Last night, Adele won all six Grammys she was nominated for—including a win for what has become her iconic song, “Someone Like You,” which took home an award for best pop vocal performance. Last week, the Boston Globe suggested it deserved another award, “tearjerker of the year,” and enlisted some music professors to explain why it makes us cry.
One said that it’s heartbreaking because Adele insists, in the lyrics, that she’ll move on, but the music “circles around the same notes, never resolving, never finding peace.” Another said it has to do with layering “simple blues-folk melodies over a classical-style piano accompaniment.”
All of this was clearly too soft an explanation for the Wall Street Journal, which ran a similar piece over the weekend, drawing on the assistance not of music professors, but of neuroscientists and psychologists. One of these experts studied “the formula for a tearjerker” a few years ago, by picking a few musical excerpts “that reliably produce the chills,” playing those songs for people, and then measuring the heart rate, sweating, and goose bumps of his subjects as they listened. He and his team found that all such musical passages started soft and then became louder; featured the “abrupt entrance of a new ‘voice,’ either a new instrument or harmony”; typically “involved an expansion of the frequencies played”; and, finally, “contained unexpected deviations in the melody or the harmony.”
According to the piece, “Someone Like You” is “a textbook example.” You can read their breakdown, complete with audio clips, here. (Via The Awl.) You can listen to “Someone Like You” in its entirety below.
TODAY IN SLATE
Slate Plus Early Read: The Self-Made Man
The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.
Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada. Now, Journalists Can’t Even Say Her Name.
Mitt Romney May Be Weighing a 2016 Run. That Would Be a Big Mistake.
Amazing Photos From Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution
Transparent Is the Fall’s Only Great New Show
Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada
Now, journalists can't even say her name.
Lena Dunham, the Book
More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.