Anatomy of the Hit: Shaed’s ‘Trampoline’
It’s OK to admit it. You hadn’t heard of Shaed until you saw that TV ad for the MacBook Air, right? And then you Shazammed the music discreetly, so that you could maintain your indie bona fides and claim you liked Shaed before they went mainstream. Well, Apple is known for breaking artists through its ads, and your deceit has the blessing of the band, who were reportedly delighted that the placement “catapulted everything for us to a whole new level in record time.” Catapult … trampoline … it’s not such a stretch.
INTRO – 2 bars [0:00-0:03]
The song sputters quickly to life, with an electronic effect that sounds like a spinning coin on a wooden desk. It’s an arresting intro, but we get less than one second to register any surprise, because Chelsea’s unaccompanied vocal picks up the melody half a bar before the downbeat leading to that single word, “dreams.”
VERSE 1 – 16 bars [0:04-0:34]
I’ve been havin’ dreams
Jumpin’ on a trampoline
Flippin’ in the air
I never land, just float there
As I’m looking up
Suddenly the sky erupts
Flames alight the trees/Spread to fallin’ leaves
Now they’re right upon me
The opening couplet, as the members of Shaed have explained, was inspired by watching old family videos of Spencer and Max trampolining as children. That lyric fragment sets the surreal, chilled tone of the rest of the lyric. It’s not so much telling a story as evoking a mood—otherworldly, trancelike and elemental; the narrator is floating in the sky, and the trampoline jump never returns to earth.
For the opening of verse 1, the beats are simple and clean: a kick drum on the downbeat, a click/clap on the backbeats, a simple one-note-per-bar bassline and a reverse chord pad at the end of each bar. A soft-filtered analog synth burbles in the background, playing the broken-triplet riff that underscores every verse and all the instrumentals. The production scampers sensitively around Chelsea’s vocal, with a backwards-percussion effect before “flipping in the air,” and a very cool moment when the superhuman line “I never land, just float there” is highlighted with a retriggered electronic voice fragment repeating in quarter notes.
Each verse of “Trampoline” comes in two parts, always based on the same 8-bar chord loop; the second cycle adds in new instrumentation to draw us further into the band’s electronic slow-jam dreamscape. A reverbed soprano countermelody glides above the action, while the handclaps are occasionally downpitched, like a long-forgotten memory accessible only in slo-mo. A distant 4-to-the-bar tambourine propels the beat, and the brief double-time “leaves/trees” rhyme carries the crescendo as the vocal rises for the chorus.
Verse chord loop
Max Ernst’s broken-triplet keyboard part plays throughout each verse. The left hand hits the offbeat bass note while the right hand picks out the syncopated notes of the arpeggio.
CHORUS – 10 bars [0:34-0:53]
Wait if I’m on fire
How am I so deep in love?
When I dream of dying
I never feel so loved
And then the whole beat stops, leaving only Max’s mid-register, crunching electric piano chords under the double-tracked vocal’s images of fire, love and death. This is determinedly an anti-chorus, pulling the rug out from under our pop expectations; there are no obvious hooks, and we don’t hear the word “trampoline” at all. “Wait If I’m on Fire” or “Never Felt So Loved” would have been perfectly good titles for the song, but using that single word from the opening couplet only heightens the track’s sense of enigmatic mystery. There’s a movie-like crescendo under the declamatory “never felt so loved,” followed by a dead stop and a single ting—triangle? egg timer?—leading us back into the narrative.
The chorus’ chord pattern adds new and interesting flavors, and mixes up the harmonic rhythm by adding half-bar changes. The final chord of D stops on the beat, leaving space to lead us back into the next verse.
VERSE 2 – 16 bars [0:53-1:23]
I’ve been having dreams
Splashin’ in a summer stream
Trip and I fall in
I wanted it to happen
My body turns to ice
Crushin’ weight of paradise
Solid block of gold/Lying in the cold
I feel right at home
It looks like our narrator is still asleep, as bodily awareness starts to dissolve—she can’t feel these physical sensations, only the power of that joyful dream state. Chelsea’s vocal, momentarily attended by dark and deep lower harmonies, is then joined by a call-and-response angelic choir, adding descending “ahhh” chord notes in between each line. The soprano returns to the mix halfway through, as the imagery gets more disturbing and mysterious (“body turns to ice/crushing weight of paradise”), though we are reassured that she feels “right at home.”
DOUBLE CHORUS – 22 bars [1:23-1:57]
As the first chorus repeats verbatim, we temporarily feel anchored to reality, but at bar 9 the strangeness ramps up again, with an electronic snare playing a tom-tikata-tom bolero-style rhythm. (Choose your mental imagery here: I see a toy soldier with a fixed grin walking across the floor, drumsticks in hand.) The background vocal sings a repeating/echoing note of D, which appeared similarly in the verses as a way of moving us from one section to another. Here in the chorus, the same note is sung over an E-flat chord, giving us a compound chord of E-flat major 7, which contributes further to the ethereality.
INSTRUMENTAL – 16 bars [1:57-2:28]
For the solo, we enter spaghetti western territory, with an eerily reverbed human whistle performing 8 bars of verse melody. Each 4-beat phrase is bookended by the choir, with the addition of Chelsea’s single distorted ad-libbed line “I never felt so loved.” Finally, and ever more hypnotically, the dream flows from the whistle back to voice, with a mid-register “la la la” vocal carrying us to the final choruses.
OUTRO CHORUSES – 22 bars [2:28-3:04]
The song is certainly more about mood than dance-friendly breakdown dynamics, but the drop here works just as well as it did on the first chorus. In this final chorus repeat, enough space remains to fill up the mix with everything available: There’s the return of the scary snare and the downbeat kick drum, more high ad-libbing and, for the first time, full block harmony on the main vocal. The last few seconds spiral upward in an electronic crescendo, hitting “so loved…” where the whole track drops out just ahead of the barline, leaving us floating, disoriented, in space.
That trampoline must be really bouncy.
Dr. Joe Bennett is a musicologist and a VP at Berklee College of Music in Boston. He blogs about popular music analysis at joebennett.net.
Music notation and lyric excerpts are reproduced here under Fair Use terms, for the purposes of commentary and criticism.
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