Anatomy of a Hook: What a Bunch of Nonsense

hook-anatomyJason Blume once talked about adding nonsense syllables to songs as a way to make them more marketable. In the current Top 10, Ed Sheeran’s Sing, DJ Snake & Lil John’s Turn Down for What (this song uses a vocoder to spice up the voice), Rixton’s Me and My Broken Heart, and American Author’s Best Day of My Life all use use this device.

The Rules of Engagement

Why this works is pretty simple. These nonsense hooks lead to engagement. Listeners don’t have to navigate convoluted lyrics to sing along. Nonsense hooks are where listeners lean in, make eye contact with each other, and join in. Often they sing LOUDLY. For them, the pressure is off, the shackles of “I can’t sing” are broken. They throw back their heads, and wail. For one moment, they are part of something outside of themselves. In concert, this leads to audience participation. Audience members get the same emotional boost they would from being in a stadium full of fans as their team wins the game. Nonsense grabs a deeper, emotional, and communal part of the listener. Sometimes words simply get in the way.

Sometimes words simply get in the way

Some of these hooks would not work as well with words. The Turn Down for What vocorder hook jumps around way too much for a lyric, the text would get lost. Nonsense hooks also give the singer or emcee a break. It’s a device that has been successfully used for generations. The Beatles used them in songs like Do You Want to Know a Secret? and Drive my Car. In fact, it’s often the nonsense sections we remember many years later.

Maybe it’s best to say nothing at all and just let the emotion carry you up the charts. It seems to have worked for a lot of people for a lot of years. It’s definitely worth a shot. Hey!


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