Released last year, The Weeknd's synth-laden 'Blinding Lights' became an instant smash-hit. The biggest record of 2019, you still can't get really get away from it almost a year later, with its constant appearances in memes, YouTube videos and Tinder bio anthems. Suffice to say it has struck a chord with the masses, and it's certainly not your run-of-the-mill hit. There's a number of factors driving this song that make it so enticing, so let's dissect it and get to the bottom of this song's appeal.
It might seem obvious, but this song is very catchy. Not only that, but its main melody, played on a synth and copied by the chorus vocal, is so damn simple that you almost can't believe that it hasn't been done before. It's an earworm that's easy to digest and instantly memorable, something that requires little effort to enjoy and return to.
Not only that, but the melody's root note does not follow the chord below it. It does that clever little trick of letting the chord progression control the mood whilst it just does its thing. The clever relationship between the two really make this song what it is, and yet at the same time it is just so simple. To make a hit, you have to compose something that is both memorable in the long-term and yet brings that short-term, instant satisfaction. With 'Blinding Lights', The Weeknd showed a mastery of this craft.
Of course, there need to be a beat driving the song underneath. The beauty of this beat is again in its simplicity; it doesn't attempt to do anything fancy or throw you too much of a curveball. Instead, it just wants to provide you with a platform to groove to, a base which allows you to dance along to the song. Everyone loves a good dance, and despite the emotional lyrics, this song's beat allows for a good dance to be had.
Question: does this song remind you of any other songs out there? 'Blinding Lights' pulls more than a hint of influence from the 1980s, with a particular similarity to A-ha's mega-hit 'Take On Me'. All modern music is an amalgamation of its influences and 'Blinding Lights' wears its influences on its sleeves. It is proof that the 1980s style never really went away, and as we all know, time is somewhat cyclical. 'Blinding Lights' may be blessed with modern production values, but release this in the '80s and it goes down in history as one of the great hits of all-time - without sounding out of place either. Saying that, it still might go down as one of the greats anyway.
This point is summed up by the top comment on the song's video:"His music sounds like the past, present and future all together". Yup, that's pretty much it.
The true hallmark of a song is how repeatable it is; the best songs simply don't get dull or annoying no matter how often they're played. That 'Blinding Lights' doesn't appear to be going away anytime soon, despite it now being nearly a year since release, is a testament to its longevity. 2020 has been a brilliant year for albums, but no one single has managed to surpass The Weeknd's enduring hit. This song's endurance is best exemplified by the timing of this very article; while other songs and artists continue to...be, it is this song that is beng written about.
At the end of the day, you can write as good a song as you like, but if it doesn't connect with people in some way, it's not going to get anywhere. Luckily for The Weeknd, 'Blinding Lights' seemed to connect with absolutely everyone. For some, it was the relatable lyrics, for others it just made them dance and have a good time. At its heart, that is what made this song so successful - it could connect with people in multiple ways, giving it a multi-pronged attack to play with. If the lyrics don't get you, the melody will. If somehow neither of those do, but you like the 1980s style, you're still in.
A lot of very good songs are released that tick one, two, three of those boxes. The great songs, the special ones, are the ones that tick all five. It's safe to say that 'Blinding Lights' ticks all five and does it with vigour. Hitting #1 in thirty-four countries is no small feat, and perhaps its only crime was that it wasn't released until November, making it the summer hit that never was (at least, in the Northern Hemisphere). 'Blinding Lights' will be sticking around for some time yet, however, and may end up being the song of 2020 - despite being released in 2019.
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