Teardown of "I Feel It Coming" by The Weeknd
Six months ago, The Weeknd released I Feel It Coming, a groove-laden collaboration with Daft Punk. It received rave reviews from critics, and has gone on to be streamed almost half a billion times on Spotify alone.
So what makes this particular song so special? I'd like to suggest that it strikes an almost impossibly perfect balance between complexity and simplicity, with a large dose of nostalgia, making it appeal to the widest possible audience.
Here's my teardown.
Tempo and rhythm
At 93 bpm, I Feel It Coming is at the lower end — but well within the range — of tempi we find it comfortable to synchronise with. This promotes accurately-synchronised body movements that in turn evoke positive emotional feelings as we pride ourselves in the quality of our own rhythmic performance. We just love moving in time with stuff, and the more accurately we're able to do so, the better we feel about it.
The numerous syncopations and off-beat phrasings in the bass line and drums, as well as in the melody (especially in the chorus), also infuse it with an infectious groove. The slightly-swung rhythmic keyboard elements, meanwhile, create tension that heightens our level of physiological arousal.
Add these two factors — tempo and rhythm — together, and you've got yourself a track that most people will find it almost impossible not to move their body to. From a subtle foot-tap to more conspicuous head-bob to a full-on rush to the dance floor, it's an irresistible combination of elements that'll get most people grooving along in-time.
Lyrics and voice
Despite being extremely rhythmic and irresistibly danceable, a quick glance at the lyrics reveals that it’s actually a seductive, sensuous love song about beguiling human connection (full lyrics).
Tell me what you really like
Baby I can take my time
We don't ever have to fight
Just take it step-by-step
I can see it in your eyes
'Cause they never tell me lies
I can feel that body shake
And the heat between your legs
Pairing those lyrics with The Weeknd’s tender, fragile voice heightens the sense of felt emotion via emotional contagion. And with a voice that's so achingly close to that of Michael Jackson’s, especially on this song, and you're guaranteed a certain level of automatic appreciation from an enormous, pre-existing fan base just willing this to be the late Jackson himself.
From the Rhodes piano to the electric bass, the vocoder to the sweeping band-pass filter, this song contains key characteristics that hark back to several decades-worth of music from the past, instantly transporting us back in time.
In particular, Daft Punk’s signature vocoder is beautifully deployed on this track, and gives just enough while leaving us wanting more. At the same time, the vocoder as a technique creates the ultimate blurred line between instrument and voice, creating a fuzzy combination of human and machine (literally) in harmony.
And all of this makes us feel good, encouraging us to listen to the song again and again.
By combining so many elements in such a sublime manner, I Feel It Coming creates a wonderfully immersive experience that will connect, and be enjoyed on a range of levels by, the widest possible range of people. Each time we listen to it, it draws us in, and by the end leaves us begging for more.
It’s one of the most seductive, up-tempo songs I've heard in a long time. And its mass-appeal has earned its rights-holders around $3 million from Spotify in just six months.
None too shabby, eh?
If you want to learn more about how the most successful songs ever written continue to keep us listening, you might like to read The Experience Factor.