Pop music might come off as formulaic sometimes, and, to some extent, that's probably true. Hook Theory is a song database, and after analyzing 1,300 popular songs, looking at the chord progressions in each, it spit back some pretty cool visualizations.
It's a lot of fun to look at, and there's a blog post you can read about the statistics uncovered from it, but the most interesting part is probably that it can predict what chord will come next in a song.
For example: If you're playing in the key of F and move to an A minor chord from an F major, popular songs are 67 percent likely to follow it up with a D minor chord. The Beatles' "A Day In The Life" follows that progression; so does "Float On" by Modest Mouse. (You can play the songs on the Hook Theory site if you want to hear the progression for yourself.)
Interesting stuff, and could be useful to musicians wanting to learn more about what works, or who are intent on doing something different. Or who just want to watch the chord progressions in "Call Me Maybe."
This is pretty interesting, but it doesn't necessarily mean that just "pop music" is formulaic. A lot of music theory actually does follow certain formulas. The one in question here is the circle of fourths (or fifths, however you prefer). A D minor chord most likely follows an A minor chord in the key of F because that's the circle progression (in this case, it's the beginning of iii-vi-ii-V-I).
It's not just pop music, it's nearly all kinds of music. Plenty of classical composers used circle progressions too (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Circle_progression).
And while music theory is really, really cool (and allows for plenty of creativity) this isn't really big news for anyone who has already studied music a bit.
Yes, first thought that came to me was; haven't these people ever heard of the circle of fifths? How is this news?
While it is certainly true that often the most popular songs are exceedingly simple, and borne out of lack of real originality; those songs are rarely considered important work. Important work changes the game. Would this give a musician who actually makes their bread this way something worthwhile and new at changeup time? Would it EVER give anything new? Or just tell you what everyone else generally does?