Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Clap: 3 Reasons You Love It

I’m back, kittens. I know, we’ve missed each other. But let’s not dwell on the past – we have more important matters to deal with: I have an obsession.

It all started a few weeks ago when, by complete happenstance, a song crept its way into rotation on my digital music player (no plug for you, Mega-Corp, till I get one for free!). Not just any song – not just a good song, but a song with clapping. Now, weeks later, I find I am still listening, over, and over, and over to The Formats “The First Single (Cause a Scene)” as if it held the answer to the mysteries of life.

This isn’t the first clapping song that has won my heart, and prime rotation privileges. Kate Nash’s “Doo-Wah-Doo” enjoyed a similar run, and Lunapop’s “50 Speciale” found its way through the language barrier (Italian) on to many a friend’s car radio.

So, as in any mediocre moment of pattern, epiphany or cultural commentary, I must take pause and ponder –why are songs with clapping just better than songs without? Are you ready for a semi-reasoned, totally speculative response without any scientific evidence – please! It has already been brought – in list form.

  1. It feels good: Ok, obvious, maybe, but generally clapping is featured in upbeat songs, so that helps the feeling good. However, in a broader sense, when one claps, it is to express approval, elation or general good will toward one’s object (no, your friend giving you the slow-clap is an ironic response playing off our shared understanding of “clapping as good” to make fun of you. Yeah, your friend is jerk). The sound, then, in turn cues for us “this is good” and part of our judgmental jerk selves (see friend above) is muted in favor of the positive feelings. But, why does someone else clapping make us feel good?
  2. Love the Crowd, Love Yourself: We are social creatures – you’ve probably heard that before – and we want to feel accepted by our peers. So, generally, we accept the physical cues of other at face value (if you are crying, I’m going to think you are sad, if you are laughing, I’m going to think you’ve just read my hilarious blog post). So, if some people are clapping, I think, they like something, and because I don’t want these people to start clapping me, and what’s more, I want them to like me, I’m going to assume the clapping is not only good, but that I like the something too, till I find otherwise (see Demolition Derby).
  3. Participation: Clapping in a song asks for you to participate. When we were hear it, we want to do it. How many times have you been at a concert or a play, and someone starts clapping, and before you know it, you are following right along with them? It is this visceral request for your participation that ultimately heightens the experience of listening to the song, I think, above others, because you are not just listening to it, you are helping to make the experience of listening to it, like a baseball game or, you guessed it, the theatre. While you are making the song itself, you are contributing to your experience of the song, and, really, the people who made the song did so in order that you would be able to experience it. So, when they stick clapping in there, they are doing so to directly impact your experience. Music is a hugely evocative medium, and I think, clapping is like the musical equivalent of that moment just before the resolution in a Disney film. You know, when the bad guy is defeated, but you think at the cost of the good guy, and even though your rational brain is going “he’s not really dead,” your eyes are still welling up like rain gutters? Like that. Tricky folks, musicians.

Or, at least, that is what I think. How about you?