Motion Sickness by Phoebe Bridgers is a beautiful, emotional and personal song. A song with personal and relatable lyrics that flows smoothly throughout. You would even forget how many songwriting gems and tricks can be found in this song. Let’s find out!
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From the song Motion Sickness by Phoebe Bridgers, we can learn the true impact that lyrics have not only on our listening experience but also on the song structure. And this is not limited to a section-by-section basis, but also on the micro level when it comes to the amount of bars.
About the Song analysis series ‘What I Learned From’:
What I Learned From is a songwriting and music analysis series. I analyse music to find techniques and aspects that interest me and catch my attention. I try to deliver this information in an easy and compact way. This way you can easily use all information to create music and not be distracted by complicated music theory.
Video Tutorial: Phoebe Bridgers – Motion Sickness songwriting analysis
If you want to hear all these songwriting techniques with real music, then check out my video so that you can hear what it sounds like. If you want to listen to Motion Sickness before reading this song analysis, then listen to it here.
About Phoebe Bridgers
Phoebe Bridgers is a talented singer-songwriter born in Los Angeles on August 17, 1994. She began playing guitar and writing songs when she was young and started performing at local places.
Phoebe formed a band called “Sloppy Jane” and later decided to go solo. In 2017, she released her first album, “Stranger in the Alps.” This album was special because it showed her feelings and thoughts in a beautiful way. People started noticing her music because it was so personal and touching.
Phoebe worked with other musicians too. She teamed up with Conor Oberst for a project called “Better Oblivion Community Center,” and with Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus for a group called “Boygenius.” These collaborations show her talent even more.
Her second album, “Punisher,” came out in 2020. This album was a big success. People loved the songs “Kyoto” and “I Know the End” because they talked about real emotions.
Phoebe’s music is special because it talks about feelings in a way that connects with many people. She is honest and real in her songs, and this makes her music powerful. Her unique voice will keep touching hearts for a long time.
Songwriting Technique No. 1: Switching Chorus Lyrics
Lyrics can have a big impact on how somebody perceives your song and if they will continue to listen to it. In the song ‘Motion Sickness’ we have 4 choruses. The first two have identical lyrics, but chorus 3 and 4 are not.
Chorus 3: It is played directly after chorus 2, but the lyrics are completely different. This is smart because this way you avoid having a literal repetition.
Chorus 4: Only the first line of this chorus is the same as chorus 1 and 2. This first line has the most important lyric in it, which is the song title. Because of this one line, the listener perceives it as being a chorus.
One thing to remember is that the first and last lines of any verse or chorus are heavy moments. This means that they stick out to the listener and are remembered more easily.
Songwriting Technique no.2: How lyrics affect the amount of verse bars
A lot of songs nowadays follow a fixed formula of bars in groups of 4. This is not the case with Motion Sickness:
Verse 1 has 13 bars while Verse 2 has 11. Chorus one has 11 bars while the others have 9 bars.
In the verses the lyrics are responsible for this uneven number. In the verse lyrics we always have one very short sentence. This is also where one bar is cut out (fig.1).
Verse 1 has two extra bars: one in the beginning and one at the end. In the beginning the word ‘hate’ is stretched out over an entire bar to maximise it’s impact (fig.2).
The extra bar at the end of verse 1 and chorus 2, 3 & 4 serves as extra connecting tissue. This gives the different sections more time to breathe(fig.3).
On a final note, chorus 1 has two extra bars of Db. This only occurs once because it creates a smooth transition back the 3rd verse (fig.4).
Songwriting Technique No.3:
The song ‘Motion Sickness’ by Phoebe Bridgers is in the key of Db. The intro and verses centre around the tonic it is even confirmed with an IV – V – I progression at the end (fig. ).
The chorus accentuates the Gb, which is the unstable subdominant degree. This is done with three tricks.
Trick one: Gb is the subdominant of Db, but when you reverse it, Db can also serve as the dominant for Gb. This happens between the last bar of the verse and the first bar of the chorus.
Trick two: In the first three bars we have a movement that feels like an I- V- II – I progression in Gb. Notice also the difference in duration between the chords accentuates the importance of Gb.
Trick three: In bars 3 to 5 the Fm chord is only half a step below Gb. This creates a strong pullback towards the Gb.
In the bridge, even more tension is created when it starts to shift between the Ab and Gb, which are the dominant and subdominant degrees.
After listening to and analysing this song, I hope you agree that Phoebe Bridgers wrote a subtle masterpiece. Motion Sickness seems such an easy song when you listen to it, but there is so much to learn!
My main takeaway is how much your lyrics can shape the form and length of your song. They can create interesting and uneven phrase lengths. Which in turn leads to a more interesting song.
And of course, we should not forget the power of smart harmonic planning. Playing around with the right harmonies and harmonic functions can create tension and release between song parts or in an entire piece of music.
Check out my other song analysis episodes if you want to learn more!
Suggested Video Tutorial: Tame Impala – The Less I Know The Better song analysis
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Hello everybody welcome to the first episode of my new series called: What I Learned From.
This series is about analyzing music and taking out the things that we can use for our own music.
