Post by contributor Alex Vikmanis
Part of my addiction to pop music is my longing for the bridge, that moment two-thirds of the way through a song when the beat slows down and the melody changes. The singer takes a moment to warm up and then they belt out their impressive final thoughts on love or pain or dancing. It’s the climax of the song. The bit that we keep coming back to.
Some pop songs, despite their insanely catchy hooks, fail to do this. Instead, that earth-shattering bridge is replaced with a bizarre skit or other kind of spoken interlude. The music takes a back burner for a second and the singer (and often a friend) have a little talk with each other. The listener is ripped out of the song and left to wonder, did the songwriter get lazy and give up on the bridge, were they not paid enough to write one? Did the singer have a bad day recording the track and their vocals failed them? Having a dialogue in the middle of the song (or at the beginning) is a really odd choice and has mostly been replaced by a rap cameo these days, but here are my favorites, which transcend their silliness and become iconic.
9. Christina Aguilera – “Beautiful” (0:01)
Christina only says four words at the beginning of this ballad, but it’s the most intimate moment I’ve had with a pop song: “Don’t look at me.” She is at once speaking to those people who are hating on her and she is also speaking to the listener, or rather speaking on behalf of the listener who feels the way she does. I also think the phrase is completely off the cuff. I think Christina says it before she is about to record the song. Like she doesn’t want anyone to watch her while she sings. Like she needs to be alone to access the emotion she needs for that kind of song.
8. Mandy Moore – “Candy” (3:00)
Even the first time I heard this song, I couldn’t have imagined it not having a million cheesy rhymes with the word candy. The fact that the writers squeezed in the singer’s name as one of those rhymes (in the form of a letter no less) is so sweet that my teeth fall out, but so satisfying as well. Only fifteen year old pop singers can get away with that.
7. Alicia Keys – “You Don’t Know My Name” (3:35)
This interlude makes me cringe. Alicia plays the role of a waitress and has a one-sided phone conversation with her favorite customer, which ends up sounding like she’s leaving a really long, awkward voicemail. We can all learn what not to say to boys from this song: “I feel kinda silly doing this / you always order the special with the hot chocolate / I always use some milk and cream for you / you always got on some fly blue suit / your cuff links is always shining all bright / oh word, that’s interesting.” Shut up and just sing, Alicia!
6. Madonna – “Rain” (3:03)
Madonna can do whatever the hell she wants (at least pre-2003) on any song and we’ll still love it. Like when she just whispered creepily through all of “Justify My Love.” But on this powerful ballad (when she still did ballads), she throws in everything. There is a very climactic bridge followed by a spoken word poem with echoing Madonnas crooning a call and response. It’s basically like she’s having a bedroom conversation with herself and her lover and her future lover and you.
5. Mickey & Sylvia – “Love Is Strange” (1:52)
Sylvia’s voice kills it when she growls “come here, lover boy” on this short and sweet interlude, but the most interesting thing about it is that you realize, despite the fact that Mickey and Sylvia are singing a duet about love, they’re not in love with each other. Mickey’s asking about Sylvia’s other lover boys. This creates an entirely different layer of meaning to the iconic scene in Dirty Dancing when Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze mime the dialogue and crawl all over the floor.
4. Brandy and Monica – “The Boy Is Mine” (0:25)
There is no drama like this kind of boy drama. And no better voices to compete with each other like the ’90s voices of Brandy and Monica. In fact, their singing is almost too even and unemotional that the feud seems friendly, like perhaps they’ll call a draw. That’s why this intro is so necessary even though it was cut from the music video version. You have poor, sweet Brandy trying to talk to this seemingly random girl. And then you have Monica with her completely disinterested “uh hm” and the very confident “Oh yeah, I definitely know his name.” We all know that Monica wins this fight.
3. Michael Jackson – “Thriller” (6:30)
I will admit to a huge no-no: I don’t actually love this song. But the ghoulish graveyard narrator who overruns the last half is so weird and epic to include on a major radio hit that it brings the song (even without the video) to cinematic proportions.
2. Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros – “Home” (3:12)
Embedded in this perfect summer driving song is a sweet story of crazy, drunk love. The skit reminds us of the ways we meet each other and fall in love: tumbling out of windows, smoking cigarettes, blood, hidden moments. It’s also a quiet moment before we rock out till the end of the song, swinging our hair around and pounding our fists on the dashboard.
1. Britney Spears – “Oops I Did It Again” (2:49)
Brit’s infamous warble actually benefits from not having to sing a bridge. Many of her songs are plagued by awkward spoken interludes (wow, remember “Hold It Against Me”?), but this conversation between the innocent seductress and the astronaut adds an entirely new meaning to the song. The reference to Titanic (“But I thought the old lady dropped it into the ocean at the end”) creates a dialogue with a larger world of pop culture and fiction, just like Britney’s love interest has created his own fictional relationship with her. She ends with, “you really shouldn’t have,” which completely drives home the whole point of the song. Despite the red jumpsuit and silver eyeshadow, Brit knows exactly what she is saying.
I’m definitely omitting a bunch of good ones, so leave your favorites in the comments!