After watching the Grammy Awards on TV this week, I came away recalling some inviting rhythms (Daft Punk), biting lyrics (Lorde), and sweet voices (Kacey Musgraves) – in addition of course to the costumes and special effects. But I can’t say I came away with a catchy new melody. The age of melody is long gone. After the golden era of song-writers like Gershwin and Porter, tunes took a back seat starting in the 1950s, displaced first by rockin’ rhythms, then by the lyrics of folkie songwriters. In the age of the singer-songwriter, a tune was just a few repetitive notes to hang the verses on. And in rap music, melody disappeared completely, as music got down to just the word and the beat.
Someday, melody is going to make a big comeback. That’s not because any of the above trends were wrong or not necessary. It’s because melody is the element of music that says the most, on the most basic level. It’s the musical statement that stands for the whole piece. And it lasts longest in the memory.