Music theory of Bill Wurtz: Asymmetrical meter in “I Wanna Be a Movie Star”

The musical comedian, or rather comedic musician Bill Wurtz might write songs that sound like they should not be taken seriously. But his August 2017 composition “I Wanna Be a Movie Star” is not just hilarious; it is also musically brilliant — especially in its creative use of meter.

The following is a detailed metric analysis of the song.

Meter in Bill Wurtz’s “I Wanna Be a Movie Star”

“I Wanna Be a Movie Star” is primarily in 9/4 time, but uses an asymmetrical 3 + 6 subdivision subdivision of the meter.

The verses are irregular both metrically and hypermetrically. They consist of 2 phrases, each 3 bars in length.

Verse 1, which begins at 0:17 and ends at 0:44, is different from verses 2 and 3, nevertheless.

The 1st phrase in all 3 of the verses is || 9/4 | 9/4 | 12/4 ||, with the 12/4 bar subdivided as is typical, into 3 + 3 + 3 + 3.

Phrase 2 in verse 1 is the same as phrase 1.

The 2nd phrase in verses 2 and 3, however, is different: || 9/4 | 9/4 | 13/4 ||. The 13/4 bar is subdivided 3 + 3 + 3 + 4, with an extra quarter note tagged on the end for the “I wanna be a movie star” pickup notes.

Verse 2 begins at 0:52 and ends at 1:20. This same metric pattern can then be heard repeated in verse 3, from 1:49 to 2:17

The chorus is in 9/4, with the same 3 + 6 subdivision.

The bridge has some clever metric mixture.

The 2nd chorus, which begins at 1:20, is cut off abruptly at 1:35. A 9/4 bar is apocopated and turned into a surprising measure of 7/4 (3 + 4), with a quarter note pickup into the bridge.

The bridge, which begins at 1:35, consists of 2 phrases. Phrase 1 has 4 bars: || 3/4 | 3/4 | 3/4 | 4/4 ||. The first 2 of these 3/4 bars, however, have a 12/16 hemiola rhythm superimposed against them.

Phrase 2 of the bridge, which begins at 1:41 and ends at 1:49, is made up of 5 bars. It adds an additional 4/4 measure to phrase 1, so it looks like this: || 3/4 | 3/4 | 3/4 | 4/4 | 4/4 ||.

This metric complexity is rather nuanced, but amazing. Bravo, Bill Wurtz.

Map of Meter in Bill Wurtz’s “I Wanna Be a Movie Star”

The following is what a metric map of the song looks like:

START (0:00)
|| 2/4 pickup ||

INTRO (0:01)
|| 9/4 | 9/4 | 9/4 | 9/4 ||

VERSE 1 (0:17)
|| 9/4 | 9/4 | 12/4 ||
|| 9/4 | 9/4 | 12/4 ||

CHORUS 1 (0:44)
|| 9/4 | 9/4 ||

VERSE 2 (0:52)
|| 9/4 | 9/4 | 12/4 ||
|| 9/4 | 9/4 | 13/4 ||

CHORUS 2 (1:20)
|| 9/4 | 9/4 ||
|| 9/4 | 7/4 ||

BRIDGE (1:35)
|| 3/4 (12/16) | 3/4 (12/16) | 3/4 | 4/4 ||
|| 3/4 (12/16) | 3/4 (12/16) | 3/4 | 4/4 | 4/4 ||

VERSE 3 (1:49)
|| 9/4 | 9/4 | 12/4 ||
|| 9/4 | 9/4 | 13/4 ||

CHORUS 3 (2:17)
|| 9/4 | 9/4 ||
|| 9/4 | 9/4 ||

OUTRO (2:33)
|| 9/4 | 9/4 ||
|| 9/4 | 9/4 ||

END (2:50)
|| 3/4 | fermata ||