After Lady Gaga’s latest single “Perfect Illusion” dropped earlier this month, one main focus of internet chatter has been on the song’s epic key change. It occurs at exactly the right moment in the song (1:51 to be exact) to achieve the Golden Ratio, giving music theory nerds everywhere a reason to defend their love of Mother Monster.
Fortunately for those modulation admirers, Gaga’s not the only one who’s got a handle on how to rock the key change. Here are some of the greatest modulations in pop history.
Whitney Houston – “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)”
There are few songs that can fill an empty dance floor with people of all ages more quickly than this Whitney Houston classic from her self-titled 1987 album. Consider the key change Whitney’s way of giving listeners permission to turn the moves up a notch after giving them a nice little warm-up to coax them out of their shells.
Michael Jackson – “Man in the Mirror”
Michael Jackson‘s Billboard chart-topper would be compelling based on the lyrics alone, which feature the King of Pop talking about being the change he wishes to see in the world. But the thing that makes his message even more compelling? The way he changes key on the word “change.” Talk about driving the point home.
Celine Dion – “My Heart Will Go On”
There’s probably no one on the planet at this point who hasn’t heard Celine Dion‘s Titanic theme song. But if there was, they might almost think, on first listen, that the song was ending three minutes in. That is, until they heard the dramatic modulation that takes place around around 3:24. Takeaway: don’t try to stop Celine’s heart from going on prematurely.
Adele – “All I Ask”
The world’s favorite British crooner teamed up with Bruno Mars to write the emotional track “All I Ask” on her 2016 album 25. In typical Adele fashion, the song starts tugging at your heartstrings from the opening line—but really steps up a notch with the key change that happens halfway through the last chorus. Warning: tears may result from listening too intently.
The Beach Boys – “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”
A key change is often the climax in a song, and thus usually comes into play later on, after the listener has heard the chorus in its original key a few times. But where there are rules, there will always be rule breakers. See the Beach Boys’ “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” in which the shift takes place a grand total of seven seconds into the song.
Beyoncé – “Love on Top”
Beyoncé deserves the title “Queen B” for plenty of reasons and in the context of key changes it’s clear that Bey reigns supreme. Need proof? Just listen to her 2011 hit “Love on Top,” which has not one, not two, not three, but four modulations in one song. As if the rest of us needed any more reason to bow down.