Cyndi's voice hums in the background, allowing Higgins and Pickering to build up an immunity to its emotional manipulation.
“Now Pickering, we have a face, we have a voice and you claimed you could create music and lyrics. What of this? What's your plan?”
Pickering stands and pontificates.
“Higgins, music has grown formulaic in the past fifty years. Country music is particularly atrocious, the top five songs last year were 90% the same. The median length of a pop song is 3 minutes and 40 seconds, with a range of 3 minutes and 15 seconds to 4 minutes and 10 seconds. The structure generally follows the same formula: verse one, chorus, verse two, chorus, verse three, chorus, chorus. The songs use a few overly used devices to pull on our emotions, like throwing in a key change for the third chorus. All these patterns makes this music ripe for an algorithmic invasion!
“I've programmed our computer to select every bubblegum pop song for the past 85 years, starting with Leslie Gore's 'Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows.' We've matched these songs with their billboard performance. I gave a higher manipulation score for songs closer to number 1 and for how many weeks they remained on the charts. With these manipulation scores, the software has found the similarities between songs and highlighted the most popular melodies and chord progressions. But, I must confess, I'm struggling with the lyrics.”
“Step aside. This is my domain!” Higgins jumps on the computer console. “I did get my degree in marketing linguistics, remember?”
Higgins lost no opportunity to flaunt his undergrad degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He grimaces every time he thinks of the history of his field. Why would anyone study languages if not to use this knowledge to manipulate? Sure, there were naysayers who claimed they were using the science of language more to swindle than to teach. But Higgins believed that there are plenty of beneficial reasons why people should be coerced. Thankfully, a few Fortune 100 companies endowed linguistic marketing programs at MIT, Harvard, Johns Hopkins and Stanford. This rightly moved all linguistics programs out from under the tattered umbrella of liberal arts and into business schools, so real money could rain down on its graduates. Higgins thrived under the father of marketing linguistics, Zoltan Karparthy. Most hemmed and hawed at this dreadful Hungarian and claimed there was no rudder pest in all of Budapest. But his skills were beyond repute and Higgins quickly became a master under his tutelage.
“You see Pickering, melodies play with our feelings. But humans are also thinking creatures. Lyrics represent ideas and themes in our lives. They reach us mentally and provides us with the story to make songs come to life. Like a daydream that consumes us! But! We need fresh language to express our lives in new ways. To do so, we can uncover slang that are on the upswing and exploit these.”
“Easy!” Pickering jumps in. “Alexis, search Twitter and Facebook to find all words and phrases that are growing exponentially in the past 3 months, month and week.”
“5,838 phrases identified.” Alexis responds.
“Alexis, use your emotional context software to subtract phrases that are growing only because their popularity is being mocked.”
“1,423 phrases remain.”
“Now tell me Pickering, how can Alexis identify mockery?”
“Easy, the messages are encoded with how forceful the key strikes were, if the message were typed with heavy sighs or groans or if there's any context, like the phrase 'NOT' or 'HELLZ No' after them.”
“Brilliant!” Higgins returns to the board. “Now Alexis, prioritize these phrases by trendsetters. Identify trendsetters as urban black youths who have a history of creating or early adoption of these phrases.”
“But I thought you said you didn't want Cyndi to be black?” Pickering interrupts.
“Of course I don't want her to look black. But fuck yeah, she can steal all the urban swag she can and sell this to suburban whites without raising the suspicions of their parents. Come on, this is the oldest trick in the modern music book. Elvis Presley stealing Hound Dog from Big Mama Thornton. The Beach Boys sucking the soul for Surfin' USA from Chuck Berry.”
“Oh, like lily white Australian Iggy Azalea taking on Atlanta black female affectations.” Pickering nods.
“The list goes on and on.” Higgins says. “White singers have been stealing the slang, tones and soul of black America and raking in billions. Now, Alexis, create ten songs with these lyrics, the popular melodies and chord progressions. I want five standard pop songs, three soulful ballads. The other two... hm. The other two are always filler.”
“Ooo! Let's find a popular area that has yet to be exploited.”
“Like what, Pickering?”
“Like a song about kitty cats that will make cat ladies go crazy. Something like Smelly Cat.”
“Wonderful!” Higgins beams. “This has the added benefit of commercial jingle appeal. Alexis, write one song about cats and write one song about pizza.”
“Processing request. Album will be ready in. One. Hour.” Alexis states.
“This style of music is so easy. Let's grab some lunch while we wait for the raw samples of Cyndi's first album.”
“Fuck yeah, I'm starving.” Higgins groans. “I know a little authentic Mexican place. Check out the website.” He pops open the site for Abuelita's Auténtica. “This little old grandma makes all this food from scratch, cooking it for days. And the best part, they're part of that new drone delivery service. They can get it to any window in twenty minutes. What you want?”
“Sounds delish. Two beef burritos and one shrimp taco for me.” Pickering replies.
“Alright, I placed our order.”
At the restaurant, three Somali teens work the grill. They sprinkle all the tortillas with soy sauce, giving each the distinctive flavor that their customers love.
Higgins and Pickering are absorbed in their holophones and don't hear the first two rounds of knocks on the window.
“Foods here!” Higgins races to open the fourth floor window and lets the drone in.
The drone doesn't forfeit the food. After a round of tug-of-burrito, Higgins remembers.
“Oh right, it needs to scan your credit card. Pickering? Oh, Pickering!”
Pickering holds his card in front of the drone's camera. The drone opens its claw and retreats.
“Album complete.” Alexis resounds.
“Perfect! Alexis, pull up the lyrics.” Higgins spits through a burrito-filled mouth. “Let's see what we got here.
Your love puts me on top
Nothin would make me swap
“Ok, diggin this. But-
I never wantchu ta stop
Resist the robocop!
“Oh shit, yeah, you haven't heard about the robocops?” Pickering pulls up news articles on the holowall. “Defense contractor Lockheed Martin has developed robot police officers that it has donated to Baltimore, St. Louis and New York City as part of an autopilot program. Already, that's hella questionable. But the technology is crap. The robots' retinas do not recognize black skin.”
“And?” Higgins looks confused.
“The robots see cars without drivers, floating clothes and flying grocery bags.” Pickering shakes his head. “The robots respond to movement but if they can't compute where the movement is coming from, they just start shooting.”
“Fuck!” Higgins's jaw drops.
“So, the phrase does fit your parameters, but it seems we'll need some human hands to massage the lyrics.”
“Well, I guess computers can't do everything, but what about these lyrics?” Higgins reads.
He's workin' on my lady humps
Warning, swollen glands might be mumps
He's my fine, perfect, dream of a fella
Better check red rashes for rubella.”
“Ouch. Yeah, states have stopped funding MMR... Measles, Mumps and Rubella vaccinations for the poorest of the poor. The Anti-vaxx groups snuck riders into the federal budget to stop taxpayer money for vaccinations because they claim it violates their moral freedoms.”
“Yeesh. Well, not our problem. The rest of the lyrics look great! We can easily change the others.” Higgins sits up, resolute. “Alexis, pull up a rhyming dictionary. We can finish this the old-fashioned way. And worse comes to worse, since so much of pop music is derivative, we can just lift lyrics directly from previous hits.”