May 25, 2020

"Rain on Me" by Lady Gaga: end of backlash against UNH-tss rhythm, return of percussion to dance music

A quick note on the new Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande song "Rain on Me".

In the historical survey of dance fevers during restless warm-up phases of the excitement cycle, I noted that the dance craze from the late 2000s was unusual in one respect. It did accent the offbeat in the rhythm, but it did this almost exclusively through non-percussion instruments -- mainly a synthesizer playing notes rhythmically, not melodically.

This was a backlash against the UNH-tss rhythm typical of the early '90s dance fever, which grew during the late '90s and carried over into the early 2000s. Once the next dance fever erupted, in the late 2000s, they wanted a different approach to avoid the widespread stigma of UNH-tss music.

So they cut out most of the percussion, especially on the offbeat, and replaced it with synth notes. The style is "electropop," as it derived this sparse percussion and rhythmic use of synths from the "electroclash" style of the early 2000s (which was more niche back then, and electro-"pop" brought it into the mainstream).

By far the greatest example of that style was Lady Gaga. None of her numerous #1 Billboard Dance Club hits had percussion devoted only to the offbeat, and it was sparse even on the main beats. That continued with her lesser big hits during the manic phase of the early 2010s, such as "Edge of Glory". And in fact, it seemed to be continuing right up through the nascent dance fever of the current warm-up phase which began in 2020 -- "Stupid Love" has minimal percussion, none on the offbeat, while synth notes establish the rhythm.

But with the release of "Rain on Me," even the foremost example of minimalist percussion in dance music has given in to the drum revival under way. Bass drum on the 1 and 3 main beats, hand claps on the backbeat of 2 and 4, and a tap on the hi-hat during the offbeats in between.

It's a disco rhythm for the neo-neo-neo-disco era. Not too different from the UNH-tss rhythm that began during the dance fever of the early '90s warm-up phase, especially when supported by the rhythmic synth chords. Most commentary on the song has highlighted this early '90s style.

Aside from the music, the lyrics also touch on the common themes of the warm-up phase, now that the vulnerable phase is over and people are no longer in a refractory state. They're restless to get out and interacting again. No more victimhood Olympics, Me Too hysteria, etc.

Now the mood is about getting over it and moving past it. It's impossible not to notice the stark contrast between this song's uplifting tone and energetic feel, and the mellow wallowing of her main hits from the vulnerable phase, "A Million Reasons" and "Shallow".

For my money, "Break My Heart" by Dua Lipa is still the gold standard for club music during the neo-neo-neo-disco era. But "Rain on Me" is still good dance music, and its lyrical tone and theme are a welcome relief from the trauma porn of the now-gone vulnerable phase. I think this one will have a greater impact socially and emotionally than culturally, but that's no less of a role in the shift between phases of the excitement cycle.

BTW, don't look at the Tik Tok compilations for this song just yet -- right now, it's only her mega-fans doing them, i.e. fags and trannies, hardly any girls. Stick with the music video instead.

Incidentally, Ariana Grande looks more wild and mature with her hair down, during the later part. She does have a cute baby doll face that is showcased by clearing away all her hair into a upward ponytail, and she could even pull off a short pixie style. But nothing gets the blood going like long, dark hair flowing down like the hanging gardens of Babylon.


  1. This song was heavily inspired by Cassius "Feeling For You" from 1999:

  2. It's just the bass line, which Cassius and Lady Gaga both sampled from "All This Love That I'm Giving" by Gwen McCrae.

    And it has the basic UNH-tss beat that most '90s dance music does, although plenty of other things going on that are not present in the Lady Gaga song. It's more minimalist in melody and riffs.

  3. "Sour Candy" also has the UNH-tss beat and an overall early '90s sound, including the surface-level stuff like the timbre on the keyboard riff.

    Percussion is back.


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