What Makes a Pop Song Good? The Ultimate 2020 Guide!


I love pop songs! Most of them are deceptively simple but highly memorable and singable. There are, of course, “bad” pop songs but, the ones I enjoy stand out and are true masterpieces. I have spent years and years analyzing what makes a pop song good. In this article, you will learn exactly that.

A good pop song:

  1. Creates a big emotional response
  2. Is both simple & complex
  3. Uses familiar song forms
  4. Is between two and three minutes long
  5. Uses genres blends
  6. Has an infectious melody
  7. Has many hooks
  8. Has simple chords
  9. Uses energy levels
  10. Creates anticipation
  11. Has a big payoff
  12. Has high & low energy levels

This was the short answer, but how does everything work together? Let’s explore the details!

1) EMOTION (The Most Important Part of Your Song)

A good pop song creates a significant emotional response to the listener.

In this article, we talk about a lot of essential elements that create a good pop song. Still, the most important element by far is emotion.

You can do everything right follow all the rules (or even break some) use the right chords, melody, lyrics use the appropriate song length, etc. but if you cant create an emotional response in your listener, then you simply have failed.

If you want to learn about MODERN pop song structures, and how to use them in your own songwriting then you need to read this article! (Click Here)

But How Do We Create Emotion in Music?

How much as I would like to give you the formula for creating emotion in music, unfortunately, such formula doesn’t exist. Yes, it’s true that some chords sound more emotional than others, it’s also true that certain scales sound more emotional than others, but these are merely tools, not blueprints.

  • The best way I know how to create emotion in music is by feeling it! When you hear a song or when you create a song, pay attention to your emotional responses; both the presence or the absence of motion can give you clues on the best way to proceed. 
  • In fact, I know that songwriters and producers such as Timberland, Pharell, Max Martin, Michael Jackson they all pay attention to their emotional responses.

Two things that ad emotion to music are dynamics and tempo. Slow songs can be more emotional than fast songs. Also, soft-spoken words are more intimate than loud spoken words; the same applies to instruments. A soft solo on the guitar played with just the fingers sounds more emotional than if you use a plectrum and play fast.

QUOTE: Once in a while, we hear this great track that captivates our attention, gives us goosebumps, and makes our imagination go wild… That should be your goal as a songwriter.

2) SIMPLICITY. Try to Simplify Your Pop Song

A good pop song is simple enough to remember yet complex enough to listen on repeat.

If you must remember one thing from this article, it should be this: 

“The biggest hits are simple and logical enough to sing along the first time around but yet profound and complex enough to be enjoyed frequently without becoming boring.”

  • A lot of artists resent pop music because they believe it is too simple to create. But what they don’t understand is that simplicity is very hard to develop! 
  • The reason pop songs sound “easy” is because they flow so well! There is a seamlessness about them. Every beat, phrase, chord, and lyric connects immaculately with the ones before and after. 
  • The complexity lies in the work that goes into making these elements seamless. This process often requires not only writing but a lot of re-writing, editing, and reconfiguring. 
  • You want to get rid of the wordiness, unsuccessful transitions, complex melodies, complex beats, and complex chords. 
  • You also want to present the story of the song and easy to understand fashion without it being too predictable for the listener. 

In a way, it’s like watching a movie that isn’t too complex to understand but not too easy to predict.

Musicians will often hate pop songs, but the public won’t!

“A hit song is not written….it’s re-written.” Remember this!

3) FORM, LENGTH & GENRE

Pop Song Elements: Use The Correct Song Form

A good pop song uses familiar song forms.

  1. A song form we call the structure of a song and the structure of a song is created by the different sections of a song such as an intro, verse, chorus, etc. 
  2. Also, letters are assigned to these sections. That’s why when we talk about song forms, you often will see examples such as ABAB, ABCABC, ABCD, and more.

If you notice, most pop songs follow specific song forms; this is because it’s proven that specific types of forms resonate better with the majority of the population. Also, by using a familiar song form, your songs automatically appear more natural to the listener.

These Are the Most Popular Song Forms:

AABA (32-bar-form): 

This form was quite popular in the 1950s. It has four parts of 8 bars, each thus a total of 32 bars.

The first 8 bars (A) is identical to the second 8 bars (A), then a melodic change is inserted in the third 8 bar section (B) all to end with a final and familiar 8 bar section (A). I would not recommend this song form if you write Pop music since it’s not that popular anymore.

A-B-A-B-C-B Or:

 Verse / Chorus / Verse / Chorus / Bridge / Chorus.

The ABABCB form is more suitable for today’s hits; this form ads more variation and keeps the listener interested for longer periods of time.

A-B-C-A-B-C-D-C Or:

 Verse / Pre-chorus / Chorus / Verse / Pre-chorus / Chorus / Bridge / Chorus, this is a song form a lot of pop songs share. In this song form, we see the introduction of the pre-chorus section that prepared the listener for the chorus section.

I-A-B-A-A-B-O Or:

 Intro / Verse / Chorus / Verse / Verse / Chorus / Outro. In 2019 35% of all top 10 hits that landed in the billboard hot 100 used the above song form. Note that most songs that used this structure had some degree of RnB influences.

