Weekly Wrap: Why Pop Songs Are Getting Shorter, Plus Climate Change, Opioids And CBD Al Gore is still leading the fight against climate change, but the topic is now also becoming an issue of racial justice. How will it play out in 2020? The fallout of the opioid crisis continues as lawsuits against opioid manufacturers pile up. Plus, how streaming services are reshaping the art form of the pop song. Sam is joined by Dan Zak of The Washington Post and Sarah Halzack of Bloomberg Opinion.
NPR logo

Weekly Wrap: Why Pop Songs Are Getting Shorter, Plus Climate Change, Opioids And CBD

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/710359624/710399164" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Weekly Wrap: Why Pop Songs Are Getting Shorter, Plus Climate Change, Opioids And CBD

Weekly Wrap: Why Pop Songs Are Getting Shorter, Plus Climate Change, Opioids And CBD

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/710359624/710399164" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

SAM SANDERS, HOST:

All right. Before we get to the show, here at NPR, we want to better understand who is listening to these podcasts and what role podcasts like this one play in your life. So help us out and take a short, anonymous survey at npr.org/podcastsurvey - all one word. This takes less than 10 minutes. It really helps support this show - npr.org/podcastsurvey - all one word. Thank you so much. OK, here's the show.

AUNT BETTY: Hey, y'all. This is Sam's Aunt Betty. This week on the show, retail columnist for Bloomberg Opinion Sarah Halzack and Washington Post reporter Dan Zak. All right. Let's start the show.

(SOUNDBITE OF LIL NAS X SONG, "OLD TOWN ROAD")

SANDERS: Zak attack.

(LAUGHTER)

SANDERS: Hey, y'all. From NPR, I'm Sam Sanders. IT'S BEEN A MINUTE. Happy weekend to my listeners and to my guests. Hello, hello, hello.

DAN ZAK: Hi, Sam.

SARAH HALZACK: Hey, good to be here.

SANDERS: Here with Sarah Halzack, retail columnist at Bloomberg Opinion, and Dan Zak, feature writer for The Washington Post. And I am playing for you both a country trap record called "Old Town Road" by a rapper named Lil Nas X. We're going to play a bit right now.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OLD TOWN ROAD")

LIL NAS X: (Singing) Yeah, I'm going to take my horse to the old town road. I'm going to ride till I can't no more. I'm going to take my horse to the old town road.

SANDERS: So my question for both of you, Dan and Sarah - is this a country song?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OLD TOWN ROAD")

LIL NAS X: (Singing) I've got the horses in the back, horse dock is attached...

HALZACK: I don't know. It really seems to be walking the line for me.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OLD TOWN ROAD")

LIL NAS X: (Singing) Riding on a horse, ha, you can whip your Porsche. I been in the valley, you ain't been up off that porch, now...

SANDERS: Dan.

ZAK: You know I'm the worst person to ask about this.

SANDERS: (Laughter).

ZAK: I think country music is a state of mind. So if you want it to be country, it's country.

SANDERS: This is the correct answer, Dan, because this has been the big question about this song since it became a hit. So this song "Old Town Road" became this viral sensation on TikTok, the video-editing app. All the kids would make videos of themselves dancing to this song. And then country radio began to play it. And after making an appearance on the Billboard country music chart for one week at No. 19, the powers that be pulled this song off the Billboard country charts because they said it's not country enough.

Everyone got mad. There were questions about race and who gets to be the gatekeeper for country because this rapper is a black guy. But now there seems to be a happy ending. A stalwart of country music, Billy Ray Cyrus, has recorded a remix of this song with Lil Nas X. We have it right here.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OLD TOWN ROAD (REMIX)")

BILLY RAY CYRUS: (Singing) ...Sports car. Got no stress, I've been through all that. I'm like a Marlboro man so I kick on back. Wish I...

SANDERS: Now, that's country. There's no question anymore.

HALZACK: I wish you guys could see Dan's face right now...

SANDERS: (Laughter).

HALZACK: ...Listening to this hot jam.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OLD TOWN ROAD (REMIX)")

LIL NAS X AND BILLY RAY CYRUS: (Singing) Yeah, I'm going to take my horse to the old town road. I'm going to ride till I can't no more.

ZAK: There's only one gatekeeper I trust when it comes to country music, and that's Taylor Swift.

SANDERS: OK, I thought you were going to say Dolly Parton. And I was going to let you have that one. But wow, wow, wow. Anyway, I think the entire Cyrus family can get an invite to the cookout. They seem cool. Anyway, enough of that. (Laughter) Dan's, like, please stop playing that song.

(LAUGHTER)

SANDERS: Anyways, we're going to start the show as we do every week. I'm going to ask each of my guests to describe their week of news in only three words. Dan Zak, you're going to go first because you spent some time recently with a very famous politician - former politician.

ZAK: I did. I spent - a couple weeks ago spent a couple of days with former vice president Al Gore. Maybe you remember him.

SANDERS: I do. How old is he now?

ZAK: He just turned 71 last week.

SANDERS: OK.

ZAK: He just had a birthday. And so my three words would be, preach, brother Gore.

(LAUGHTER)

SANDERS: OK.

ZAK: And I can tell you why if you want to hear why.

SANDERS: I do.

