Pop music

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Pop music is a genre of popular music that originated in its modern form in the United States and United Kingdom during the mid-1950s. [4] The terms "popular music" and "pop music" are often used interchangeably, although the former describes all music that is popular and includes many diverse styles. "Pop" and "rock" were roughly synonymous terms until the late 1960s, when they became increasingly differentiated from each other.

Popular music is music with wide appeal that is typically distributed to large audiences through the music industry. These forms and styles can be enjoyed and performed by people with little or no musical training. It stands in contrast to both art music and traditional or "folk" music. Art music was historically disseminated through the performances of written music, although since the beginning of the recording industry, it is also disseminated through recordings. Traditional music forms such as early blues songs or hymns were passed along orally, or to smaller, local audiences.

Rock music is a broad genre of popular music that originated as "rock and roll" in the United States in the early 1950s, and developed into a range of different styles in the 1960s and later, particularly in the United Kingdom and in the United States. It has its roots in 1940s and 1950s rock and roll, a style which drew heavily on the genres of blues, rhythm and blues, and from country music. Rock music also drew strongly on a number of other genres such as electric blues and folk, and incorporated influences from jazz, classical and other musical styles. Musically, rock has centered on the electric guitar, usually as part of a rock group with electric bass, drums, and one or more singers. Usually, rock is song-based music usually with a 4/4 time signature using a verse–chorus form, but the genre has become extremely diverse. Like pop music, lyrics often stress romantic love but also address a wide variety of other themes that are frequently social or political.


Although much of the music that appears on record charts is seen as pop music, the genre is distinguished from chart music. Pop music is eclectic, and often borrows elements from other styles such as urban, dance, rock, Latin, and country; nonetheless, there are core elements that define pop music. Identifying factors include generally short to medium-length songs written in a basic format (often the verse-chorus structure), as well as common use of repeated choruses, melodic tunes, and hooks.

A record chart, also called a music chart, is a ranking of recorded music according to certain criteria during a given period of time. Many different criteria are used in worldwide charts, often in combination. These include record sales, the amount of radio airplay, the number of downloads, and the amount of streaming activity.

Urban contemporary, also known as urban pop, or just simply urban, is a music radio format. The term was coined by New York radio DJ Frankie Crocker in the early to mid-1970s. Urban contemporary radio stations feature a playlist made up entirely of genres such as R&B, pop-rap, British R&B, quiet storm, adult contemporary, hip hop, Latin music such as Latin pops, Chicano R&B, Chicano rap, and Caribbean music such as reggae. Urban contemporary was developed through the characteristics of genres such as R&B and soul. Largely a US phenomenon, virtually all urban contemporary formatted radio stations in the United States are located in cities that have sizeable African-American populations, such as New York City, Washington, D.C., Detroit, Atlanta, Miami, Chicago, Philadelphia, Montgomery, Memphis, New Orleans, Cincinnati, Dallas, Houston, Oakland, Los Angeles, Flint, Baltimore, Boston, Birmingham, and Jackson. Urban contemporary music is also very popular in France and the United Kingdom.

Dance music music composed specifically to facilitate or accompany dancing

Dance music is music composed specifically to facilitate or accompany dancing. It can be either a whole musical piece or part of a larger musical arrangement. In terms of performance, the major categories are live dance music and recorded dance music. While there exist attestations of the combination of dance and music in ancient times, the earliest Western dance music that we can still reproduce with a degree of certainty are the surviving medieval dances. In the Baroque period, the major dance styles were noble court dances. In the classical music era, the minuet was frequently used as a third movement, although in this context it would not accompany any dancing. The waltz also arose later in the classical era. Both remained part of the romantic music period, which also saw the rise of various other nationalistic dance forms like the barcarolle, mazurka, ecossaise, ballade and polonaise.

Definitions and etymology

David Hatch and Stephen Millward define pop music as "a body of music which is distinguishable from popular, jazz, and folk musics". [5] According to Pete Seeger, pop music is "professional music which draws upon both folk music and fine arts music". [3] Although pop music is seen as just the singles charts, it is not the sum of all chart music. The music charts contain songs from a variety of sources, including classical, jazz, rock, and novelty songs. As a genre, pop music is seen to exist and develop separately. [6] Therefore, the term "pop music" may be used to describe a distinct genre, designed to appeal to all, often characterized as "instant singles-based music aimed at teenagers" in contrast to rock music as "album-based music for adults". [4] [8]

Pete Seeger American folk singer

Peter Seeger was an American folk singer and social activist. A fixture on nationwide radio in the 1940s, he also had a string of hit records during the early 1950s as a member of the Weavers, most notably their recording of Lead Belly's "Goodnight, Irene", which topped the charts for 13 weeks in 1950. Members of the Weavers were blacklisted during the McCarthy Era. In the 1960s, Seeger re-emerged on the public scene as a prominent singer of protest music in support of international disarmament, civil rights, counterculture, and environmental causes.

