Grandpa gets irate!

Is The TikTokification of Music Killing the Bridge?

How am I supposed to eat this pizza without my BRIDGE??!

Sometimes, you have a feeling about something but don’t know how to voice it, for fear of sounding paranoid, pretentious, or … urk … old. God forbid you lose the collagen in your face and outlive your usefulness with saggy, rancid opinions.

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Thankfully, I was able to avoid this predicament at a recent party, where a friend’s boyfriend told me about his experiences as a musician in L.A.—and why he left his old band. Apparently, with the way the industry is being shaped thanks to TikTok, bands are less interested in writing complete, interesting songs, and more invested in creating a really good hook. That is to say, all of the songwriting braincells go to the hook.

The result? This voice actor sums up my thoughts well enough:

Nobody wants to be the old man yelling at clouds, but I don’t think anyone foresaw this kind of weird problem. Songs are meant to be enjoyed as a whole, and for a long time, it was just a given that the best songs carry strongly all the way through.

Now, though, some of the most weasel-piss songs get traction on TikTok just because their hooks are catchy. Some of them can’t really help this, since they came out before TikTok started changing how we write music, and they just wrote songs a specific way. For instance, Vundabar, those spunky Boston boys who wrote the hit song “Alien Blues,” are kind of a jam band, so their bridges have always been a little meandering.

Other songs–with increasing frequency–are written to be TikTok-popular. Therefore, they’ve got the hook down, but the rest of it? The bridge? What bridge? What’s a bridge? Does a bridge? Who even cares anymore???? Absolute. Weasel. Piss.

I’d feel bad linking examples, because ultimately music is such a sketchy thing to pursue and I can’t really “fault” anyone for trying to game the system to their benefit, but you really don’t have to look far to find these sorts of bands. A lot of them are kids in their early-to-mid twenties who have probably grown up with this image of social media dominating music spaces, and a lot of them have therefore learned to shape their image and sound based on what’s popular.

Off the top of my head, I can think of several twee, soft-voiced young women who play maybe two chords and add reverb, groups of young men who play up the “soft-boy-sweet-boy” image and sing solely about anxiety, queer folk artists who use psychological terms in rhyme schemes, and on and on and on. And this itself is not a bad thing at all, if not for the fact that their songs just … suck.

There is nothing memorable about an image, other than the fleeting satisfaction of the image itself. And that’s why bridges are still important: If all you have is a hook, with no bridge, then all you have is an image with no staying power. If the hook is the top layer of your skin, then the bridge is the meat that gives it something to sit on. The bridge fills out the character of a song, the meaning and message behind it. The bridge is therefore supposed to be good.

But the shortening of content means that all people are hearing are the hooks, which are consequently designed to hook you in, as they always have been, and therefore the industry is starting to prioritize the most shallow, easy thing about every song. As a result, the bridges of these songs are just absolute piss, toe to tip. They’re loose and have no structure, by and large feel ad-libbed, and it almost even sounds like the musician is bored singing them. And look, bridges have always been hard to write, and even as a kid, I’d skip some of them. But it doesn’t bode well for the development of modern music if we’re given even less of an impetus to put any effort into writing a bridge. I mean god, if nobody was putting in effort before, they’re really being given no reason to even think about bridges now!

This shapes how people listen to music, too: Steve Lacy’s been getting a lot of flack for how irritatedly he’s been interacting with his audience on his past tour, but honestly, I’d be throwing phones too if people only knew one line from the one song they all listened to. I mean, is this how we consume music nowadays? We scroll through TikTok and listen to the same hook from the same song, over, and over, and over again?

Hold on, let me grab my cane. Okay. Now, back in my day, if you went to a concert you’d shut your mouth and, you know, listen to the music. You wouldn’t actively be memeing the situation (unless you were drunk and it was a house show, in which case, valid), you’d be getting your money’s worth for a performance from someone you respected. And if you were fun, you’d dance, mosh, do whatever. But this shortening of the listening experience is starting to rot how we engage with music as a whole, let alone create it.

Luckily, humanity has tenacity, and music as a whole is as old as we are, so I don’t think anything will definitively “kill” the bridge as long as there’s people with enough of a sense of self not to devote their entire lives to TikTok. But the industry is changing, to be certain, and I’m concerned. I want to root for the teeny-boppers, but my god are they ass at writing original content.

I want to end on an example that literally puts the bridge in your face. Love her or hate her, Amanda Palmer was always a clever songwriter, and in her song “Coin-Operated Boy” (which has been taking off on TikTok as well, for, again, the hook), she gives you the bridge with self-awareness:

This bridge was written to make you feel smittener
With my sad picture of girl getting bitterer
Oh, can you extract me from my plastic fantasy
I didn’t think so but I’m still convincible

Oh will you persist even after I bet you a million dollars
That I’ll never love you and will you persist even after I kiss you
Goodbye for the last time will you be trying to prove it, I’m dying
To lose it, I’m losing my confidence

Dresden Dolls, “Coin-Operated Boy”

And while I used to roll my eyes at the bridge as a kid, I really kind of adore it now. It builds up the tension of the song, while also seamlessly connecting you to the breakdown. As well as this, it adds this gorgeously sad layer to the song that helps it tie together both in sound and in theme. Without the bridge, this song would feel hollow and incomplete. But since all of its layers work so well, I’m comfortable calling “Coin-Operated Boy” one of the best-written songs of its time.

So, to all ye songwriters who may be reading this: I implore you, don’t be a lazyass. Your audience who can’t sing along for shit, they’re temporal. But your songs are forever, and you want them to be listenable. Screw the villainous salesman who is your label; write freely and write good. Please. I beg.

(featured image: Fox)

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Image of Madeline Carpou
Madeline Carpou
Madeline (she/her) is a staff writer with a focus on AANHPI and mixed-race representation. She enjoys covering a wide variety of topics, but her primary beats are music and gaming. Her journey into digital media began in college, primarily regarding audio: in 2018, she started producing her own music, which helped her secure a radio show and co-produce a local history podcast through 2019 and 2020. After graduating from UC Santa Cruz summa cum laude, her focus shifted to digital writing, where she's happy to say her History degree has certainly come in handy! When she's not working, she enjoys taking long walks, playing the guitar, and writing her own little stories (which may or may not ever see the light of day).