ZAK: Or we can say - OK. So I'm spending some of this year kind of finding non-traditional ways to write about climate change. So what's more nontraditional than Albert Gore Jr.?

(LAUGHTER)

ZAK: In post-"Inconvenient Truth" time, he's been training people en masse to be climate leaders. Over the past several years, he's trained 19,000 people all around the world, educated them on the climate science they need to know and then, with other experts and activists, trained them to be active at whatever level they want to be active in. And so I was just in Atlanta a couple weeks ago because he did a training in Atlanta for 2,000 people - three solid days of the Al Gore show.

HALZACK: Did you sit through all three days of the Al Gore show?

ZAK: I did. I sat through all three days. And day one incorporated his two-and-a-half-hour slideshow.

SANDERS: He's still doing the slide show.

ZAK: He's still doing the slideshow. But...

SANDERS: OK.

HALZACK: That's an aggressively long slideshow.

ZAK: It's so aggressive. But there's something different about Al Gore - at least the public persona of Al Gore, at least as I see it these days. And it's the reason I chose those three words - preach, brother Gore - is because he is, at least in Atlanta, presenting himself more as, like, a civil rights leader.

SANDERS: Well - and this is the thing that you point out. This is a thing that Gore is doing and the entire green movement is doing. They're tying their mission and their cause to racial justice.

ZAK: Yes.

SANDERS: And they're talking to black and brown people in a way that the climate movement, I think, hasn't been doing before. Like, Al Gore was in a black church.

ZAK: Yes. Yes, exactly. You know, I went to Atlanta. And sure, there was the two-and-a-half-hour slide show, where Al Gore is very professorial. But then that night was an interfaith service at Ebenezer Baptist Church...

SANDERS: Wow.

ZAK: ...Where you have Al Gore giving a 20-minute, fiery sermon like he's a Baptist preacher. You know, if the world could see this Al Gore, they would think - I think their estimation of him would change.

SANDERS: Well, that's the question. Will the world see Al Gore and this issue take the spotlight in the campaign for 2020? Do we know yet if the candidates that are running for president are going to make this a center point of their campaigns?

ZAK: Well, I think they are. You have someone like Jay Inslee, the governor of Washington state, who is - that's his issue. He's like, I am running for president.

SANDERS: Wait. He's running for president?

ZAK: Yeah. Well, I don't know if...

SANDERS: So many.

ZAK: ...He's declared yet. He's exploring. I guess we're all...

SANDERS: (Laughter).

ZAK: ...Exploring, really.

HALZACK: Who can keep track?

SANDERS: (Laughter).

ZAK: I'm exploring it.

SANDERS: Yeah.

ZAK: And he's like, I am the climate change candidate. You have - and you have other candidates saying this is one of the top issues of our time. I mean, Americans with greater and greater certainty believe, A, that climate change is happening and there...

SANDERS: Clear majorities. Yeah.

ZAK: Yeah. Yeah, majorities - and, B, you know, we are doing something to cause it or exacerbate it. So, I mean, the trend is very much in the public and politicians catching up with what Al Gore has been saying for, you know, 35 years.

HALZACK: And it seems to make a lot of sense to try to connect this issue that can feel kind of theoretical and abstract with more personal, urgent issues, right? When we think about the things that have been animating the political conversation generally lately - LGBT rights issues, Black Lives Matter, gun safety - these are all issues that are very personal. So to try to make climate change more that way seems very strategic and sensible.

ZAK: That's precisely it. You know, I talked to a lot of people who love Al Gore but criticized the way he approached this for years. You know, he was - he had the slide show. And he was kind of flattening the issue into charts and graphs. And he was visiting glaciers and all this stuff. And people are like, why isn't he talking about food security or about, you know, industrial factories in poor communities and things that kind of have a bearing - like a real-time bearing in people's day-to-day lives? And, I mean, my observation in Atlanta is that is exactly what he is doing now.

SANDERS: Yeah, yeah. I have three words for you both. They are who to blame. And I'm talking about the ongoing fallout of the opioid crisis and the vast number of lawsuits across the country against big pharmaceutical companies that produce the opioids that led to hundreds of thousands of deaths. But what I'm really interested in this week is how some of those lawsuits have shifted from just suing companies, like Purdue, to suing the Sackler family. They own Purdue Pharma. They made it a big company. And now they're facing personal lawsuits against themselves from people whose lives have been touched by addiction and, like, drugs made by the company.

So we know that Purdue made a lot of money from making OxyContin. But this Monday, lawyers for the Sackler family asked a judge in Massachusetts to toss a suit that was asking the Sackler family for millions in damages. This comes after Purdue and the Sacklers reached a big settlement with the state of Oklahoma for $270 million. And then there are even more suits out there. There are something like 1,600 suits brought by cities and counties that have all been bundled together. It's kind of staggering.

HALZACK: Yeah, $270 million is a whole lot of dollars (laughter).

SANDERS: Oh, yeah. And so Oklahoma's saying, we're going to use this money for treatment here in our state. But it's going to be more of this to come, Sarah.

HALZACK: Yeah. And to me, it's kind of a reminder that, I think, in the latest phase of the opioid crisis, so much of the focus has been on fentanyl, right? And then that brings the focus to law enforcement and what they can be doing to keep it out of our borders and to - you know, when they're first responders, have the equipment and resources that they need. But this wave of suits is such a reminder that this is so much deeper than that, that there are so many more layers to this problem and to solving it.

