How Did Pop Music Get So Slow?

In 2014, the DJ and producer Dave Audé – a Grammy winner whose remixes of pop hits have been club staples for more than a decade – caught a festival set by the young Norwegian producer Kygo, who had just signed to Ultra/RCA two months earlier. Kygo ignored the peppy tempos typical of mainstream dance music, choosing to focus instead on slow tracks; in the past, this might have sent everyone to the beer lines, but listeners at Colorado’s Global Dance Festival took to his music in droves. “The kids were going bananas for this slow stuff,” Audé remembers. “I was blown away. It told me that they were ready for something new.”

That “something new” is now the norm in all genres of pop. The two contenders for Song of the Summer are Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s “Despacito” and DJ Khaled’s “I’m the One,” both remarkably leisurely singles that percolate below 90 beats per minute. Yakov Vorobyev, who invented a popular app for DJs called Mixed in Key, used the program to analyze the 25 most-streamed tracks on Spotify in 2012 and 2017: He found that during that period, the average tempo dropped by 23 bpm (to 90.5 bpm) and the percentage of songs above 120 bpm fell markedly from 56 percent to 12.5 percent.

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