Unlock the melody, harmony, and rhythm
Whether or not you're a huge Lady Gaga fan, you can't really deny this one thing: her songs are catchy. The woman knows how to write pop hits (and she's had lots of practice, considering she used to write for Britney Spears and the Pussycat Dolls before launching her own career). She often finds herself having to explain this to interviewers who are used to the manufactured pop stars of the Backstreet Boys variety, and thus assume she has little to nothing to do with the process songwriting or composing music.
But Lady Gaga is no manufactured pop idol. A musical prodigy from a very young age, she taught herself how to play the piano by ear at the age of four and was later classically trained in the instrument. She wrote her first piano ballad by age thirteen and soon started singing at the mic as well. As a teenager, music was her life. "I studied classical music and I grew up hanging out in jazz clubs," she told iProng Magazine, "and being in jazz bands and choirs and rock and roll and stuff. So I was just surrounded by it growing up. I wasn't the girl that was hanging out with boys after school, you know? I was always doing something artistic." Gifted musically and with a flair for crazy outfits and pumping basslines, it's no wonder that she's struck such a chord with the dance scene.
"Paparazzi," like her earlier hits "Just Dance" and "Poker Face," boasts a prominent electro-synth groove that underlies the track and keeps things moving. It's in the key of C minor, adding a darker melodic texture to what would otherwise be a too-happy pop song. The subject matter, after all, is about the obsessive wooing of the paparazzi, stalking a rock star, and chasing unrequited love (all at the same time!) so a minor key is fitting for this kind of drama.
The chords are built around the original key, in a progression that moves from mostly C minor and F minor, in the verses, to predominately A-flat Major and D-flat Major when she sings the hook:
I'm your biggest fan (A-flat)
I'll follow you (C minor)
until you love me (D-flat Major)
The effect of these major keys adds a certain self-determination to those lines; you can almost see Gaga lifting herself up out of the depression in the verses to a new conviction in the chorus.
The final verdict: this isn't an easy key to compose in; Gaga's success in crafting "Paparazzi" provides more evidence that her classical training continues to really pay off on the dance floor.
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