I-A-PC-C-A-PC-C-B-C-O Or:

 Intro /Verse / Pre-chorus / Chorus / Verse / Pre-chorus / Chorus / Bridge / Chorus / Outro. This is asong form that became very popular in 2010’s.

Pop Song Elements: Use The “Correct” SONG-SECTION-LENGTH

A good pop song has an almost equal song section length (verse, pre-chorus, chorus) and a short intro (if one at all). 

  • When you create a song, you want each section to have the appropriate length. Usually, we divide a song in bars we say this track has a 2 bar intro or an 8 bar verse, a 16 bar chorus or a 4 bar chorus, stuff like that. 
  • When learning how to use the correct terminology, you will be able to communicate better with other artists and musicians.

A popular song section length

  • Usually, you want your intro to be nonexisting or quite short somewhere between 2 and 4 bars; then you want your verse, pre-chorus, chorus, to be 8 bars each and the bridge to be 4 bars long. Of course, this is not a rule but merely a guideline. 
  • A song section can be 4,6,8,16 or even 1 bar long. If your aim is to write music that resonates with today’s audience, pay attention to the top 40 hits to discover what the most common song lengths are at the moment. 

Pop Song Elements: THE SONG LENGTH

A good pop song is between two and three minutes long.

  • The length of each song section adds up, ultimately resulting in our total song length. Again there are no rules simply guidelines, but generally, you want each track to be longer than two minutes with a maximum of three minutes each. 
  • The most important reason is that the attention span of the general population is very short—That’s why you want short songs that grab the attention quickly. There are more than a few other reasons that make this sound advice, which I will cover in another article.

Pop Song Elements: PRIMARY & SECONDARY GENRE INFLUENCES

A good Pop song blends the right genres together.

With the primary genre, we mean the most apparent style of music that dominates a song. All songs have a primary genre, and most songs also have a secondary or even a third genre of influence. A good example of genre blends is “Oldtown road”  We clearly see the influence Country and Trap had on this song.

  • Also, some artists may make as their signature a certain genre blend, one artist that comes to mind is Avicci, who combined EDM and Country music.  

If you compare today’s billboard hot 100 charts with the charts of one year, five years, and ten years back, you will undoubtedly discover that the primary and secondary genres change over time. This is something to be expected as new trends, and new artists emerge.

4) MELODY, CHORDS & ENERGY LEVELS

Pop Song Elements: Melody This is What Grabs the Attention

A good pop song has an infectious sing-along melody.

  • The melody of the song is undoubtedly the most important part. The melody is the one that invites you in, grabs your attention and makes you sing together with thousands of others at live concerts and shows. 
  • Fail to create an infectious melody in your fail at creating a good pop song.

Use these techniques to write extraordinary melodies.

A) Use the Question and Answer Technique

  • There is a very effective melodic songwriting method called the question and answer technique. This technique is a direct result of human language.
  • Just notice how two people interact with each other when they are having a conversation. One of them asks a question in the other one answers that question, this interaction goes back and forth for the most part of the communication. 
  • Imagine for a moment what would happen if both sides formed only questions or only statements! How weird would a conversation like that feel?

Music is like having a conversation with another person; you need to state question music phrases, which in turn are answered with answer music phrases. 

Sometimes a melodic line is created by a question-question-answer or by a question-answer-question-answer or even by an answer-answer-question melodic phrase. Just look at any major hit, and you will find these exact patterns or some variation of them.

B) Use repetitive melodic phrases

I don’t know you personally, but I bet you like patterns! I also bet you notice repeated numbers and repeated visual patterns; I bet you even have behavior patterns commonly known as routines. 🙂

The reason why we also love musical patterns, more specifically repetitive melodic phrases, is because it’s in our nature to notice these patterns.

  • Again listen to today’s Pop hits, and I guarantee you will discover repetitive melodic phrases in all song sections.
  • Patterns are fun; however, if you just use the same phrase over and over again, this will result in predictability and boredom.

Take yourself, for example, if you would do exactly the same thing over and over again for a large period of time or if you would eat the same food every single day, over and over again, eventually you will get tired of it. This is also true when we watch a movie. If what we are watching is too predictable, we will lose interest and focus our attention elsewhere.

This is why it is crucial to have the right amount of repetitiveness combined with the right amount of variety. This creates a push pool effect that hooks the listener in.

Here are thee effective patterns you can use your own songs:

  • Melodic Pattern 1: AABA
  • Melodic Pattern 2: ABAB
  • Melodic Pattern 3: ABAC

A= melodic phrase 1

B= melodic phrase 2

C= melodic phrase 3

These melodic phrases are often also referred to as call and response. Call and response simply mean that you state a musical question usually followed by a musical answer. watch this video to understand what I mean:

C) Use Melodic Hooks

A good pop song has at least one hook in each section of the song.

Okay, I hear you asking: What is a hook?

Well, a hook is a musical phrase or idea that is designed to grab the listener’s attention and make the song memorable. 

A hook can be a melodic phrase or an idea, a combination of sounds, a combination of chords, a combination of rhythm, and almost anything else you can imagine that stands out and is repeated at least twice. 

