On Valentine’s Day 2007, the Marc Lawrence-directed romantic comedy Music and Lyrics was released in the U.S. Starring Hugh Grant as a past-his-prime ’80s pop star and Drew Barrymore as the reluctant songwriter he enlists to help him pen a new hit, the movie was neither a critics’ darling nor a commercial blockbuster, but proved a modest success that has since enjoyed a respectable second life on cable as a clever, charming and eminently watchable rom-com.
But the biggest reason for Music and Lyrics‘ endurance isn’t the acting or the script — it’s the songs; specifically the signature hit for Grant’s character’s former world-beating new wave duo PoP!, the sparkling “PoP! Goes My Heart.”
The key to a great fictional song — particularly a period piece like “PoP! Goes My Heart,” whose supposed early-MTV music video kicks off the movie’s credit sequence — is for it to mimic the conventions of its chosen era closely enough to make it easily mistakable for the real thing, but not so explicitly or self-consciously that it risks coming off as parody.
As written and produced by Andrew Wyatt — a pop chameleon recognizable today as the frontman for Miike Snow and as co-writer of smashes like Bruno Mars‘ “When I Was Your Man” and Beck‘s “Dreams” — and Alanna Vicente, “PoP!” gets the balance right enough to make Martin Gore swoon, creating a pastiche that easily could’ve owned the charts in 1983 on either side of the Atlantic.
The song feels right from its first seconds — the creeping synth-bass, the ticking faux-cymbals and drum-pad fill that leads straight into the first verse. The vocals are pitch-perfect, largely because the movie’s producers had an ace in the hole: Martin Fry, lead singer of sophisti-pop legends ABC, who served as vocal coach for the film.
With his guiding hand, the dulcet croon of Grant (and Scott Porter, better known to TV fans as Jason Street, who plays Grant’s PoP! partner) captures every sighing nuance that Fry imbued into early-’80s classics like “Poison Arrow” and “The Look of Love,” while the lyrics brilliantly recreate the kind of overwrought preciousness that so often populated pop hits of the time: “A twist of fate makes life worthwhile/ You are gold and silver.” That line also introduces the song’s most inspired moment: a dramatic, Spandau Ballet-like chord change that clears the way for the song’s first chorus to land.
And wow, that chorus. Immaculate in its harmonies and Motown-like in its bemoaning of the disconnect between thought and feeling (“I said I wasn’t gonna lose my head/ But then Pop!/ Goes my heart”), the chorus remains most unforgettable for its oh-so-’80s drum hit that separates the word “Pop!” from the rest of the chorus, essentially echoing the one-word sentiment.
It’s the kind of sonic calling card that punctuated so many of the era’s signature hits — think the two-note synth blare interrupting the verses to Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love,” or the drum-clap exclamation mark that punctuates the end of each lyric in Gary Numan‘s “Cars” — and it makes the song a permanent brain-sticker from first listen. Reagan-era songwriters from Simon LeBon to George Michael (both of whom are gently sent up in the song’s Russell Mulcahy-like music video) likely tore their frilled shirts in frustration for not having thought of it first.
Music and Lyrics had plenty of other jams to recommend it to pop obsessives — the “Careless Whisper”-like sweep of “Meaningless Kiss” might be too real for Wham! fans to listen to at the moment without getting emotional, while “Way Back Into Love” (scribed by fictional-songwriting GOAT Adam Schlesinger) was a strong enough contemporary ballad to carry much of the movie’s actual plot.
But a decade later, there’s still absolutely no competing with “PoP! Goes My Heart,” an imaginary ’80s song better than the real-life karaoke books deserve, and one that ensures that whenever you see Music and Lyrics coming up on TBS on a Saturday afternoon, you have to stick around for at least the first three minutes.