SANDERS: Yeah. Well - and these suits remind me that, as a society, we really haven't figured out who we want to blame or make responsible for this crisis. Is it the companies? Is it the Sackler family? Is it the government agencies that approved these drugs years ago? No one really knows who they want to really take responsibility for this. And in the vacuum of responsibility, you see things like this - all these suits.

ZAK: You know, as you mentioned, the Sackler family name is on buildings and art galleries and has been a public benefit. And to know that some of that wealth was - grew out of kind of the exploitation of people and their addictions, then it becomes kind of a wider problem, I think, that we have to confront - at least intellectually - every time you see their name on some sort of philanthropic venture...

SANDERS: Oh, yeah.

ZAK: You know, what does it mean that the money behind that was born of...

SANDERS: Addiction.

ZAK: ...This kind of enterprise? Yeah.

SANDERS: Yeah, yeah. Sarah, do you have three words?

HALZACK: I sure do. My three words are retail goes green. And...

SANDERS: OK.

HALZACK: ...By that, I am not referring to retailers getting more environmentally sustainable.

SANDERS: Oh.

HALZACK: I am referring to them joining the so-called green rush. Big name chains are starting to sell products that are made with cannabis.

SANDERS: Oh. Yes, yes, yes, they are.

HALZACK: Yeah. So the clearest example of this came from Walgreens, the big drugstore chain.

SANDERS: Wait, hold on. Walgreens is going to be selling me cannabis?

HALZACK: Yeah. So Walgreens...

SANDERS: (Laughter).

HALZACK: ...Has said that in 1,500 of their stores, they are going to be carrying lotions and creams and sprays that contain a compound called CBD. Now, CBD is not the compound in the cannabis plant that gets you high.

SANDERS: OK.

HALZACK: That would be THC. So CBD is the one that's associated with wellness-type properties, like being anti-inflammatory. And Walgreens has said they think there's going to be consumer demand for this product. And they're going to start stocking it. And it's...

SANDERS: Wow.

HALZACK: Yeah. It's this real moment of mainstreaming and validation for this nascent industry. And it comes on the heels of some other similar actions in this direction. So...

SANDERS: Oh, really?

HALZACK: Yep. So one of Walgreen's key competitors, CVS, said recently it will be carrying CBD-infused products in 800 stores.

SANDERS: Oh, my God.

HALZACK: And - yeah. It gets crazier. DSW, the big box shoe store, is going to be carrying CBD-infused foot creams in...

SANDERS: What? Stop it. OK. OK.

HALZACK: Yeah.

SANDERS: Hold on. DSW (laughter)...

HALZACK: Yes.

SANDERS: ...Is going to have CBD foot cream.

HALZACK: I know, right?

SANDERS: Dan, will you buy that?

ZAK: Probably.

SANDERS: (Laughter).

HALZACK: Why not, right?

SANDERS: I just need CVS and Walgreens to have a dozen eggs whenever I walk in there...

ZAK: (Laughter).

SANDERS: ...Because the one near me is always out.

HALZACK: Is always out of stock? Yeah. They got to fix those retail 101 problems for you first, huh, Sam?

SANDERS: Yeah. How much of these companies rushing into a new, untested field like CBD is a product of the economy continuing to be so strong? We just got jobs numbers out Friday morning. The economy added - what? - another 190-or-so-thousand jobs. A lot of the indicators for the market just look really good. Does the strength of the economy allow a Walgreens to say, yeah, let's take a chance on CBD?

HALZACK: So I think it's less about that and more about the fact that the retail industry, generally, has its back up against a wall right now. Surely, you've heard this term - the retail apocalypse, right?

SANDERS: Yeah.

HALZACK: That e-commerce is on the rise - stores in malls are closing everywhere. And the remaining retailers are trying to figure out, desperately, how do we keep shoppers coming to our stores? How do we make good use of this store portfolio that we have? And introducing novel, new products that are exciting to consumers that make them say, I'm going to get off my couch and stop binge-watching this show for a sec and actually...

SANDERS: Yeah.

HALZACK: ...Walk my feet into...

SANDERS: Go to the store.

HALZACK: Yeah - and walk my feet into a store. They are desperate for newness and for exciting, new ways to bring people into their doors.

SANDERS: Could this go wrong? Could these corporations overestimate demand? Are there some cautionary tales here?

HALZACK: Yeah. It could certainly go wrong. There's a lot - this is a wild, wild west. We don't know...

SANDERS: Yeah.

HALZACK: ...Exactly how big the addressable market is for these products. A lot of the health things around them are untested. And also - you know, I cover the entire consumer landscape, so that includes all sorts of beauty companies and personal care products. And I'm going to tell you...

SANDERS: (Laughter).

HALZACK: ...That sector is as driven by fads as fashion is, right? Think about, you know, things like those stupid crystal face rollers.

SANDERS: What? Wait, wait, wait. What is that?

HALZACK: It's like a...

SANDERS: (Laughter).

HALZACK: ...It's - it kind of looks like a rolling pin.

ZAK: I'm surprised you're not familiar with it living in LA as you are.

SANDERS: I know. I know.

HALZACK: That would seem to be a mecca of face rollers.

SANDERS: Yes, yes.

