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    Selena’s Brahmsian Metrical Dissonances

    In honor of our meeting coming up in San Antonio, here’s some fantastic music from Texas with a strong theory connection.

    I first got to know Selena’s music a year ago, thanks to a google doodle honoring her.  I really enjoy a lot of her songs, but for present purposes there are two spots that stand out.

    If you want to listen to the music before hearing about my take (or instead), the songs are “Bidi Bidi Bom Bom,” the song used in the doodle, and “Dreaming of You.”  On spotify, if you search for “Selena” and select “Selena: ARTIST,” both are among the top 5 most popular results.  Both of the metrically dissonant passages occur within the first minute of the song.

    BBBB really knocked my socks off.  I know other pop songs that have surprising metrical reorientations (e.g. “Murder by Numbers,” “Satellite”) but usually once I know what the meter really is, I can hear it from the start pretty easily.  Not so here.  I’m now able to hear the intro either way, but it took real work.  (The return of the opening material at 2:08 is a big help.) 

    And in DoY, the fifth measure of the chorus breaks into 12/8 from 4/4, using the same eighth note.  (The periodicity of three 8ths is strongly prepared by the tresillo from the clave which hangs over many measures of the song.)  It sounds like metrical dissonance against the ongoing backbeat, but when the voice and harmonies come back in phase with the half measures of the backbeat pattern at the end of 12/8 measure, it just goes back into 4/4 from there, with the phrase rhythm confirming that the expanded measure was the real one.  (This is particularly clear when the chorus gets repeated in overlapping loops at the end of the song.)

    These were particularly striking to me because of connections with a survey of metrical dissonance in Brahms that I’d just completed.  Like BBBB, several of Brahms’s songs have introductions that begin in alternate heard meters, but which are heard clearly in the notated meter when they return later with more context.  In DoY, the 12/8 measure effectively takes one measure and multiplies its length by 1.5 (something Brahms does often and that I’ll talk about in San Antonio); and organizing this measure as 12/8 instead of 3/2 forms a double reverse hemiola (used a handful of times by Brahms but never in a 1.5-length bar).

    So my question: can people with more expertise in relevant repertoires share any passages that could be models or influences for these?  I’m no expert, but I’ve heard a lot of Mexican popular music (though not other Tejano) and a lot of late ‘80’s mainstream pop, and I don’t remember noticing anything like this.

    I’ll be glad to learn of any thoughts and connections people have to offer!

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