Deconstructing "Calm Down" by Rema

Analysis | par Franskaya

Franskaya's Blog

This music analysis article explores 'Calm Down' by Rema, a track that captivated a wide audience in 2022 and 2023. The song combines Afrobeat and pop influences to create a unique auditory experience. The article provides an overview of the production techniques, lyrics, and the impact of the song on the contemporary music landscape.

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Today's pop music world is brimming with captivating songs! Producers like Calvin Harris, David Guetta, and Max Martin are churning out one hit after another, each as catchy and enchanting as the last.

The formula for crafting hits is well-established, and singers like Sia, Dua Lipa, Madonna, Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, Ariana Grande, and Pink, to name just the most prominent, have mastered the art of charming us with their slick, seemingly perfect hits that often, on the flip side, feel somewhat lacking in authenticity. I dare say this pop is like fast food: it's good, it's appealing, it's standardized, and it pleases everyone, including me.

Picture of Rema with his beloved wearing a yellow dress

Yet, between "fast pop" and what we might call "authentic music," there's a world of difference. And millions of titles. My current favorite playlist on Apple Music is Pop Alternative, which takes us down slightly less trodden paths, even if the pop codes remain the same.

It goes without saying that standing out in the hyper-saturated market of contemporary pop has become very difficult. Occasionally, however, an artist comes along with a sound that deviates from conventional recipes. This is the case with Rema, who brings a breath of fresh air with "Calm Down".

Photograph of Rema talking to a woman in a yellow dress

But what exactly propelled "Calm Down" to the heights of global pop since its release in February 2022? I ponder this question from the perspective of a music composer seeking to grasp the essence of popularity in today's musical landscape. How does a track make its way to Spotify's exclusive "Billions Club"?

In this article, I delve into the musical subtleties and cultural nuances of this song, rooted in Nigerian heritage. A track that stands out for its seamless blend of innovation and tradition.

In this series of articles, I aim to analyze hit songs from a composer and music producer's angle, to reveal their inner workings and understand what makes them successful!

What immediately strikes in the first few seconds

The track opens with a two-chord guitar riff, accompanied by a simple stick. At the beginning of the 2nd repetition, we hear a woman's voice saying "high" or "I" in a tone of delight. Then, the artist surprises us with "Anada Banga," which could be the name of the singer's beloved, an African onomatopoeia, or an expression in a secret language. But looking into the lyrics, we discover he's actually saying: "Another Banger", which means "another hit song." Rema immediately tells us: here's a particularly good track, but it's just one among many, as if trying to stay humble. There, the stage is set, we're somewhere else.

The male voice, which at first glance seems to be in the tenor range, then switches to a Creole English dialect, predominant in Nigeria, with the lyrics: "Baby calm down, this your body e put in my heart for lockdown".

This hook is very successful. Jovial, the melody is immediately intriguing, especially since it's expressed in a mix of Pidgin and English, giving it a flavor of authenticity and exoticism. We also hear sounds of sliding on guitar frets, suggesting that a real guitar is used.

We're usually accustomed to hearing one or two verses at the beginning of a pop song, followed by the chorus. Rema's song stands out because it starts with the chorus.

Photograph of Rema with his beloved in a yellow dress whispering something in his ear

During this first chorus, we have to wait a few measures before a new instrument is introduced. The guitar and stick continue to gently accompany the singer's voice. As if to make us yearn. However, Rema starts to use unusual onomatopoeias in pop music, including the famous lo-lo-lo-lo-lo-lo-lo-lo-woah-woah-woah ("love"), which gives the song its exotic charm and constitutes one of its catchy elements. We note some simple but beautiful layered vocal harmonies, a bit like two-finger chords.

It's only during these sung onomatopoeias that a synth sound in the mid-range, typical of dance music leads, but without being prominent, comes in to elegantly add a touch to the already danceable groove of the song.

Photograph of Rema riding a motorcycle with his beloved sitting behind

On first listen, I notice there's no bass in this song! It's only upon careful re-listening that I realize there is indeed a bass, but it's so subtle that it's barely noticeable. It's heard better at the beginning of the 1st verse, just before the singer says: "I see this fine girl, for my party she wear yellow".

While not really a bass, the aforementioned synth plays a bit of a bass role, more through its rhythm than its tonality.

Photograph of Rema and his beloved near a pool table

In the second instance of the chorus, the no-no-no-no-no are supported by some rhythmic elements indicating to the listener that a climactic moment is reached: Rema won't be so easily turned away!

Then, a new instrument enters, a sort of broken violin that comes to support the melody, as if to underline the strong beats with bold strokes.

Photograph of Rema and his beloved near a pool table

And there you have it! That's about all there is to say about this production that shines with its ingenious simplicity. The Guardian describes the song as a mix of Afrobeats and pop, while Victor Okpala of Nabsolute Media speaks of "Afro-fusion melodies".

With its tempo of 107 BPM in 4/4, lasting 3 minutes 40 seconds, the song radiates beautiful energy, both serene and danceable, from start to finish. The music in B major effectively accompanies the lyrics, the chorus is infectious, and the text touches the listener with its universal content: what a magical moment that first encounter with a future lover is! We can certainly affirm that, without being a vocal performance per se, Rema's unique voice is moving and touches us in an inexplicable way.

Photograph of Rema and his beloved near a pool table

I note the addition at the end of a synth that hadn't been heard until then, evoking a certain nostalgia, reminding us that the song was written after the fact; the first encounter with his beloved being a thing of the past, the finale appeals to the listener's memories and sublimates them with refinement.

In short, the arrangement could be described as sober and muted, and the mix as well-balanced, delicate, and with a stealthy, if not shy, bass line.

Of course, the idea of including Texan Selena Gomez in a remix about seven months later in September 2022 was a stroke of genius that gave a lot of visibility to the title. While merging North American pop with Nigerian Afrobeats.

In summary, "Calm Down" by Rema stands out as a captivating work that transcends the boundaries of conventional pop. Through its harmonious blend of Afrobeats and pop, enriched with a touch of cultural authenticity where tradition and modernity meet. The subtlety of the production, combined with Rema's unique voice, creates an auditory experience that is both familiar and exotic. "Calm Down" is not just a commercial success; it's a testament to the constant evolution of pop music and its limitless potential to merge various influences to create something both universal and unique. Ultimately, Rema doesn't just offer us "another banger"; he shows that there's still room in 2023 for innovation and originality in pop music.

Did you enjoy this article? More hit song analyses are available here.

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Portrait of Franskaya, music producer and composer from Quebec, Canada


Blogger, author, artist, Franskaya is also a songwriter, sound technician, and music producer from Quebec, Canada. Don't miss the next post by following him on his Facebook page or click here to learn more about the author of this article.

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