Song structure can be confusing. Are you having trouble understanding some of the terminologies for contemporary composition?
What is a hook in a song? If you write or sing songs, this is something you need to know. A hook is the catchiest part of a track that engages the listener – and we have some superb song hook examples to demonstrate the difference a hook makes to a tune.
Read on to develop knowledge of this magic song ingredient and recognise where and how it fits into the world of modern music.
What is a hook in a song?
Hooks are found in almost every genre of music that’s played on mainstream radio. It may be a phrase, a lyric, a motif, lick or a riff. It could be melodic or it could be lyrical. But the key is, it’ll be catchy. The hook is the standout moment in the song and because it’s so good, you’ll hear it several times in the song. There may also be several hooks in one piece. So where might you find the hook – or hooks – in the song? Here are some of the places to look for them.
- Rhythm pattern
- The beat (this may be linked to the rhythm, but not all rhythm hooks will have a beat as such)
- Background instrumental
- Lyrics (often the case with rap)
What is the meaning of hook in a song?
A hook is so named because it ‘hooks’ the listener. It’s sometimes described as an earworm. Streaming and instant online content have meant that listeners have less patience than they used to. Nowadays, songwriters need to grab the attention of the listener – and fast. How do they do this? With a killer hook.
Tip: Keep your ear to the ground when it comes to catchy songs. Listen and follow trends in hooks. This will help you to stay relevant and in demand as a songwriter.
What is the difference between a hook and a chorus?
This is often an area of confusion. Is the hook the chorus? The answer is, it can be, but isn’t always – hence the reason they’re often mixed up. Both are often catchy, but some hooks don’t fit the format of a chorus and work well in other sections of the song, or overlaid on top of the chorus or melody. A song may have a chorus but not a hook. And it may have a hook but not a chorus. Although most songs will have both.
Song hook examples
Attempting to explain a hook can be tricky. It may be that you just need to hear a selection, to understand how they work and where they fit. Once you listen to a few, you’ll probably realise you were already familiar with the concept. Almost every charting song will have at least one hook these days.
What is an example of a hook in a song?
Let’s take a look at 15 examples of best-selling hooks in well-known pop, rock, hip-hop, easy listening and rap songs.
#1 I Will Always Love You covered by Whitney Houston
The simplest example of a hook is where it correlates with the chorus. In Whitney Houston’s version of I Will Always Love You (originally written by country legend Dolly Parton), the hook is right there in the chorus and in the lyric. So it is both a lyrical and melodic hook.
#2 Call Me Maybe by Carly Rae Jepsen
Sometimes the hook is almost hidden. Here’s an example of an instrumental hook in Carly Rae Jepsen’s Call Me Maybe. Do you find you can’t help but sing along? Chances are it’s not just the easy tune that reels you in. It’s that backing repeat of the chorus motif.
#3 Bad Romance by Lady Gaga
Next up we have an intro hook from an iconic singer. Lady Gaga’s quirky style includes her eclectic hooks. Can you spot it here? It’s the ‘Oh, oh oh oh’ at the beginning, which makes a later return.
#4 Superstition by Stevie Wonder
Often found in soul and funk music, Stevie Wonder is an expert at the lyrical hook. Here it is kicking in on the electric guitar after the beat. It’s a challenge to listen without wanting to move your feet. That’s the power of a hook. A rhythm hook will always have everyone up on the dancefloor.
#5 Started at the Bottom by Drake
Lyrical hooks are often found in rap, but not exclusively. Even in rap and hip-hop they can be sung or rapped – or in the case of Started at the Bottom by Drake, both. This hook communicates what the song is all about. So you remember the theme and intention. When this happens, it’s likely the writer began with the hook and added the verses afterwards. The song hangs on the hook in this case.
#6 Stan by Eminem
Another rapper, Eminem, incorporates a lot of lyrical and sung hooks. Singer Dido was so taken with the one in the song she collaborated on, she went as far as naming her son (Stan) after it! Now that’s certainly a successful hook that stuck.
#7 Mmm Bop by Hanson
Think your lyrical hook needs to make sense? Think again. While rappers may seek to tell a story and project a message with their hooks, in the word of pop it’s very different. Words have less weight in this genre and you can even use total gibberish to create a hit song. Take, for example, Hanson’s evergreen hit Mmm Bop.
By combing a cheeky beat and a simple catchy chorus with a lyrical hook that’s so silly it’s superb, the boy band made it all the way to the top of the charts.
More catchy songs
#8 Sweet Caroline covered by Elvis Presley
Another example of an instrumental hook is found in Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline. While it’s a longstanding karaoke favourite due to its singable verses and an easy listening chorus, it’s the ‘bah bah bah’ played by he backing band that accents the number. Elvis took this hook a step further by adding an air punch gesture to it, making it even more pronounced and effective.