  • You see, we want to repeat hooks at least twice because often if a hook is repeated only once, it won’t stand out that much.

Here is a video that explains it a bit more

Pop Song Elements: Use Simple Chords

A good pop song has simple chords.

If you take a look at today’s hits, you will realize that 90% use simple chords and simple chord structures. This means that mostly chord triads are used since they are one of the simplest chords forms (sometimes with an added 7th or 11th note). Also, simple chord forms have a maximum of four chords.

  • Again there are exceptions to be found, but as a general rule, keep in mind that complex melodies need a simple underlying chord structure. This is because we want the attention of the listener to be focused on one element of the time, and for the most part, that is the vocal melody.
  • Therefore if we use complex chord variations that sound interesting when played on their own but combine them with a complex vocal melody. The result is likely to be a bit overwhelming. This is one of the reasons why most pop songs only use only 4 chords. 

Pop Song Elements: Energy Levels

A good pop song uses energy levels effectively.

Everything around us is energy. I know this might sound a bit woo-woo, but think about it for a moment. Electricity is a result of energy; your body movement is a result of burning energy; even the sunlight is energy traveling through space. Energy is also found in songs, and specifically, we have two forms of energy, low and high energy.

Let’s again use the example of the I-A-PC-C-A-PC-C-B-C-O song form. 

As a rule of thumb, a good pop song starts with a very low energy level, usually the intro (I). If done correctly, that energy level gradually rises through the verse (A) and pre-chorus (PC) section until it hits a peak, usually in the chorus section (C).

This process is repeated two or three times throughout the song with slight variations. The bridge section (B) often also has low energy because it comes right after the second chorus section and right before the final chorus. 

Pop Song Elements: Anticipation

A good pop song creates anticipation for the listener.

It’s a good practice to try and create a feeling of anticipation in the verse and pre-chorus. You can do that melodically and lyrically. 

If done correctly, the listened will feel: 

  • Anticipation for a great chorus or drop.
  • Anticipation of finding out how the story ends (lyrically).

QUOTE: Anticipation is what keeps the listener listening and your fan base growing!

Pop Song Elements: Prepare Your Listener for the Big Payoff

A good pop song has at least one big payoff.

  • As we saw before, the verse in the pre-chorus creates anticipation and prepares the listener for the big payoff. The big payoff is often found in the chorus section. 
  • The chorus section usually has the highest energy level compared to the previous sections (the intro, verse, and pre-chorus). Also, the second and third chorus often has even higher energy compared to the proceeding choruses.
  • You can add more energy in a section by adding instruments, vocal harmonies, rhythmic variations, and special effects.

Last thing I want to mention always try and insert at least one melodic hook in each song section! If you don’t know what a hook in music is, scroll up and read the “Use melodic hooks” section of this article.

Pop Song Elements: Lower the Energy Levels

A good pop song has high but also low energy levels.

We mentioned already that it’s vital to lower the energy levels of a song, but why?

Okay its time for a fun game! Care to play?

The Rollercoaster Game

  • Here we go: “Imagine you’re at a theme park riding a big mean roller coaster! The view is breathtaking, and if you look down, you see little dots, these are the people looking up at you. 
  • Also, imagine that this rollercoaster is a bit different. Instead of bringing you up and then down again and then up and then down it only went straight up at a super high speed until after a few moments, it reached the end of the ride and stopped. 
  • Now how you get off the rollercoaster is another story but the point im tryin to make here is that If you experienced a ride like this, would you enjoy it? Probably not.

You see, people love predictability, but they also love surprise; music is no exception. We want the song to travel us through its energy levels, bring us up, and bring us down again, then up and down again. In other words, when we listen to a song, we seek variable energy.

4) LYRICS

Pop Song Elements: Use a Unique Song Title

A unique song title grans the attention of the listener. Think of songs like “Umbrella,” “I kissed a girl,” “Love me do,” “Billie Jean.” What all these titles do is trigger our curiosity and imagination.

Of course, this is not a must. Many great songs have “boring” titles that have been used before or don’t stand out at all. But generally, a unique title helps.

Pop Song Elements: Develop a Unique Story Perspective

  • Its an art really and a valuable skill for a songwriter to talk about a common subject and make it appear unique. If you notice the majority of songs talk about the same things and mostly about human relationships.
  • There are literally millions of songs that feature the word “love” in their lyrics and millions more that talk about heartbreak, dishonesty, marriage, sex, hooking up, breaking up.

And I will be honest with you, many of these songs are boring! But once in a while, we hear this great track that captivates our attention, gives us goosebumps and makes our imagination go wild.

This often happens because the writer approached a unique lyrical perspective; he provided us with a different angle that we never thought before. Listen to songs like “Hello” by Adelle, or “Another one bites the dust” By Queen, or “Bad Guy” by Billie Elish. 

One thing all these tracks have in common is that they provide a unique and fresh lyrical perspective. This is the mindset you need to adopt if you want to create songs that will last a lifetime

Pheww, we did it! We just saw the most significant elements that make a pop song good! And this was just the overview!

Thank you for reading this long article, have a look below to see my latest additions. See you around!

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