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Has the key change been dying out in western popular music?


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Hats off to Audiomack data analytics man Chris Dalla Riva, who has been listening to every single number-one track from Billboard’s Hot 100: all 1,143 of them.

He’s published a long analysis of one of the most interesting trends that came out of his study: the death of the key change. “23 percent of number one hits between 1958 and 1990 were in multiple keys,” he noted. “What’s odd is that after 1990, key changes are employed much less frequently, if at all, in number one hits.”

The analysis of why this is the case is also interesting, with Dalla Riva identifying two key factors. First, the growing commercial clout (and thus more number ones) of hip-hop, where key changes aren’t really a factor. Second, the use of computers in recording music, which “lends itself to a new style of songwriting that isn’t as inviting to key changes within a recording”.

It’s a great piece of analysis, with a parting shot noting that the single number-one hit of the 2010s to use a key change, Travis Scott’s ‘Sicko’, made it stand out. Perhaps the key change could come back after all…


Written by: Stuart Dredge