My Next Read: Switched on Pop: How Popular Music Works, and Why it Matter

With today’s publication of Switched on Pop: How Popular Music Works, and Why it Matters, Oxford University Press releases a 224-page recipe for the “Secret Sauce Behind Pop-Music Hits” (The Wall Street Journal). Authored by Nate Sloan and Charlie Harding – creators and hosts of the eponymous podcast – the new book is an ear-opening exploration of the stars and singles defining our collective, 21st Century soundtrack.

Structured as a series of 16 deep-dive case studies, each chapter uses a specially-chosen chart-topper as the entrypoint into understanding the concepts, techniques, themes, and trends that help make certain songs so ubiquitous. By illuminating the inner-workings of building blocks like meter and melody, to the techniques of syncopation and modulation, even ideas around genre and identity, poptimists, snobs, and passive listeners alike will all be able to hear hits by Outkast, Taylor Swift, Kendrick Lamar, Beyoncé, Kelly Clarkson, and more in ways they never have before – find the full track list below.

Since personal revelations on the ingenuity of Carly Rae Jepsen sparked the idea to launch the Switched on Pop podcast five years ago – now part of the Vox Media Podcast Network – Nate Sloan and Charlie Harding have produced hundreds of episodes, welcomed guests like Lizzo, and become trusted authorities on Top 40 analysis. Sloan is also the Assistant Professor of Musicology at the University of Southern California, and Harding is the podcast’s Executive Producer, a multi-instrumentalist, and songwriter.

Complete with illustrations by Iris Gottlieb, Switched on Pop: How Popular Music Works, and Why it Matters packs the same “addictive” (Rolling Stone), “insanely fascinating” (BuzzFeed) mix of “rigor and charm” (Vulture) as the show into a timely new text.

Based on the critically acclaimed podcast that has broken down hundreds of Top 40 songs since 2014, showing that pop music really does matter.


With engaging discussions and eye-catching illustrations by Iris Gottlieb, every music lover—from fanatics to skeptics, teenagers to octogenarians, non-musicians to professional composers—will discover something ear-opening.

Explains the musical techniques behind 20 years of pop hits and why they’re loved, revealing the surprising connections between contemporary pop music and musical styles from around the world and across history