Why Daft Punk’s ‘Get Lucky’ is catchy
If you’re the kind of person who gets a tune stuck in your head (I empathise, I really do), you’ve probably had Daft Punk’s Get Lucky as an earworm by now.
There’s no denying it had a clever marketing campaign, with snippets to tease the Twitterati and inspire the YouTube remixers, ahead of the official release. And only a fool would pretend Pharrell doesn’t look cool in a sequin encrusted blazer (you know you want one). But, is there something else going on in that track that makes you want to hear it over and over again? Well, since you ask… there is.
Intergration of music and lyrics
This is a song whose lyrics are integrated with the music at two levels. At the macro level, it’s all about the harmonic loop. (Bear with me.) There are only four chords in the song (Bm – D – F#m – E) and there’s no change in harmony for verse and chorus; those chords loop continuously. That’s why the song fades at the end; having a musical ending would probably mean changing chords. So, it’s all about the loop.
The lyrics also refer to loops of different kinds, early on:
“up all night”
“our endings are beginnings”
“what keeps the planet spinning”
“the gift keeps on giving”
The integration of lyrics and music at this level are partly what make it a neat track.
Incidentally, if you thought Get Lucky was a radical departure for Daft Punk (Daft Punk go disco), think again, because this track is ‘Around The World’ with different instruments.
See for yourself. Have another listen to Around The World. What do you notice?
Not only is it a four-bar loop in 4/4 time, but the chord sequence is very familiar. Around The World has Am – C – Em – Em. For comparison purposes, let’s raise it a tone, to get Bm – D – F#m – F#m. That’s almost the chords of Get Lucky (Bm – D – F#m – E).
Here are the two songs mixed by YouTube user ariofreeway.
See how well they go? That’s because they’re practically the same composition.
Oh, the anticipation
With most songs, there’s a clear ‘home’ chord which gives a sense of resolution. In a lot of pop songs, tension is built during the verse and released when the chorus takes you ‘home’ to this chord. It’s these cycles of tension and release that make pop music satisfying. So that’s how most pop works.
Get Lucky doesn’t really have a home chord. That’s because it is not written in a major or minor key, but in an older type of harmonic system called a mode, and modal music doesn’t give the sense of resolution. So Get Lucky keeps shifting, it never settles and never goes home. It sets up harmonic tension but never releases it; instead it feeds you back into the same cycle of tension. This is why people are tweeting about wanting to listen to this song again and again, and why others can happily listen to Get Lucky on a continuous loop.
Phrasing that makes you listen in
The only lyrics sung ‘on the beat’ are those at the fourth beat of the bar. This emphasises the last word of each line, and makes you listen out for it. It makes you pay attention to the lyrics.
You’re in no doubt about the most important line
The chorus is made up of 20 bars, each with four beats. The lyric on each fourth beat has one syllable, except in bars 12 and 16 (and 17, 18, 19 and 20), where the lyric is the two-syllable word ‘lucky’. This makes ‘lucky’ stand out, and that’s why you smile when you hear “…to get lucky”.
The hi hat sounds the first few times you hear the word ‘lucky’, helping to emphasise both syllables of the word. Ditto the modulation on the robot voice, on that word.
So there you have it. A song whose lyrical theme reflects its main compositional device, which keeps you hanging on for resolutions that don’t happen, and where the pay-off lyric sits in contrast with the surrounding verbal rhythms and is accented by the drum track.
And, technically, that’s why you’re hooked on it.
That, and you want to be Pharrell. Just admit it. You do.
With thanks to RaldyV and Thalastrasz on www.hooktheory.com for the harmonic analysis, www.songmeanings.net for transcription of the lyrics, and Phill Ward for conversation about the significance of modal tonality.
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