HALZACK: And these things go boom and bust really quickly in the beauty and skin care business. And CBD is all the rage right now. And I do think there is some risk that this is something that is kind of a solar flare that is really hot and then flames out.

SANDERS: The way to guarantee a market for CBD is to find some way to get it on Goop and have Gwyneth Paltrow talk about it because if she likes it, people will like it.

HALZACK: The masses will get on board.

SANDERS: The masses will get on board.

(SOUNDBITE OF FLEVANS' "FLICKER")

SANDERS: All right. Coming up, we're going to talk pop music. You may have noticed that over the last few years, pop songs have gotten much shorter - like a minute or so shorter than they were just a few years ago. We will tell you why and how that is changing the very way that pop songs are written. That is after the break. You're listening to IT'S BEEN A MINUTE from NPR. We'll be right back.

(SOUNDBITE OF FLEVANS' "FLICKER")

SANDERS: Hello, listeners.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SANDERS: Sam here, obvi (ph). Got some news for you. Next week, I'll be out working on some special projects. But my friend, and your friend, Elise Hu - she's going to guest host the show. And she has a very good conversation in store for you next Tuesday. Elise will be talking with Anthony Carrigan. A lot of you know him as the bald and lovable NoHo Hank on "Barry" on HBO.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "BARRY")

ANTHONY CARRIGAN: (As NoHo Hank) Hey, man. You must be Betty. I'm NoHo Hank.

SANDERS: And, I mean, who doesn't love a bald and lovable character? (Laughter). Anywho (ph), don't miss that chat. Elise Hu, talking with Anthony Carrigan. That will be in your feed on Tuesday. All right, back to the show.

We are back. You're listening to IT'S BEEN A MINUTE from NPR, the show where we catch up on the week that was. I'm Sam Sanders here with two guests, Sarah Halzack, retail columnist for Bloomberg Opinion and Dan Zak, feature writer for The Washington Post. Hello to you, both.

HALZACK: Hello.

ZAK: Hi, Sam.

SANDERS: I want to play for you, right now, the No. 1 song in the country.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "7 RINGS")

ARIANA GRANDE: (Singing) My wrist stop watching. My neck is flossy. Make big deposits. My gloss is popping.

SANDERS: It's called "7 Rings" by Ariana Grande. I want you both to guess how long this song is.

HALZACK: Two minutes, 45 seconds.

ZAK: I was going to guess two minutes, 10 seconds.

SANDERS: You're both close. It is two minutes and 58 seconds, which is surprisingly short for a No. 1 song in the country because for the longest time, the standard pop song was three minutes and, like, 45 seconds long. But a lot of pop songs today, not just from Ariana Grande, are considerably shorter than pop songs of yesteryear. And there is a reason for all of this.

I learned about that reason recently through a podcast called Switched On Pop from Vox. And I actually talked with one of the show's host, Nate Sloan. He says most of the shift to shorter songs can be traced to one big, recent phenomenon.

NATE SLOAN: It's Spotify and streaming in general, whether that's Apple, Spotify, another system. It's - yeah, absolutely. This new way of consuming music tends to incentivize shorter songs because you only get paid per play. So, you know, as long as your song is longer than 30 seconds, which is the minimum in order to get reimbursed for that play - it makes more sense to have shorter songs like as in...

SANDERS: So that's what Drake does.

SLOAN: Yeah, exactly.

SANDERS: Like, his last two or three albums are full of very short songs but, like, 25 of them.

SLOAN: Yes.

SANDERS: Also what you pointed out on your show, which I didn't know at all before, you know, every song maker right now is hoping that one of their songs gets picked up by one of Spotify's big playlists...

SLOAN: That's right.

SANDERS: ...Like Chillwave or Relax...

SLOAN: Yes, yes.

SANDERS: ...Or Workout Twerkout, whatever.

SLOAN: (Laughter).

SANDERS: And part of the algorithm that decides what songs make those big playlists looks at how often listeners play the whole song all the way through.

SLOAN: Yes.

SANDERS: And they're rewarded if listeners listen to the entire song, which is further incentive to make your song shorter.

SLOAN: Yes. The mega producer, Mark Ronson, who's worked with everyone from Amy Winehouse to Lady Gaga recently complained about this, saying that it behooves you to write a shorter song to ensure that someone will listen to the whole thing.

SANDERS: Wow.

SLOAN: For him, this was really concerning because it seems to be sort of compressing and diluting, I guess, the music of today.

SANDERS: Yeah. I want to talk about one of these shorter songs. Can you give us an example of a very short pop song hit of the moment that we can kind of break down?

SLOAN: Totally. One - I think a great example, this is Kanye West and Lil Pump - "I Love It."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I LOVE IT")

LIL PUMP: (Singing) You're such a freaky girl. I love it.

SANDERS: Hopefully, the edited version (laughter).

SLOAN: Yeah. This is filthy (laughter).

SANDERS: Let's play it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I LOVE IT")

LIL PUMP: (Singing) I love it. You're such a freaky girl. I love it.

SANDERS: Well, one thing I noticed is that they get to the hook right away.

SLOAN: Yes.

SANDERS: They're not wasting time.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I LOVE IT")

LIL PUMP: (Singing) I just pulled up in a Ghost.

SANDERS: So how long is this song?

