(May 29, 2024). Newish pop singer PinkPantheress prefers to keep it short and sweet.

In an interview with ABC News last week the British “bedroom pop” star stated that songs don’t need to be more than 2 minutes, 30 seconds long (so much for bedroom pop!), telling journalist Ashley Singh: “A song doesn’t need to be longer than 2 minutes 30 [seconds], in my opinion. We don’t need to repeat a verse, we don’t need to have a bridge, we don’t need it. We don’t need a long outro.”

The 23-year-old’s stance is reflective of the current era where songs have increasingly run for fewer than two minutes, with some even going for less than one.  It recalls a time during the 1960s when tunes regularly clocked at two minutes or less.  Many people of a certain age can recall the iconic No. 1 hit by the Box Tops, “The Letter,” which metered out at 1:47, making it the record holder for many decades as the shortest timed No. 1 song in Hot 100 history (until Baauer’s 2013 smash “Harlem Shake” did nearly a whole minute less at :56 seconds).

PinkPantheress (foreground) is shown in the video for 2023’s “Boy’s a Liar Pt. 2.”

Still, the recent hot take by PinkPantheress, whose only top-40 hit so far — the No. 3-peaking “Boy’s a Liar” (with Ice Spice) — times out at 2:18 — elicited a reaction from none other than Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 2024 inductee Dionne Warwick who shared the interview on her own X (formerly Twitter) page while tagging it with a simple question mark.  The legendary singer then clarified that she wasn’t out to “get” the young Pantheress but that she simply disagreed (you know, we can still do that without malice these days), stating: “Artists are allowed to create their art in any way they choose.  However, I do believe a bridge is important.”

Aaahhh, the bridge.  You know, that middle part of a song that often provides the transition from one chorus to the last.  It often contrasts with the rest of the song, offering a slightly modified melody and, in many cases, a dramatic buildup to the song’s final sections, which are often a verse and/or chorus similar to those preceding the bridge.  If you ask this blogger, bridges don’t get the credit they deserve for being essential to the success of many of popular music’s biggest classics.

Still, while many people — based on their comments — agreed with the 83-year-old Warwick, singer of such bridge-filled hits as “Walk on By,” “Don’t Make Me Over,” “Heartbreaker” and too many more to mention, the discourse reminded me of another pop superstar closer to Warwick’s era with a predilection for songs containing no bridges.  

In fact, thanks in large part to her proven formula with bridge-less songs — not to mention that pure, sweet-as-honey singing voice — this singer turned out to be one of the biggest pop stars of the 1970s and early ‘80s.

She’s Olivia Newton-John. 

The late British-Australian pop songstress often made short, sweet songs without bridges, especially earlier in her career.  And even in longer songs where there was an instrumental break serving as a bridge between a second and third chorus, Olivia rarely sang one.

Also, while there was always a first and second verse, it was equally rare for the “Magic” singer to include third verses in her biggest hits.

”You’re the One That I Want” — one of ONJ’s biggest hits — kept it simple: two verses and two choruses (no more, no less)

This song structure, while not unique to Olivia but which served as a large part of her repertoire, came mostly at the hands of her faithful writer/producer partner John Farrar, a fellow Australian who was fully or partially responsible for all but four of her 21 top 20 hits.  

Take a look at the following table listing ONJ’s songs that reached the pop top 20 and a breakdown of their song structures:

SongNo. of versesSung bridge?Instrumental bridge?Third chorus?Length
“Let Me Be There”2NoNoNo***3:01
“If You Love Me (Let Me Know)”2NoNoNo3:15
“I Honestly Love You”3YesN/AYes3:40
“Have You Ever Been Mellow?”2NoNoNo3:34
“Please Mr. Please”2NoNoNo3:23
“Something Better to Do”2NoNoNo3:15
“You’re the One That I Want” (w/ John Travolta)2NoNoNo2:49
“Hopelessly Devoted to You”2NoNoNo3:03
“Summer Nights”(w/ John Travolta)**5NoNoYes3:35
“A Little More Love”2NoNoNo3:27
“Deeper Than the Night”2YesN/AYes3:37
“I Can’t Help It” (w/ Andy Gibb)**2Yes*N/AYes4:07
“Suddenly” (w/ Cliff Richard)2YesN/AYes4:02
“Make a Move On Me”2NoNoNo3:17
“Heart Attack”2NoYesYes3:09
“Twist of Fate”**2Yes*N/AYes3:36
“Soul Kiss”2Yes*N/AYes4:31

**Denotes songs not written or produced by John Farrar.

***”Let Me Be There” segues into a key-modulated chorus at the 2:15 mark, which some may interpret as a third chorus.

Notably, ten of the first eleven of ONJ’s top 20 hits — from “Let Me Be There” through “A Little More Love,” with Farrar having a hand in creating all but one of them (“Summer Nights”) — contained no bridges.  The lone exception was her first No. 1 smash “I Honestly Love You,” where the singer very comfortably sings, “I’m not trying to make you feel uncomfortable.”

Of the remaining ten, only five contained a sung bridge, and of those five, three (shown with an * above) featured Olivia just singing “ahhhs” or “la-da-das.”  Only two bridges included sung lyrics: “Deeper Than the Night” and “Suddenly” (with Cliff Richard).

Three additional songs contained non-vocal instrumental bridges, with the first of those — “Magic” — not happening until she was 14 songs deep into her top-20 repertoire. 

Only two of her big hits contained three or more verses: the No. 1 “I Honestly Love You” and her smash No. 5 duet with John Travolta, “Summer Nights” from the movie Grease, which had five verses befitting the song’s storytelling style (and five short choruses to go with each one), but no bridge.

And speaking of songs where she even bothered with that pesky third chorus, there were ten of those — slightly less than half of her top-20 output — with eight of them spread among her last ten top-20 hits.  Only two of her first eleven top-20 singles had a third chorus.

Unsurprisingly, Olivia’s songs grew longer as her career went on.  With 1978’s “A Little More Love” — her eleventh top-20 hit — serving as the list’s midpoint, none of the ten songs that preceded it clocked at more than 3:42, with six of them timed at less than 3:30.  

Conversely, the ten songs after “A Little More Love” added a little more time with four of them timing at more than four minutes and only three clocking at less than 3:30.

“A Little More Love” ended at 3:27, btw.

With those stats, one could argue that Olivia Newton-John made a career burning bridges — or at least not building them, or only doing so when deemed absolutely necessary.

And even though her songs were all longer than the 2:30 formula that Pink Pantheress prescribes, Olivia’s arrangements seemed to fall more in line with the preferences of her fellow British pop upstart — whose songs mostly eschew bridges and clock between the two and three-minute mark — than they did Ms. Warwick’s.

Dionne Warwick’s “Heartbreaker” (1982) contained a bridge and reached No. 10.

But even Dionne may want to check her song catalogue before preaching the virtues of including a good bridge in songs.

Neither of her two biggest hits – the No. 1s “Then Came You” (with the Spinners) and “That’s What Friends Are For” (with “friends” Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight and Elton John) — contained vocal bridges.  And only “Then Came You” had any kind of instrumental break between its second and third choruses.

And that was simply to allow for a key modulation to get to the final chorus. 

The bottom line: PinkPantheress may be onto something when it comes to the right formulas for making big hits.

At least she has one fellow British pop superstar serving as a reliable precedent!


DJRob (he/him) is a freelance music blogger from the East Coast who covers R&B, hip-hop, disco, pop, rock and country genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff!  You can follow him on X (formerly Twitter) at @djrobblog and on Meta’s Threads.

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