By Asaf Peres
By all means, get to the chorus, but rushing to get to the catchy bit may rob your song of coherence.
There's the old saying "Don't bore us, get to the chorus" that a lot of songwriters live by. It's a good guideline, but some songwriters can take it too far and hurt their own songs.
There are different types of choruses and different types of hooks, and depending on the type some might need more of a buildup to make sense.
A song like Britney Spears’s "3", for example, can easily start with the chorus because the chorus already contains a story and makes sense on its own without needing a buildup.
Same goes for a song like "Bad Things" by Machine Gun Kelly and Camila Cabello. The chorus tells a story, and even though the verses expand on that story, they are not necessary for the chorus to make sense.
In fact, even though the chorus is the 'main point' of the story in "Bad Things", it's also simultaneously a background for the info provided in the verses, so starting with the chorus makes even more sense.
But there are choruses that need a buildup and would otherwise not make sense, and with the average time of hit songs getting shorter and shorter, some songwriters rush to "get to the chorus" in order to keep the overall playtime short.
I don’t publicly criticize songs, so instead I'll give some hypothetical examples of songs I think are great, but would suffer had they rushed to the chorus.
Imagine Ariana Grande’s "Thank U, Next", for example. Obviously (to me, at least), starting on the chorus like "3" would make zero sense because the lyrics of the chorus have no real meaning without the background.
Even skipping the prechorus in order to get to the chorus quicker would sound really odd, and possibly even mean/hostile. Ariana just mentions that she was involved with these guys and that it didn't work out with a very tiny amount of elaboration. What is she thanking them for, exactly? Is she thanking them for being involved with her? Is she being snarky?
Luckily, she does have a prechorus, and that prechorus is a perfect setup for the chorus, because it explains exactly what she is thankful for. After that, it totally makes sense to have a chorus that (mostly) repeats the same hook, "thank u next".
Related: Tonal Ambiguity in Ariana Grande's "Thank U, Next"
Including the prechorus may have delayed the arrival of the chorus by 18 seconds (not a small amount of time by pop standards), but it not only helps the chorus make sense, it also allows it to be a lot catchier and more repetitive without sounding monotonous.
The details of the story have been told so we can enjoy the hook without feeling like something is missing.
(And the hook is 'refueled' in the middle by the connecting phrase "I'm so fucking grateful for my ex")
Related: The Chainsmokers ft. Halsey - "Closer": Crafting the Chorus
Another example is Maroon 5’s "Girls Like You". This song doesn't have a prechorus and only tells part of the story in the verse, but while the chorus is very catchy and rhyme-y, it not only gets to the point but continues to tell the story.
I mean, as elaborate as the verse is, imagine if it had been immediately followed by a one-liner chorus. It still wouldn't make sense.
Related: Hanging on to Melodic Tension in Maroon 5's "Girls Like You"
Embedding the continuation of the story into a repetitive-sounding verse is an extremely crafty way of achieving a chorus that is super catchy, is satisfying lyrics-wise, and arrives quickly enough for our short attention spans.
And in order to satisfy our need for super-catchy hooks, the chorus is followed by the one-liner "Yeah yeah" in the postchorus. And for extra craftiness points, there are subtle variations within the repetitions - one "yeah" is cut off for a syncopated entrance into the postchorus, followed by two standard "yeah x3" phrases, and a 'refueling' phrase brought back from the chorus ("I need a girl like you").
Basically, I'm saying yes, get to the chorus, but don't sacrifice the cohesiveness of your song. Depending on the type of chorus or hook you have, its effectiveness could depend on the rest of the song, and skimping on the other parts is usually not a good idea.
"3" - Songwriters: Max Martin, Shellback, Sophia Somajo. Producers: Max Martin, Shellback.
"Bad Things" - Songwriters: Machine Gun Kelly, Camila Cabello, Madison Love, Tony Scalzo, Joe Khajadourian (The Futuristics), Alex Schwartz (The Futuristics). Producers: The Futuristics.
"Thank U, Next" - Songwriters: Ariana Grande, Victoria Monét, Tayla Parx, Njomza Vitia, Kimberly Krysiuk, TB Hits, Scootie Anderson (Social House), Mike Foster (Social House). Producers: TB Hits, Social House.
"Girls Like You" - Songwriters: Adam Levine, Cirkut, Cardi B, Starrah, Jason Eviga, Gian Stone. Producers: Cirkut, Jason Evigan.
Top40 Theory provides advanced music theory and composition knowledge, as well as consulting/coaching services, to pop songwriters and producers. You can follow Top40 Theory’s Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and Facebook page, as well as join the mailing list via the form located in the sidebar, to receive updates about new posts and other pop music theory related musings. You can also join the growing community of highly accomplished songwriters, producers, theorists, and composers at the Top40 Theory Facebook group.
Sonic Functions: The Producer's Alternative to Harmonic Functions in Modern Music
Everything You Need to Know About the Postchorus
About that Chorus in Bebe Rexha's "I'm a Mess"
Camila Cabello, Charlie Puth, and the Vocal Range Wars
A Sonic Twist in the Plot: The Bridge in Modern Pop
8 Pop Related Music Theory Resources You Should Subscribe ToTaylor Swift - "Delicate": Finding Out What Hooked Me
The Postchorus-Bridge Switcheroo
The Chainsmokers ft. Halsey - "Closer": Crafting the Chorus
Asaf Peres is a music theory Ph.D. who researches and writes about pop music.
Top40 Theory Newsletter
Thanks! A confirmation email has been sent to you.