SLOAN: We're looking at two minutes and seven seconds for this guy.

SANDERS: (Laughter) Two minutes and seven seconds.

SLOAN: Yeah. Is it even a song?

SANDERS: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I LOVE IT")

KANYE WEST: (Rapping) I'm a real freak. I need a real freak. I'm a real freak. I need a real freak. I'm a real freak. I need a real freak.

SLOAN: And this is something we see again and again. There's no - for lack of a better word, there's no foreplay. There's just - it's just...

SANDERS: (Laughter).

SLOAN: They hit you with the chorus.

SANDERS: Oh, yeah.

SLOAN: And they try and grab your attention immediately and, ideally, keep you for another two minutes.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I LOVE IT")

WEST: (Rapping) Send me some more pics. You look nice for four kids.

SLOAN: And then do it again.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I LOVE IT")

LIL PUMP: (Singing) You're such a freaky girl. I love it. You're such a freaky girl. I love it.

(SOUNDBITE OF BENNY BLANCO'S "EASTSIDE")

SANDERS: Are there some examples of, like, straight-ahead pop songs that have figured out how to make a hit in these shortened constraints?

SLOAN: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EASTSIDE")

KHALID: (Singing) When I was young, I fell in love. We used to hold hands, man, that was enough.

SLOAN: I think one example might be the song "Eastside" by Benny Blanco, featuring Halsey...

SANDERS: OK.

SLOAN: ...And Khalid.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EASTSIDE")

KHALID: (Singing) She used to meet me on the Eastside in the city where the sun don't set. And every day, you know that we ride through the backstreets of a blue Corvette.

SLOAN: That's a big hit right now that is - I think, is pretty short. It's still very satisfying. And it kind of copes with this by - rather than having a repetition of the final chorus, something you hear in a lot...

SANDERS: Yeah.

SLOAN: ...Of songs. They're just...

SANDERS: The resounding final rendition.

SLOAN: Yeah.

SANDERS: Yeah, yeah.

SLOAN: Exactly. This song kind of turns its final chorus into a little coda in which everything sort of dissolves away.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EASTSIDE")

HALSEY: (Singing) ...Used to meet me on the Eastside.

KHALID: (Singing) She used to meet me on the Eastside.

SLOAN: So, I think, in any point in music history, technology is both a limiting factor and also something that spurs creativity as artists try and deal with these new limitations.

SANDERS: I'm guessing if you're having to make these songs where they need to get shorter, certain genres are better able to handle that change of song structure than others. No?

SLOAN: Yes. And the biggest one in this respect is hip-hop.

SANDERS: OK.

SLOAN: Hip-hop really lends itself to this shortening because, traditionally, hip-hop just consists of two formal sections - a rapped verse section and, increasingly, a sung chorus section.

SANDERS: Yeah.

SLOAN: So that's a very flexible, very pliable form. You can kind of slice and dice that as you please.

SANDERS: Yeah. What is a thing that's going away from songs that you miss the most? I think I'm already noticing that, like, the verses get shorter.

SLOAN: Yeah.

SANDERS: The second verse is even shorter.

SLOAN: Yeah.

SANDERS: And there's no more bridge or vamp.

SLOAN: Yes. That is a catalog of vanishing...

(LAUGHTER)

SLOAN: ...Song items. For me, personally, I'm a big fan of the bridge, as you mentioned.

SANDERS: And tell folks clinically what the bridge means when you say it.

SLOAN: Sure, sure. The bridge is a section that you usually get, say, like, three-quarters of the way through a song that usually comes before the final chorus. It's new material...

SANDERS: It's a new idea.

SLOAN: ...That you've never heard. Exactly.

SANDERS: But it takes you back to that main chorus.

SLOAN: Yeah.

SANDERS: What should we watch going forward? Like, if we want to keep our eyes on how streaming and these new platforms are changing the craft, what should we be listening for?

SLOAN: Yeah. I think we'll be listening - I think, form, you know? That - what we've been describing - verse, chorus, bridge, chorus - that's been around now for - since the 1960s, you know?

SANDERS: Yeah.

SLOAN: That's like - hasn't really changed...

SANDERS: Yeah.

SLOAN: ...That much. When you think of all the other ways pop has changed...

SANDERS: Yeah.

SLOAN: ...From then to now.

SANDERS: That's stayed a constant.

SLOAN: I think that's what, you know, we as musicologists and just listeners are really interested in, is how streaming and this new economic system is going to change the form of the song. What comes where for how long?

SANDERS: Yeah. I will say when I was digging through the top Spotify charts...

SLOAN: Yeah.

SANDERS: ...To look for short, like, straight-ahead pop songs, that new Jonas Brothers song...

SLOAN: "Sucker."

SANDERS: "Sucker."

SLOAN: Yeah.

SANDERS: They just start right there with the verse.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SUCKER")

NICK JONAS: (Singing) We go together better than birds of a feather, you and me.

SANDERS: That's it.

SLOAN: That's it.

SANDERS: This - like, just get in there.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SUCKER")

N JONAS: (Singing) Yeah.

SLOAN: Right. And it's so key because they need to grab your attention and then hold it for 30 seconds.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SUCKER")

JOE JONAS: (Singing) I've been dancing on top of cars and stumbling out of bars. I follow you through the dark. Can't get enough.

