridges in today’s top hits – to name a few, “THIS IS WHAT I WANT” to Lil Nas X, or “Where Are You Now” from Lost Frequencies X Calum Scott? and why pop songs are getting shorter.
Is it to respond to the reduced attention span of young people? To make sure the track will be go viral on TikTok? And who are the songwriters doing their part to keep the pop bridge alive?
So, uh, what is a bridge and what does it do?
The bridge, a beloved structural convention in popular music, can generally be described as a new piece of melodic, harmonic, and lyrical information that follows the verse-pre-chorus-chorus progression of a typical pop song.
A good bridge will add something different to the song, something the listener has never heard before — it will somehow expand on the narrative and musical arc of the song; usually by developing what already exists or by adding something completely new.
Olivia Rodrigo’s ‘driver’s license’, for example, explodes in its bridge – where the song quietly cries its way through the verses and chorus, the bridge sees Rodrigo reaching new heights in his vocal range, desperately traversing images and memories in rapid succession, reaching the desperate and honest peak of the song with the lyrics “I still fucking love you, baby”.
It’s hard to imagine “driver’s license” having the same emotional impact without it without that iconic moment – certainly, the song’s emotional impact would have suffered.
Why is it an endangered breed?
In this 2019 interview with The edge, Lit Pop’s Nate Sloan and Charlie Harding explained why pop songs are getting shorter and shorter
in the age of streaming. According to Harding, pop songs are, on average, 48 seconds shorter now than they were in 1995, in part because of today’s music industry payment structures. Artists are paid per stream, instead of per album or single sale – and songs must play for at least 30 seconds to be considered an “official” stream.
But the goal is for as many people as possible to listen to the entire song, not just the first 30 seconds; having people listen to the entire song increases the chances of artists landing on Spotify playlists or being returned to that listener in their custom algorithm when the artist posts new music.
Today’s pop songs need to be short enough to keep listeners’ attention throughout – many listeners won’t even get past the first chorus before jumping to something they like best, making a bridge a seemingly unnecessary addition that only serves to lengthen the running time of a song.
‘Good Ones’, the first single from Charli XCX’s latest album Accident, arrives in just two minutes, sixteen seconds: a thunderbolt of a pop song, it follows a strict verse, pre-chorus, chorus, post-chorus structure, with a noticeable lack of a bridge. Each section is as catchy as the last, and the song doesn’t seem to miss without a bridge – in fact, the short running time entices the listener to keep playing the song on a loop. Kid Laroi and Justin Bieber’s “STAY,” at two minutes and 22 seconds, also features several choruses on a bridge, as does Doja Cat’s “Get Into It (Yuh).”
And then there’s TikTok (of course)
TikTok’s grip on the music industry is omnipotent – and with its power clearly reflected in the charts, and in the tactical promotion and listing decisions made by major labels, it also impacts the market. writing songs.
Leith Ross’ “We’ll Never Have Sex” took TikTok by storm when the artist posted a one-minute, 15-second clip of themselves performing the song. Since then, this video has been viewed more than seven million times, with the audio used almost 40,000 times by other users – many of whom talk about it when discussing what the short snippet of the melancholic folk song means to them. .
Leith Ross recorded and released “We’ll Never Have Sex” on DSP, settling for a smooth, minimal final version of the song that cleverly stays true to the original TikTok video. The final version of the song comes in at just one minute and 39 seconds and follows a folk song structure of AB verse sections with no chorus or discernible bridge.
Again, the song doesn’t seem to be lacking in any way – the hazy, timid completeness of “We’ll Never Have Sex” is what draws the listener in, the catchy verse structure doing all the work of a chorus, with the feeling of resigned mystery keeping the listener connected until the very last moment of the track.
Still, it’s important to point out that between TikTok fame and the official release, no new sections have been added to this song – whether by artistic or strategic choice (or a bit of both), “We’ ll Never Have Sex” continues the trend of writing shorter, sharper songs for the modern era – a quick hit of tangible emotion that gets straight to the point.
Who keeps the bridge alive?
In a landscape where songs are getting shorter and shorter, several pop songwriters are keeping the bridge alive. Besides Olivia Rodrigo, whose album SOUR includes many classic bridges (‘jealousy, jealousy’, ‘good 4 u’ and the undeniable classic ‘driver’s license’), it would be remiss not to credit Taylor Swift for going the extra mile to keep the leads long and the bridges alive and well.
Among the Swifties, Taylor Swift’s decks are legendary – every fan has a personal favourite, spanning their entire discography – highlights include “Out Of The Woods”, Champagne Troubles, “All Too Well” (regular version* and *ten minute version) and ‘Dear John’. If there’s one thing that Taylor Swift is a master at, it’s the art of bridge.
Pop songwriter Maisie Peters is another artist embracing the bridge – her debut album You signed up for this features expertly crafted pop songs and multiple perfect bridges. The bridge in “I’m Trying (Not Friends)”, his most-streamed song currently on Spotify, recently had its own moment in the spotlight due to fans on TikTok make videos highlighting how awesome it really is. The jerky, dismissive vocal melody, bouncing off percussive paper hits, encapsulates the ultimate message behind the song – a hurt ex, mourning the loss of a relationship that was doomed from the start.
Closer to home, several pop songwriters are lovingly creating world-class bridges for their music – Gretta Ray has created perfect bridges in the “Love Me Right” and “Passion” bridges in particular, cementing her as the one of the greatest Australian songwriters of our time.
Fortunately, the pop bridge, despite being an endangered species, is not yet extinct. Bridge enthusiasts may have to search a bit further to find them.