ROTTERDAM, NETHERLANDS - NOVEMBER 06: (L-R) Eddie Fisher, Zach Filkins, Ryan Tedder, Brent Kutzle and Drew Brown of OneRepublic attend the MTV Europe Music Awards 2016 on November 6, 2016 in Rotterdam, Netherlands. (Photo by Dave Hogan/MTV 2016/Getty Images)
What is it that makes OneRepublic’s sound so recognizable? This is a question I’ve been trying to answer after listening to their newest release “Wanted.” From the opening notes, there is something that is just so… OneRepublic about it. Is it the staccato strings? Few pop artists brave the use of orchestral strings in their releases–yet somehow OneRepublic manages to make them sound perfectly suited.
Is it Ryan Tedder’s voice? It’s true that there’s nobody who sounds quite like him. His raspy, yet beautifully melodic tone is recognizable even from a one-line feature on another artist’s track. He hits every note with ease, riffing notes here and there that make the song feel artistic and improvised rather than over-produced. At the chorus, his vocals are accompanied by hoots and hollers that make the song feel epic and anthemic where it wouldn’t otherwise. And this feeling fits perfectly for a song whose lyrics are begging to be noticed, begging to find life’s purpose. If any other artist sang “Wanted,” it would feel like a wallowing sad song. Somehow, he makes it feel victorious.
Maybe it’s the epically dramatic drums driving the beat that make “Wanted” sound so recognizably OneRepublic. Everything in the song is composed to be so staccato that the drums make the sound feel full without sacrificing the drama of the accented notes. Each drum hit feels like an explosion. What’s interesting about the use of the beat in this track, in particular, is that it continuously makes each verse feel like it’s building towards an explosive drop at the chorus. In only 2 minutes and 16 seconds, OneRepublic only truly fits in one chorus. At times it feels like the song is filled with continuous fake-outs. Lines blend into one another, building to one moment at 1 minute and 50 seconds that feels like it should have come earlier… or as though it should come again later in the song. On one hand, this type of composition keeps the song interesting–you’re always wondering when the dramatic moment will hit. But at the same time, it feels full of potential for several epic drops that just never quite make it. But maybe that’s intentional: in a song built around the idea of striving to find life’s purpose, maybe this explosive moment is representative of finally getting close to that feeling of being “wanted.”
Despite its shortcomings, “Wanted” feels anthemic and full of hope in a way that many pop songs don’t today. Despite feelings of insignificance, there’s the hope of being someone, of striving for greatness, and of reaching our full potential in the lyrics. With so much pessimism floating around, OneRepublic’s optimism feels welcome. It feels refreshing.