SLOAN: It reminds me of, like, you know, Vivaldi symphonies would always start with the beat...

SANDERS: I hear us...

SLOAN: (Laughter).

SANDERS: ...Drawing parallels between the Jonas Brothers and Vivaldi symphonies. And I like where you're going.

SLOAN: (Laughter).

SANDERS: Keep going.

SLOAN: OK, OK. So back in the day, they would start with a big bang, like, literally just this blast of sound...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SUCKER")

N JONAS: (Singing) I'm a sucker for you. Say the word, and I'll go anywhere blindly.

SLOAN: ...Which is another technological limitation. You're in a concert hall. There's no way to dim the lights. It's all being lit by candles. Everyone's talking, having a good time. How do you know the show is going to start? You get the...

SANDERS: Cymbal crash.

SLOAN: Yeah, exactly. And they're like, OK, now that we have your attention, here's a beautiful melody.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SUCKER")

JONAS BROTHERS: (Singing) I'm a sucker for all the subliminal things no one knows about you, about you, about you, about you. And you're making the typical me break my typical rules. It's true. I'm a sucker for you.

SANDERS: I love it. Oh, this was delightful.

SLOAN: Thank you. Yeah, thanks for having me.

SANDERS: Thanks again to Nate Sloan, co-host of Vox's podcast "Switched On Pop." Also big shout-out to two reporters from Quartz - Aisha Hassan and Dan Kopf. They first wrote about this shorter pop song phenomenon.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SUCKER")

J JONAS: (Singing) Can't get enough.

SANDERS: So Dan, Sarah - my question for you both - do you feel cheated by these songwriters that they're giving you shorter songs?

ZAK: I'm going to say yes.

SANDERS: OK.

ZAK: You know, if we're kind of placing an emphasis on hooks over stories, you know, we don't have any time for exposition or denouement. And we only have time for the climax.

SANDERS: I don't even know what denouement is. What is denouement?

HALZACK: (Laughter).

ZAK: It's, you know, after the climax, like an arc to a story.

SANDERS: Yeah.

ZAK: And we only have time - you know, if the destination and not the journey is being thrown in your face, you know, maybe we're missing out on something.

SANDERS: True.

HALZACK: See, I'm going to disagree. I'm going to say that maybe it makes songs less flabby...

(LAUGHTER)

HALZACK: ...And that it spares me from guest verses from C-list rappers. And it just...

SANDERS: Wow.

HALZACK: ...Distills the song...

SANDERS: (Laughter).

HALZACK: ...To its essence, right? And the other thing I would say about this is there's a long tradition of the economics of the business, shaping the construction of songs, you know?

SANDERS: Oh, yeah.

HALZACK: When iTunes first came around, that was what took a sledgehammer to the album, right?

SANDERS: Exactly.

HALZACK: Because people were buying songs a la carte, and so having a cohesive body of songs didn't matter as much anymore. And then the best example of this is remember the hot second where ringtones were a thing?

SANDERS: There was a ringtones chart.

HALZACK: There was.

SANDERS: Yes.

HALZACK: And, like, Soulja Boy Tell 'Em and MIMS' "This Is Why I'm Hot..."

SANDERS: (Laughter).

HALZACK: ...Were, like, coming out of everybody's phones. And that was a thing. And that was shaping song construction at that time, that you needed to have this, you know, zinger thing that sounded good coming out of a Nokia flip phone.

SANDERS: (Laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

HALZACK: And so, you know, I feel like this is just sort of an inevitable part...

SANDERS: Yeah.

HALZACK: ...Of the pop music landscape.

SANDERS: Yeah. OK. It's time for a break. When we come back, my favorite game - Who Said That. I'm Sam Sanders. You're listening to IT'S BEEN A MINUTE from NPR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SANDERS: You're listening to IT'S BEEN A MINUTE from NPR, the show where we catch up on the week that was. I'm here with two guests - Sarah Halzack, retail columnist at Bloomberg Opinion, and Dan Zak, a feature writer at The Washington Post. Hello to you both.

HALZACK: Hello.

ZAK: Hi, Sam.

SANDERS: Now it's time for my favorite game, Who Said That.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE REAL HOUSEWIVES OF ATLANTA")

KANDI BURRUSS: Who had been saying that?

PORSHA WILLIAMS: Who said that?

KENYA MOORE: Who said that?

SANDERS: I share a quote from the week. And you have to guess who said that or at least get close - get a keyword, guess the story that I'm referring to. As you know, the winner of course gets absolutely nothing. You both have played this game before. Who are you putting odds on to win?

ZAK: Sarah. You know how bad - I mean, I've...

HALZACK: Oh.

ZAK: Like I could never be on Jeopardy because I'd be so - I might know the answer. But I'd be so late pressing the buzzer. It's just not...

SANDERS: Just got to yell it out. You just got to yell out.

ZAK: I'm not good at that. I get tense.

SANDERS: Oh (laughter). Well, sending some calming CBD vibes to you right now.

HALZACK: (Laughter).

SANDERS: All right. Ready for the first quote?

HALZACK: Yes.

SANDERS: Here it is - due to their environmental activism, they are reluctant to co-brand with oil, drilling, mining, dam construction, et cetera.

HALZACK: Patagonia.

