“Roar.” “Royals.” “Timber.” “Demons.” “Happy.” Notice a common thread among these recent hits? The number of charting songs with one-word titles continues to grow, with single-monikered tracks now making up nearly a third of the Billboard Hot 100 each week.
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This year, two single-word titles have set the record for the Hot 100’s top two longest stays: Imagine Dragons‘ “Radioactive” (up to 81 chart weeks as of the March 29 chart) and AWOLNATION’s “Sail” (which totaled 79). On the March 29 Hot 100, one-word titles bookend the survey, from No. 1 (Pharrell Williams’ “Happy”) to No. 100 (Disclosure’s “Latch”), while 31 such hits also dot the chart. A decade ago, there were only 19 one-worders on the chart dated March 20, 2004, while on the corresponding chart 25 years ago, there were a mere nine.
Why the trend toward singles with one-word titles? Artists and writers say that the impact of social media, from how songs are marketed to the simpler manner in which people communicate online, has greatly influenced the craft of songwriting — and naming.
“Today people are overloaded and constantly being sold on things,” says The Chainsmokers‘ Alex Pall. The band darts 28-18 on the March 29 Hot 100 with “#Selfie,” its kitschy, club-ready satire of compulsive self-portraiture. “We wanted a very direct message about what the song is. The word is so identifiable, so we knew less was more.” “#Selfie” serves not just as the song’s title, but also as a promotional tool: The Chainsmokers have solicited fans to make their own selfie-driven videos — and to circulate them using the hashtag — to help grow the track’s popularity. “We like direct, minimal approaches to our marketing,” says Pall. ” ‘#Selfie’ is just crystal-clear.”
Bonnie McKee concurs about keeping it simple. In addition to Katy Perry’s “Roar,” which topped the Hot 100 in September, she’s co-written one-word-titled songs for Taio Cruz (“Dynamite”) and Kesha (“C’mon”). A single word is “clean, simple and bold — especially if you find a really splashy one,” says McKee. “I have a book of titles that I’ve compiled over the years, and I do find that one-word titles are special, probably because it means a simple hook and an even simpler concept. I know that when I do stumble upon a one-worder that pops, I’m psyched. If one word can sum it up, then the bones of the song are sturdy.”
Even rising songwriters who have yet to crack the Hot 100 are using shorter titles. Pop/folk artists Liz Longley and Myla Smith are finalists in this year’s International Songwriting Competition with one-word titles, Longley with “Memphis” and Smith with “Sparks.” “In a social media-frenzied world, it’s nice to have a short, memorable, hashtag-able word,” says Longley. “When I was writing a song with a hook that says, ‘You wouldn’t make it to Memphis,’ it was a no-brainer to call it ‘Memphis.’ Anything else would have given too much away.”
“A lot of writers refer to songs as their children, and I think the naming conventions for songs follow the same trends as names for kids,” says Smith. “In the South, girls used to be called by their first and middle names, like Mary Elizabeth. That’s becoming much less common. Brevity has become more valuable.”