March 19: Alyssa Barnes (University of Minnesota)

The Bridge and the Role of Contrast in Post-Millennial Popular Music

In post-millennial pop, the bridge as we knew it is gone. In your favorite older rock song, it was that vital, yet unmemorable section that occurs two-thirds through a song and provides a new harmonic progression and momentum towards the final chorus. According to the section’s defining features in traditional rock genres, it has been seemingly transformed in recent popular music. In this talk I will demonstrate how the duty of formal contrast in post-millennial pop has shifted from primary parameters (like harmony) to secondary parameters (timbre, texture, and dynamics) (Meyer 1989). Thus, a bridge primarily exists due to contrast in these (secondary) parameters throughout the song form. First, I will discuss characteristics of post-millennial popular music and how it aligns with and differs from paradigms of earlier rock and pop. After a brief tour of bridges near the end of the 20th century, I will show the shifted priorities in recent popular music, demonstrating how the sections contain contrast in other domains beyond harmony and melody. I then unpack specific roles and functions that bridge sections play in this newer repertoire. With these examples in mind, I close with a discussion of the idea of “telos” in popular music form, and how it relates to the construction and expression within the bridge section.