While critiquing Meghan Trainor’s 'Made You Look' the other day, I mentioned how the pay-per-play royalty model of streaming platforms has clearly incentivised modern musicians to create shorter song structures. And I reckon this same impulse has a lot to do with another recent industry trend: sped-up ‘nightcore’ versions. After all, speeding up any song will inevitably generate more plays (and hence more royalty income) per hour. And now that social media has turned nightcore into a mainstream ‘thing’, record companies are happily hijacking this new gravy train by accompanying every new release with a no-expense-spent sped-up rendition, as well as inundating us with a helium-huffing parade of their existing back-catalogue.
Of course there’s plenty of commentary attempting to justify this money-for-old-rope frenzy in artistic terms. Some suggest that its the authentic artistic response of a generation made restless by rapid-fire TikTok content and ADHD. Others suggest that, following on from the home-studio revolution, nightcore further democratises music-making by allowing the untrained consumer to participate actively in the creative process by creating their own ‘lite’ remixes. Quite frankly, though, I think that’s unadulterated bullshit – just the flimsiest aesthetic smokescreen for cynical suits gaming the commercial streaming model without any creative effort whatsoever.
Of course, that doesn’t mean there’s no potential for creativity in the nightcore concept. Take this Miguel song, for instance, originally released back in 2010, but recently elevated to chart-topping status by virtue of an extra 24bpm. What’s fun about this specific production as a candidate for playrate shenanigans is that it features a prominent “you could bet that, never gotta sweat that” rapped refrain at 0:12, 1:11, 2:00, and 2:34 (or 0:09, 0:55, 1:31, and 1:58 in nightcore mode) which is itself slowed down as special effect. So when the nightcore version speeds everything up, thus chipmunking all the other vocal parts, the rapped refrain is returned to a comparatively natural-sounding form – which somehow inverts the vocal arrangement’s original pecking order for me, transforming the rap into a headline feature, while the lead and backing vocals are relegated more to the role of special effects.