The Life Cycle Of A Pop Song

by Julia Lipscomb

Conception Phase
The song is born in a basement, a warehouse, or among buskers on the street or subway station. The song may not be entirely finished yet.

Underground Phase
The song is played to a small crowd of 3–20 friends, mostly drunk, incoherent, and incapable of judging its quality.

Ambivalent Phase
You hear it in concert and no one cares. It’s not worth bragging to your friends, even if you secretly like the song.

Connected Phase
You hear the song and it’s so refined that it’s good. Your first thoughts are, “Is this real? Am I hearing this?” This is the great “aha” effect that every artistically mastered song aims to achieve on its audience. The listener can get this effect at any stage, but it usually comes before the listener becomes aware of the popularity level or corporate label attached to the band.

Indie Phase
You hear the song at a professional “indie” level, whether it’s on an indie soundtrack, on an indie station, at an indie music venue, or from an indie record label. The song is independent of capitalist gains and the artist maintains maximum control of production, but for how long is the question.

What now, Grimes?

Hipster Phase
This phase is when the song is still indie but with an added element of pretension. You may hear it in concert before everybody else does. However if you say, “I heard this before anyone else,” people may call you a hipster and a “hipster” is deemed bad, so please use the line with discretion.

Did you get turned away from that Ratking album release show on 14th Street the other day? No amount of “knowing the venue managers” could have gotten you into that one.

Mixtape Phase/Spotify playlist phase
Have you heard this? Of course you’ve heard this! But have you heard this in the order in which the fan deems it appropriate and juxtaposed to other tracks in a playlist to set a mood, vibe, atmosphere, or tone?

Top 40 Phase
This is when everyone with access to modern technology hears it before everyone else. The song makes about as much sense as the last sentence.

Sick of it yet?

Number 1 on Billboard charts Phase
You hear the song in every restaurant. You hear the song playing on the loudspeaker while passing Madison Square Garden. You are haunted by the image or feeling that is provoked by the song every day.

Previously: “Get Lucky.”

Restricted Phase
You can only hear it in an auditorium of 10,000 people. The musicians are untouchable golden gods. You will never meet them even if you wait an hour outside the backstage entrance and claim the lead singer is your nephew.

Macklemore used to play little tiny venues in Seattle, now he’s selling out auditoriums?

Shame Phase
You stop listening to the song. For good. Or at least for several months. Or years.

I know you listened to this high school. I know you would still listen to it (because you know Bright Eyes IS really good!), but would you admit that to your friends now?

Shamelessness Phase
Take the album out again for a good listen, wonder why you don’t listen to it more often. You relive old memories of five years ago. When the album is over, you file the CD back into the closet and don’t touch it again for years, maybe a decade.

Now please put it back in the vault.

Retrospective Phase — The song’s over a decade old. You find it in a record store and sigh.

You’d still buy it, wouldn’t you!

Karaoke Phase
The song may be cool again, but don’t get too obsessed over the lyrics. Sing it.

Julia Lipscomb is a grad student and writer living in Brooklyn. She’s obsessed with zines and listening to bands that none of her friends like.