(SOUNDBITE OF VICTORY TUNE)

SANDERS: Yes. Dan's like, OK, what?

ZAK: Couldn't even venture a guess.

SANDERS: (Laughter). So we all know Patagonia as the clothing company that makes the iconic Patagonia vest, right? And it's come to become part of the, I guess, uniform of Silicon Valley and the tech bro and the finance bros. But this week, BuzzFeed quoted an email from a Patagonia resaler. And that quote you heard is from that email. The email suggests that Patagonia is trying to change that. Basically, Patagonia is trying not to sell versions of the Patagonia vest that have a company logo on them for companies that are, in their eyes, bad.

HALZACK: Can I just tell you, I first saw this bubbling up on Twitter on April Fool's Day. And I was like, psh (ph)...

SANDERS: (Laughter).

HALZACK: ....April Fool's Day joke because this is such a part of the uniform on Wall Street and in Silicon Valley.

SANDERS: Yeah.

HALZACK: It's sort of become their signifier of, I'm hip and cool. This is not Gordon Gekko Wall Street anymore.

SANDERS: (Laughter).

HALZACK: And so to sort of see them make this decision, I just sort of had to laugh at.

SANDERS: What is the Patagonia vest for journalists?

ZAK: Well, sitting right by my feet is my Patagonia backpack.

(LAUGHTER)

ZAK: Which has seen better days, frankly, but...

HALZACK: I think dad khakis are...

SANDERS: (Laughter).

HALZACK: ...The journalist uniform, right?

SANDERS: Sarah, you're up one-zip. But, Dan, don't fear. You could come back and win this whole thing, OK?

ZAK: I'm not going to come back and...

SANDERS: Hey now.

ZAK: ...Win this whole thing.

SANDERS: Well, with that attitude you won't.

ZAK: OK.

SANDERS: I'm rooting for you both.

ZAK: Hit us with it.

HALZACK: (Laughter).

SANDERS: OK. Second quote - the waste will emerge at the surface not very different from when it was buried. It will be smushed and have been frozen and be really wet.

ZAK: Are we talking about, like, a vast reserve of human waste? I mean...

SANDERS: Yes.

(SOUNDBITE OF VICTORY TUNE)

SANDERS: We are.

HALZACK: Ooh (clapping).

ZAK: That's the answer? (Laughter).

SANDERS: Yes, sir. That is the answer. I'm going to let you have it.

ZAK: That seems charitable of you.

HALZACK: (Laughter).

SANDERS: I am talking about this really weird climate change story. There are glaciologists looking at Denali, which is North America's tallest mountain, in Alaska. And they're saying as climate change goes on, a lot of the ice and glaciers on this mountain are going to melt. And that is going to rerelease all of the poop mountain climbers have left on Denali throughout the years.

ZAK: Oh, my God.

HALZACK: Ugh. Is...

SANDERS: And...

HALZACK: And it's...

SANDERS: Go ahead.

HALZACK: It's that much poop?

SANDERS: Well, when you're climbing a mountain that tall, there's not...

HALZACK: Yeah.

SANDERS: ...A restroom...

HALZACK: Good point.

SANDERS: ... On the side.

HALZACK: Good point.

SANDERS: You just - you poop. And you say, the ice and the snow will get it. We're good. But now all that ice and snow is melting. And the thing about poop that is perfectly preserved in frozen ice - when it thaws, it still smells.

ZAK: I thought you were going to say something like, oh, it's, like, Neanderthal poop. It's, like, prehistoric poop that's like...

SANDERS: No, it's like your friend Mike (ph) who climbed that mountain five years ago.

HALZACK: Ugh (laughter).

SANDERS: His poop.

ZAK: Thanks, Mike.

SANDERS: You're welcome. The game is tied one all.

HALZACK: All right, this is...

SANDERS: You ready?

ZAK: Let's settle this.

HALZACK: Do or die, yeah.

SANDERS: (Laughter) Dan's just like, whatever. Like, whatever.

ZAK: If there's a prize, I'd be more enthusiastic.

SANDERS: Well, then maybe. You know, maybe there might be a prize if you were more enthusiastic.

ZAK: All right.

SANDERS: No, there's no prize. There's no prize. All right, final quote. This week, I picked up a new album by Dave Matthews, prophet of the carefree joy of my high school years. Who said that? He's...

HALZACK: Someone who went to my high school because Dave Matthews was super ubiquitous.

SANDERS: (Laughter) I'm a - oh, go ahead.

ZAK: I was going to guess Melania, but...

(SOUNDBITE OF BUZZER)

SANDERS: It is someone involved in presidential politics, someone who's actually running for president.

ZAK: Oh, it's Beto.

HALZACK: Beto.

(SOUNDBITE OF BUZZER)

SANDERS: No, someone else who's getting a lot of buzz right now.

HALZACK: Mayor Pete.

ZAK: Pete.

SANDERS: Yes.

SOUNDBITE OF VICTORY TUNE)

SANDERS: Wait. Who got that?

ZAK: I think Sarah was a millisecond before me.

SANDERS: Oh. OK, Sarah, you won. Mayor Pete, Pete Buttigieg - this week, journalists uncovered an op-ed he wrote for the school paper while he was an undergrad at Harvard. And he wrote this essay about how the Twin Towers falling changed the sound of the music that he loves. But in that essay, he confessed to loving not just the Dave Matthews Band but also Radiohead. And that is, like, peak Mayor Pete.

