There’s a new target in pop.
“The Middle” by Zedd, Maren Morris and Gray isn’t just a #1 hit – in my opinion, it’s the new blueprint for #1 hits. Here is a checklist for doing this new kind of smash:
1. Radio hit
Even though streaming is the future, nothing replaces a radio hit. Remember, radio still reaches more Americans than any other medium – more than TVs and iPhones. Each month, 243 million American adults listen to the radio. It’s also the first place people go to discover new music, more so than Spotify or your hipster friends from Silver Lake. This is why record labels have huge departments dedicated to promoting songs to radio stations.
So, yes, even in 2018 the model for a pop hit starts with the radio. Indeed, “Le Milieu” has reached No. 1 American radio station. It also reached No. 1 on Billboard‘s Radio Airplay and Dance charts, and peaked at No. 5 on the Hot 100. Like pop’s greatest hits, part of its success is its longevity — after 17 weeks, the song is still in the top 10.
2. Streaming Success
In case you haven’t heard, the streaming is going pretty well. In 2017, U.S. revenue grew 15% to $6.5 billion (Billboard). Spotify has 159 million monthly active users, with 195 billion streams in 2017 (Hypebot).
Oh, and Spotify has gone public. In other words, streaming saved the music industry – that’s why you need to have a streaming hit, as well as a radio hit, to be relevant.
As of this writing, “The Middle” has 321 million streams on Spotify and has been featured in playlists curated by Spotify. It still ranks high on the US and global Top 50 charts. The song’s two music videos also combine for over 100 million views on YouTube.
3. Target achieved
I’ve talked at length about placing songs on TV, in movies, commercials, and trailers. Unlike radio and streaming, these are immediate incomes and often the biggest paycheck for songwriters. “Synchronized Licensing” gives creators the best opportunity to get paid, now that album sales aren’t a thing anymore.
Many songs have topped radio and streaming charts, but what really makes “The Middle” a new template for pop hits is its ubiquitous use in Target’s spring ad campaign. (Note: It took me a minute to realize how well “The Middle” pairs with the Target logo.) Not only did Target debut the full 3-minute music video as a Grammy night commercial, which has raised the artists’ public profile, but they continue to air shorter spots that fuel radio play and streaming. It’s such a win for everyone involved in the song, I’m still in awe of how they pulled it off. It’s the next level. (continued on page 2)
4. Female Voice
I don’t know if you noticed, but female singers are everywhere on pop radio. There’s Selena Gomez, Ariana Grande, Taylor Swift, Halsey, Miley Cyrus, Julia Michaels, Dua Lipa and Camila Cabello to name a few. With the exception of rappers (and maybe Ed Sheeran), you’d be hard pressed to find male voices in pop. In fact, even in the demo process, I’m told that a vocalist improves the chances of your song getting cut.
“The Middle” conforms to this formula, picking up on the trend of pairing female singers with top male DJs. See: Chainsmokers’ “Don’t Let Me Down” with Daya, Calvin Harris’ “This Is What You Came For” with Rihanna, and Zedd’s previous “Stay” with Alessia Cara. In fact, 12 different singers cut vocals on this song until country star Maren Morris nailed it.
There are 7 listed songwriters and 3 listed production teams for “The Middle”. Compared to Bob Dylan, that might sound a bit crazy. But that’s the norm for how pop music is made in this generation. Look at the pop charts in 2018, and you’ll rarely see a solo song.
Pop songwriters Scott Harris and Ross Golan walked me through the process of writing hit songs and the collaborative culture in detail. And for “The Middle”, the New York Times the video above explains it perfectly.
6. Repeat the chorus 6 times
It can only help.