Department of Music Lecture: "Interpreting Chromaticism in Post-Millennial Pop/Rock"

Brad Osborn, Professor of Music Theory, University of Kansas

Brad Osborn, Professor of Music Theory, University of Kansas

"Interpreting Chromaticism in Post-Millennial Pop/Rock"

Scholars of popular music have written extensively about the chromaticism germane to classic rock of the 1970s–1990s. Far less attention has been paid to the nuanced ways that post-millennial pop/rock songwriters and performers incorporate chromaticism into their compositions. Post-millennial pop/rock music is, on the whole, less chromatic than its classic rock counterpart, and tends to organize its harmonic content into repeating loops. 

In this talk I introduce a few of the most common chromatic techniques in post-millennial pop/rock—including “dual leading tone loops” and “triple tonic loops”—and discuss some strategies for interpreting these chromatic loops in concert with a song’s lyrics, timbres, or form. 


Brad Osborn is a scholar whose work lies at the intersection of music theory and popular music studies. He is the author of the monograph Everything in its Right Place: Analyzing Radiohead (Oxford, 2017). Osborn’s other research on post-millennial popular music is published in Music Theory Spectrum, Perspectives of New Music, Music Analysis, Music Theory Online, Current Musicology, and Intégral. Brad is the author of three textbooks: Interpreting Music Video: Popular Music in the Post-MTV Era (Routledge, 2021); Music Theory Matters, forthcoming from Oxford University Press, which is co-authored with Christine Boone; and American Popular Music (6th ed.; Oxford, 2021), which he wrote alongside Larry Starr and Christopher Waterman. Brad writes and records shoegazey music as the artist D’Archipelago.