#9 Under Pressure by Queen and David Bowie
In Under Pressure by Queen and David Bowie, we hear an epic hook that combines beats, instrumental (Brian May on electric guitar) and intro. It then reappears throughout the song to segue verses and underpins much of the backing as a signature.
This was such a winning formula that it was repeated years later in a different genre with Vanilla Ice’s Ice Ice Baby. Ice takes it to a meta-level, by even referencing the song structure in the lyrics: “Check out the hook, while my DJ revolves it”. Listen to both and see how each band used the same hook to create entirely different songs.
#10 Wake me Up Before You Go-Go by Wham!
Wham! also created an intro hook to boost Wake me Up Before You Go-Go. In this, the chorus is also a strong hook, but the ‘Jitterbug’ intro is also a cracking opener.
#11 Bad Guy by Billie Eilish
A strong hook will give you a foot in the door with labels and studios. Your hook may also be popular for sync licensing – catchiness not only sells songs but other products and services too. Billie Eilish and brother Finneas have a knack for super beats and backing that feature on many adverts and TV promos.
Tip: Sync licensing can be very lucrative. So yet another reason to come up with a great hook and make some extra cash from it.
#12 Single Ladies by Beyonce
Some songs have several hooks, making them even more popular. Beyonce’s Single Ladies is an example of this. ‘All the Single Ladies’, ‘Oh oh oh’ and ‘If you liked it you should’ve put a ring on it’ and are all fantastic hooks.
#13 YMCA by The Village People
Disco hits and iconic tunes will often be packed with hooks. In the 1970s The Village People combined this with a simple dance routine to accompany one of the hooks – the song’s title, YMCA. This was a winning formula making the hook physical as well as audible. Later, bands such as Steps and singers like Whigfield utilised this method to ensure their songs were played at just about every party for decades to come.
#14 Umbrella by Rihanna
This song made Rhi Rhi an international star, mainly because we couldn’t help but repeat the staccato ‘ella, ella ella’. This hook proves, like Mmm Bop, that you don’t even need to use a full or cohesive phrase. It can be total nonsense, or in this case, half a word. But the timing and rhythm of it are perfect, making it a total earworm that we haven’t shaken since.
#15 Sound of Da Police by KRS-One
Classic hip-hop hit Sound of Da Police features a hook that accompanies the chorus ‘Woop Woop’. It’s not only the notes and the words that make the hook but the tone at which it’s said/sung, to emulate a siren effect.
Song hook ideas
Are you feeling inspired now you’ve listened to these and read about the ways in which a hook can be formed? Which are your favourite hooks? A decent hook will help sell a song, so if you’re brimming with ideas for some, it’s a good idea to get them written down. Even if you can’t use them straight away, further down the line they may be the perfect finishing touch to a song.
Tip: If you’re a songwriter and you feel your sing is missing something, but you’re not sure what. Try writing a hook using some of the options and ideas we’ve already discussed.
How to write a hook for a song
Hopefully, by now you have a good idea of what’s required for a great hook, and the different types of hooks you might like to explore. You can find out more about how to write a successful hook in this article.
Song hook generator
If you can’t come up with any hooks yourself, you could collaborate with someone else. Or you can use an online song hook generator to produce them for you. While this isn’t recommended for music you ultimately want to release, it’s fine for songwriting to practise and to get you used to the concept of writing them. The online tools will provide you with lyrical hooks. Musical and rhythmic ones may be more complex. If you’re looking for beats, you can buy premade ones online.
Why not set yourself a challenge to identify what is a hook in a song, every time you listen to one over the next few days? See if you can identify it and work out what makes it stand out. Is it a lyrical, melodic, rhythmic, chorus, instrumental or intro hook (or perhaps a mix of all of these)? Then once you’re easily recognising them, see if you can come up with your own strong song hook.
- Where is the hook of a song?
The hook can be found anywhere in a song but is usually repeated and is often found in the chorus. A song doesn’t have to have a hook, but it’s more and more common to find them in contemporary music styles.
- How do you find a hook in a song?
Look out for a very noticeable part of the song, usually around 8 bars in length and repeated three or four times during the piece. The bit that sticks in your mind and gets you engaged with the song is the hook.
- What is a bridge in a song?
The bridge is so named because it ‘bridges’ one section of a song with another. You’ll hear a noticeable change in tempo and other elements of the structure. It may give a feeling of suspension and momentum and is sometimes referred to as the ‘middle 8’ (it’s often 8 bars and midway in the track).
Have you written a hook for a song? What’s your favourite song hook example? Share it in the comments below.