HALZACK: Yeah, and peak, like, sign of the times, right? Like, anyone who was in high school at that age...

SANDERS: Oh, totally. Totally.

ZAK: We had a millennial running for president, and this is - you know, this is what we're going to get.

SANDERS: I don't know how I feel about Dave Matthews fans. They're like a step away from Wilco fans...

HALZACK: Ooh.

SANDERS: ...The people that follow the band wherever they go and obsess over it. It's a little too much for me.

HALZACK: Yeah, and like Phishheads and stuff.

SANDERS: Yeah.

ZAK: I was just going to say, at least Mayor Pete's not a Phishhead, although I think...

SANDERS: Oh, he probably is.

ZAK: I don't want to get you - the Phish people are going to come after us and you and the show...

SANDERS: They always do.

ZAK: ...If you broadcast this part (laughter).

SANDERS: Anyway, Sarah, what are you going to do with your winnings? You won the game.

HALZACK: Go take a victory lap around NPR headquarters, maybe. I don't know.

SANDERS: I want to see that.

HALZACK: (Laughter).

SANDERS: I want that TikTok. Oh, my God. All right, now it's time to end the show as we do every week. We ask our listeners to share with us the best things that happened to them all week. We encourage folks to brag. Let's listen.

ALISSA: Hi, Sam. This is Alissa (ph) and Brynlee (ph) from Sacramento. And the best part of our week is baking together. Brynlee, what are we making?

BRYNLEE: Cookies.

ALISSA: Cookies.

MALLORY: Good morning, Sam. This is Mallory (ph) in Euless, Texas, and the best part of my week is I just made my very last student loan payment.

SARAH: One of my best friends and myself both got our first tattoos.

BECKY: I took my 16-year-old old daughter, my youngest child, on her first official college visit.

CAITLIN: The best part of my week was being maid of honor for my best friend of 22 years just a month after she was maid of honor at my wedding.

CAROLINA: The best thing that happened to us this week is we booked flights to fly to America and see the grandparents.

NICK: Oh, fly.

QUINCY: Hello, this is Quincy (ph) in Mexico City. The best thing that happened to me this week was having my mom and stepdad come visit me in the final stop of my two-month Mexico adventure. It's been great to see them and show them around the city and country that I've come to love.

CLAIRE: Hey, Sam. This is Claire (ph) from Oklahoma, and the best thing that happened to me this week is I finally got to learn how to code. I've been wanting to for a long time.

MAMA BLUE: Hey, Sam. This is Mama Blue (ph) in beautiful San Diego. The best part of my week was that after 32 years of delivering mail, I got to retire from the U.S. Postal Service. I never have to wear blue polyester again.

TIFFANY: Hi, Sam. This is Tiffany (ph) from Idaho. The best thing that happened to me this week is sort of related to a not-so-fun part of this week. I have surgery today. And because of that, I have really seen my support system in action - people bringing over freezer meals, people taking care of my children. And I just feel so, so, so lucky.

BECKY: Thanks, Sam.

CAITLIN: Thanks. Keep it up.

MAMA BLUE: Big hey to Aunt Betty.

ALISSA: Bye.

TIFFANY: Bye.

SANDERS: Well, that's nice.

HALZACK: So nice.

ZAK: I want to make cookies.

SANDERS: I want to - I would love to read the memoir of someone who was delivering mail for 32 years. Imagine the stories.

HALZACK: They've probably seen some stuff and met a lot of dogs.

SANDERS: They've seen some stuff. Mama Blue, congratulations. Actually, congrats to all the voices and thanks to all the people you heard there - Alissa and Brynlee, Mallory, Sarah (ph), Becky (ph), Caitlin (ph), Carolina (ph) and Nick (ph), Quincy, Claire, Mama Blue and Tiffany. If you want to share your best thing, it is so easy. Just use your smartphone, record an audio file and then send that file to me via email at samsanders@npr.org - samsanders@npr.org.

We're going to go out now on the song "Old Town Road" by Lil Nas X.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OLD TOWN ROAD")

LIL NAS X: (Singing) I got the horses in the back. Horse tack is attached...

SANDERS: I'm making you hear it again. I know. I know. I promise. I'm almost done with it. This is a song that is a little bit country, a little bit rap, and it's confusing the folks at Billboard and in country a lot. All right. Thanks to my guests Sarah Halzack, opinion columnist at Bloomberg Opinion, and Dan Zak, feature writer at The Washington Post. I hope you both enjoy the rest of your weekend.

HALZACK: Thanks, Sam.

ZAK: Thanks, Sam.

SANDERS: Jinx.

HALZACK: (Laughter).

SANDERS: (Laughter) This week, IT'S BEEN A MINUTE was produced by Brent Baughman and Anjuli Sastry. Our director of programming is Steve Nelson. Our fearless editors are Jordana Hochman and Alex McCall. Our big boss is NPR's senior VP of programming, Anya Grundmann.

Listeners, till next time, thank you for listening. I'm Sam Sanders. Talk soon.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OLD TOWN ROAD")

LIL NAS X: (Singing) Can't nobody tell me nothing. You can't tell me nothing. Can't nobody tell me nothing. You can't me nothing.

Copyright © 2019 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.