Tonal ambiguity is pretty common in pop music. I know quite a few songs that can easily be heard in their relative major or minor. What I’ve never encountered, though, is ambiguity between different key signatures in a song that is on paper entirely diatonic to one key.
In comes the new Calvin Harris and Dua Lipa collab:
“One Kiss” (written by Harris, Lipa, and Jessie Reyez) is in the key of F major, at least according to the official sheet music published by EMI, which places a Bb in the key signature. Yet I hear it as being in the key of A minor, and to be honest I can’t imagine anyone hearing it differently.
Maybe it’s a Laurel/Yanny thing, which would be fitting given the ambiguity of Lipa’s 'reserved passion' in this song.
On paper, there is no reason to question the official key: The seven-note collection used in this song spells F major; the chords exclusively use these seven notes as well; and the vocal melody falls in line, or at least does not contradict F major. On its face, there is nothing in the sheet music that would lead one to believe that this song is in any key other than F major.
But every time the chords loop back to Am I hear it as the tonic chord. And when Lipa sings “One kiss is all it takes” in the chorus I hear these scale degrees:
NOT these scale degrees:
But someone decided that this song is in F major. It could be the songwriters (Lipa, Adam Wiles, Jessie Reyez), Harris, the person who produced the sheet music for EMI, or all of them unanimously.
Even the Wikipedia article lists this song as in F major:
It’s possible that some of the people responsible for creating this song and disseminating the public information about it did so without really thinking about it too much and just went with what seemed to be obvious on paper, but I assume that at least one or two people in that chain listened carefully and thought it through before deciding on F major.
And to be clear, I’m not saying they are necessarily wrong. Harris, Lipa, and the EMI people may read this one day and think that I’m a moron for even suggesting that “One Kiss” could be in anything other than F major. You may even think so too, and that’s fine. But from my perspective this is something worth exploring, so here is my defense of hearing this song in A minor.
Asaf Peres is a music theory Ph.D. who researches and writes about pop music.
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