SMT-V: The Society for Music Theory Videocast Journal

SMT-V is the open-access, peer-reviewed video journal of the Society for Music Theory. Founded in 2014, SMT-V publishes video essays that showcase research in music theory in a dynamic, audiovisual format, presented so as to have the potential to engage both specialists within the field as well as interested viewers outside the music theory community. The journal features a supportive and collaborative production process, and publishes several videos each year. Read more about SMT-V here.

Latest Issue: 8.5 (August 2022)

“Flat 2 as Hotness in Post-Millennial Pop”

Eron F.S. (Eastman School of Music)


Link to bibliography

In post-2000s pop, particularly synth-driven, dance-style pop, Flat 2 has become a sonic signal of hotness. Drawing on a collection of 75+ songs, this video explains how Hot Flat 2 usually appears in this style of music, the meanings associated with its sound, and what happens as we approach the boundaries of these sounds and meanings. Usually, Flat 2, defined as “the note a half step above the home note,” typically appears in isolation as part of a bassline or backing track rather than as part of a triad. In most of the songs where it appears, the lyrics center on “hotness,” defined as an expression of confidence, sexuality, or both. One possible reason for this is the “exotic” association with Flat 2—pop songs sometimes use “foreign” sounds to connote a non- specific other and conjure fetishizing stereotypes about Black and brown women’s bodies. This legacy of Orientalism and racism becomes even more apparent when songs reinforce Hot Flat 2 with lyrics, timbres, and augmented seconds. The sparser the pitch context, the less a note might sound like Flat 2, and as we approach or leave the boundaries of the pop genre, the hotness associations can fade altogether. With all this in mind, what starts as noticing a distinctive note becomes a way to notice genre boundaries and cultural connotations in the music we hear around us.

Keywords: Flat 2, hotness, exoticism, pop, scale degree


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