Today we’re going to have a look at the song Motion Sickness by Phoebe Bridgers. And there’s just so much to mention such as: the lyric structure, the harmonic framework and the uneven amount of bars going on in the song. So in other words a lot to learn. Let’s get creative!
As a fun morning ear training exercise I decided to transcribe the song Motion Sickness by Phoebe Bridgers.
This song was already in my playlist for some time, but I never actually analyzed it. But now after diving in, I can tell you that you are in for a treat! Such skill lies behind this song. It’s really amazing.
So let’s take a look at technique number one: We’re going to take a look at the lyrics first because there are two interesting things going on. When we line up all the choruses we see that the lyrics for chorus 1 and 2 are completely the same. And chorus number 3 is played directly after chorus number 2, but the lyrics are completely different. And this is a neat trick because it allows you to repeat the melody and the chords of your chorus but by applying a different lyric it feels like something fresh.
And a very interesting thing is that the last chorus has the signature first line in it which carries the song title, but after that the lyrics change completely. By keeping the harmony and melody the same you have something very strong that unifies the choruses. Plus chorus 1, 2 and 4 open with the most important sentence of the song, which to the listener immediately labels it as being a chorus. So an extra tip:
The first and last sentences in any verse or chorus are heavy moments. Which means that they are the most important spots.
When we line up all the verses we see that each verse has six lines and in all of them the fourth sentence is very short compared to the others. So how will this affect the structure of our song?
This takes us to technique number two: which is the uneven amount of bars.
A lot of songs nowadays follow a fixed formula of bars in groups of four. Everything ends up being more or less symmetrical, and maybe even boring. As I often say, the structure becomes squared. This is definitely not the case with Motion Sickness.
Verse 1 has 13 bars, while verses 2 and 3 have 11 bars. All of them are uneven numbers. And if I look at chorus 1 it has 11 bars and when I look at chorus 2, 3 and 4 they have 9 bars. In the verses, the lyrics are responsible for the uneven amount of bars, because remember that I said that there was always a short sentence in the verses? Well, this is also where a bar is cut out. This explains why verses two and three have 11 bars instead of 12. Here we have two phrases of 4 bars and one phrase of 3 bars.
But in the first verse we have 13 bars so where do these extra 2 bars come from? There is one extra bar in the beginning playing an extra G flat. And they most likely did this to maximize the impact of the word ‘hate’, by stretching it out over one bar.
Also if we would have to fit the first sentence into two bars, the beginning of the vocal might sound a bit rushed. And the other extra bar is at the end of the verse which serves as extra connecting tissue between verse 1 and verse 2.
It gives the verses one and two a bit more time to breathe.
They also did the same after the choruses. They added one extra bar to give it a little bit more space between the sections.
And the reason why chorus 1 has two extra bars of D-flat is because it simply creates a better connection going back to verse 3.
And this takes us to the last technique that we can learn. Technique number three: The harmonic structure.
The first thing that I noticed while playing along to the song was the harmonic tension that was going on between the verse and the chorus. While the verse and intro seem to be comfortably sitting around the tonic chord, the chorus finds itself staying on the more unstable subdominant or fourth scale degree.
The song Motion Sickness is in the key of D-flat. This means that the tonic is D-flat and the sub-dominant is G-flat. Now of course the question arises: why would you want to have your verse and your chorus centre around a different chord? And of course how can you apply this to your own music?
It all has to do with tension and release, and for the sake of variation.
In functional harmony the one, four, five, one progression is by far the most important and probably also the most used one. We can see an example of this progression at the end of each verse.
First we’re hanging around some time on the subdominant but afterwards it ends with a four, five, one progression.
Just like the verse, the chorus also starts on G-flat. So why do we perceive the chorus as being centered around the G-flat or the subdominant scale degree?
This is done with three tricks. Trick number one:
G-flat is the sub-dominant of D-flat as I just told you. But if we reverse this, D-flat can also function as the dominant for G-flat. Since the verse ends on D-flat and the chorus starts on G-flat we have a 5-1 progression. And during the chorus the G-flat is accentuated by two extra tricks.
Trick number two:
If we look at the first three bars we go from G-flat to D-flat to A-flat back to G-flat.
This feels like a 1-5-2-1 progression and what makes the G-flat feel more important is that it lasts twice as long compared to the other two chords.
Trick number three:
When we look at bar three to five of the chorus we see a movement from G-flat to B-flat minor to F minor back to G-flat. Especially this F minor which is a half step below G-flat creates a strong pull back to G-flat.
In the bigger picture the fact that the chorus centres around the unstable subdominant degree, means that the chorus carries a lot of harmonic tension because we want to go back to the tonic. And this only happens after the first chorus and afterwards, it’s left unresolved. And in the bridge even more tension is created when they start shifting between the A-flat and the G-flat, which are respectively the dominant and the subdominant degree.
So as you can see planning your harmonic movement on a section basis can really benefit the tension and release of your song.
The song Motion Sickness is truly a prime example of smart and impactful songwriting.
There are just so many hidden tricks and techniques to learn, it’s really beautiful! And I’m curious if you enjoyed this new song analysis series that I’m doing. And if you do be sure to let me know by commenting or by plussing the like button!
I wish you a lot of new inspiration and in the meantime: don’t forget to share and subscribe to the channel. And for now…
See you next time!