Owen Pallett Breaks Down The Genius Music Theory Behind “Get Lucky”

Owen Pallett Breaks Down The Genius Music Theory Behind “Get Lucky”

As we recently reported, Owen Pallett took up the challenge of analyzing a pop song using music theory. It was Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream,” and it was a great read, but perhaps the best part of that article was when he ended with a tease about Daft Punk: “If I were going to talk about ‘Get Lucky’ I’d probably have to start posting score. That is a complicated song.” Well, folks, that’s exactly what he did.

Pallett’s new essay breaks down “Get Lucky” and analyzes it on a level that no one else has really attempted, probably because they’re too busy dancing. He breaks down the chord structure, addresses complexities in the song that disguise themselves as simple, and notes that even if the song is complete GarageBand copypasta well … maybe that was kind of the point.

See, the song can be heard in two different keys. Most of the time it sounds as if it’s in the minor mode of A Aeolian*—the scale goes A B C D E F G—essentially, a form of A minor, which appears as the third of the four chords (“We’re up all night for good fun”).

But the first chord of the progression isn’t A minor, it’s D minor. The song slides smoothly back to it each time (“I’m up all night to get some”). The insistence of the D minor creates the aural illusion that the song could in fact be in the minor mode of D Dorian—D E F G A B C. Note that the D Dorian scale contains all the same notes as A Aeolian, all the same keys on the piano. The only difference is what key you start on.

So, when the chord cycle comes back around to the beginning, the D minor, each time, the ear is tricked for a moment into thinking that the song is in a different key, a musical Tilt-a-Whirl. I am not going to lie: To my ears the song is clearly identifiable as A minor, but on a Kinsey scale, I’d rate it a 3.

This essay really seems to come as a reaction to two big things. There’s Ted Giola’s recent essay on the decline of music criticism and Rick Moody’s recent war on “Get Lucky” which spawned a full-on debate with Dean Wareham.

In other news, Pallett’s new album is out 5/13 via Domino and he’s been dropping some of the best music of his career.

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