December 31, 2018

Manic songs of early 2010s find new interest as audiences tire of vulnerable phase

Over the past couple weeks, I've noticed a burst of songs from the early 2010s on the adult top 40 station I listen to, as well as in the retail places I frequent.

It's rare to hear these at all nowadays -- typically I've heard a few per month, and now it's more like several per day. In fact, it's been rare to even hear songs from 2016 or '15, let alone from 2010-'14.

They're from the manic phase, and stand out in stark contrast to the sentimental emo music of the current vulnerable phase. The radio programmers are clearly trying to offer something quite different tonally to the listeners, though without having to go back so far that it sounds retro / oldies.

You're all moped out from the five-millionth play of "Girls Like You" or "In My Blood"? OK, we're taking the hint -- how about we liven things up every hour with a surprise like "I Knew You Were Trouble" or "Roar"?

I'm even hearing a few songs from the late 2000s, the restless warm-up phase that hinted at the manic phase to come ("Wake Up Call" and "Bad Romance").

But nothing from the previous vulnerable phase of the early 2000s -- that would just be another variety of soft mellow music like today's.

At first I thought maybe it was a seasonal change to coincide with New Year's Eve -- a nostalgic look back at the hit songs of years past. But they didn't do that in previous years for the holiday. And again, they're avoiding going back into the early 2000s.

I think people are simply feeling exhausted of feeling exhausted, and that the vulnerable phase of the excitement cycle is coming to a close. We're in the part of the refractory period where it's just about to return to baseline, and that 2019 will be the last of the 5-year phase, right on schedule. Radio marketers are desperate to keep their finger on the pulse of fickle listeners, and they're responding to this subtle change in attitude by dialing down the emo-tude of their playlists.

This does not mean we're about to enter another manic phase, or a full-blown revival of earlier manic phases. They're only playing a handful of these songs per listening session, but it's still a major change from the past year or so. It's more like we're winding down the vulnerable phase, and will enter the next restless warm-up phase around 2020. The next manic phase won't hit until around 2025.

Reflecting on the previous revival of manic-phase music, there was an explosion of '80s music -- meaning, primarily early '80s new wave / synth-pop music -- in the late 2000s. Hardly at all during the early 2000s. By the restless warm-up phase, people were trying to get back into the swing of things, and returned to something familiar that they knew would get them excited and pumped up. They didn't know what the next manic phase would sound like, but returning to the '80s would at least prepare them for it. And the soaring popularity of '80s night made sure that their bodies would be in the habit of dancing for whenever the next manic phase erupted.

They did not return to the most recent manic phase -- the late '90s -- probably because it was not so intense of a manic phase, compared to the others. During the upcoming warm-up phase, I expect they'll get warmed up with the familiar manic phases of the early 2010s, or all the way back to the early '80s again -- linking that music with its revival period more recently, not the original context (when they weren't even born).

Although Millennials will be poised to get nostalgic for the late '90s, it was just way too weak to serve as a stimulant, when the early '80s and early 2010s are readily available. And Gen Z-ers will form a big chunk of the audience, not just Millennials as they've been used to so far. And I don't see Gen Z giving much of a shit about the late '90s, which they barely remember if at all. They'll go back to the early 2010s when they're mining the past for manic stimulants to get them back on their feet during the warm-up phase.


  1. This song by Shawn Mendes, "Lost in Japan", also seems to give off a warmup vibe - the video appears to have been inspired by "Lost in Translation"(2003), the soundtrack of which you used as an example of warmup/manic.

  2. Here's the link:

  3. On Taylor Swift's Reputation Tour, they almost totally leave out Red from 2012, representing the peak of the last manic phase. She performs "All Too Well," probably the most emo one from that album, and just a hint of "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together".

    The Wikipedia page lists all the alterations made to the setlist, and they mostly involve substituting another manic-phase song for "All Too Well". Like, you're only going to get one of those songs, because the performer cannot channel that mood any longer, or the audience is expected to not resonate with that mood any longer.

    I don't know, though, the audience seemed to really be getting into it when she did songs from 1989 (2014). Must be more from the performer / producer side -- not wanting too much of a jarring contrast between the upbeat bouncy music from 2012-'13 and the more downbeat emo music from 2017-'18.

  4. There was some good music in the 2010-2011 period. I wonder if, in addition to the manic phase peaking, there was a short uptick in outgoingness - which improves the quality of music. This could explain why the early 2010s music was better than the last manic peak - in the late 90s.

  5. When trying to find a way to measure the excitation level of music, I searched for structural features of music that have three categories - one for each phase of the cycle("vulnerable", "warmup", "manic")

    As it turns out, there is one such feature - rhythm. According to the Wikipedia article "Music and Emotion", there are three different types of rhythm:

    1) smooth/consistent
    2) rough/irregular
    3) varied

    I don't know how to identify the rhythm in a song, but it would be neat if the three categories of rhythm correlated to the three different types of music you've identified: vulnerable, warmup, and manic.


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