Once you hear it, you can’t un-hear it. It will be forever with you. Just a warning.
It’s not a secret that a lot of popular music is unoriginal. In fact, science has proven it: The combinations of notes in pop songs have been losing diversity consistently over the last 50 years. Popular songwriters, producers, and record labels found a formula people like, and the result is many hit songs sound the same.
For example, hundreds of recent pop songs feature the same chord progression, parodied by Australian musical comedy group The Axis of Awesome in their 2009 song “4 Chords” (newer performances of the song include more examples of the progression in the years since). And most mainstream American country music not only sounds similar but is linguistically homogenous (blue jeans, drinking beer, pick-up trucks).
This latest phenomenon, though, is a much more specific musical trope.
The same exact whooping, melodic sequence has been showing up in a surprisingly high number of recent pop songs. The phenomenon was first noticed by musician and product manager Patrick Metzger. He detailed the trend, dubbing it “The Millennial Whoop,” in a post on his blog, The Patterning. Here’s how Metzger described it:
It’s 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.
The pattern is unmistakable when you hear it. As soon as you do, you’ll realize that you’ve heard it before, in countless other songs. Here it is right at the beginning (0:04) and in every chorus of Owl City and Carly Rae Jepsen’s chart-topping hit “Good Time”:
🎤 Woah-oh-oh-oh woah-oh-oh-oh. 🎤
And here it is in Demi Lovato’s “Really Don’t Care” (at 1:00):
Here are some more songs with the whoop (and the time in each song when it appears) that Metzger and commenters on his blog identified:
- Katy Perry — “California Gurls” (1:05)
- Fall Out Boy — “She’s My Winona” (0:14)
- Stonefox — “All I Want” (2:02)
- Twenty One Pilots — “Ride” (0:48)
- Andy Grammer — “Forever” (3:15)
- Fifth Harmony — “Anything is Possible” (0:20)
- CHVRCHES — “The Mother We Share” (0:32)
- Chris Brown — “Turn Up the Music” (1:30)
- Outasight — “Tonight Is the Night” (0:52)
- The Head and the Heart — “Down in the Valley” (1:48)
- Alejandro Sanz — “Looking for Paradise (featuring Alicia Keys)” (0:14)
- Kings of Leon — “Use Somebody” (1:28)
- BOY — “Little Numbers” (1:02)
While millennials may have popularized the whoop, it seems to have roots as far back as the 1980s, in songs like Morris Day and the Time’s “Jungle Love” (0:38) and Baltimora’s “Tarzan Boy” (1:44). Whoop whoop.