Classical music broad tradition of Western art music

Classical music is art music produced or rooted in the traditions of Western culture, including both liturgical (religious) and secular music. While a more precise term is also used to refer to the period from 1750 to 1820, this article is about the broad span of time from before the 6th century AD to the present day, which includes the Classical period and various other periods. The central norms of this tradition became codified between 1550 and 1900, which is known as the common-practice period.

Jazz is a music genre that originated in the African-American communities of New Orleans, United States. It originated in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and developed from roots in blues and ragtime. Jazz is seen by many as "America's classical music". Since the 1920s Jazz Age, jazz has become recognized as a major form of musical expression. It then emerged in the form of independent traditional and popular musical styles, all linked by the common bonds of African-American and European-American musical parentage with a performance orientation. Jazz is characterized by swing and blue notes, call and response vocals, polyrhythms and improvisation. Jazz has roots in West African cultural and musical expression, and in African-American music traditions including blues and ragtime, as well as European military band music. Intellectuals around the world have hailed jazz as "one of America's original art forms".

Pop music continuously evolves along with the term's definition. According to music writer Bill Lamb, popular music is defined as "the music since industrialization in the 1800s that is most in line with the tastes and interests of the urban middle class." [9] The term "pop song" was first used in 1926, in the sense of a piece of music "having popular appeal". [10] Hatch and Millward indicate that many events in the history of recording in the 1920s can be seen as the birth of the modern pop music industry, including in country, blues, and hillbilly music. [11]

Country music, also known as country and western, and hillbilly music, is a genre of popular music that originated in the southern United States in the early 1920s. It takes its roots from genres such as American folk music and blues.

Blues is a music genre and musical form which was originated in the Deep South of the United States around the 1870s by African Americans from roots in African musical traditions, African-American work songs, and spirituals. Blues incorporated spirituals, work songs, field hollers, shouts, chants, and rhymed simple narrative ballads. The blues form, ubiquitous in jazz, rhythm and blues and rock and roll, is characterized by the call-and-response pattern, the blues scale and specific chord progressions, of which the twelve-bar blues is the most common. Blue notes, usually thirds, fifths or sevenths flattened in pitch are also an essential part of the sound. Blues shuffles or walking bass reinforce the trance-like rhythm and form a repetitive effect known as the groove.

The Oxford Dictionary of Music states that the term "pop" refers to music performed by such artists as the Rolling Stones (pictured here in a 2006 performance) Rolling stones - 11 luglio 2006 - san siro.jpg
The Oxford Dictionary of Music states that the term "pop" refers to music performed by such artists as the Rolling Stones (pictured here in a 2006 performance)

According to the website of The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians , the term "pop music" "originated in Britain in the mid-1950s as a description for rock and roll and the new youth music styles that it influenced". [2] The Oxford Dictionary of Music states that while pop's "earlier meaning meant concerts appealing to a wide audience [...] since the late 1950s, however, pop has had the special meaning of non-classical mus[ic], usually in the form of songs, performed by such artists as the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, ABBA, etc." [12] Grove Music Online also states that "[...] in the early 1960s, [the term] 'pop music' competed terminologically with beat music [in England], while in the US its coverage overlapped (as it still does) with that of 'rock and roll'". [2]

<i>The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians</i> encyclopedic dictionary of music and musicians

The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians is an encyclopedic dictionary of music and musicians. Along with the German-language Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart, it is one of the largest reference works on western music. Originally published under the title A Dictionary of Music and Musicians, and later as Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians, it has gone through several editions since the 19th century and is widely used. In recent years it has been made available as an electronic resource called Grove Music Online, which is now an important part of Oxford Music Online.

United Kingdom Country in Europe

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, commonly known as the United Kingdom (UK) or Britain, is a sovereign country located off the north-western coast of the European mainland. The United Kingdom includes the island of Great Britain, the north-eastern part of the island of Ireland, and many smaller islands. Northern Ireland is the only part of the United Kingdom that shares a land border with another sovereign state, the Republic of Ireland. Apart from this land border, the United Kingdom is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, with the North Sea to the east, the English Channel to the south and the Celtic Sea to the south-west, giving it the 12th-longest coastline in the world. The Irish Sea lies between Great Britain and Ireland. The UK's 242,500 square kilometres (93,600 sq mi) were home to an estimated 66.0 million inhabitants in 2017.

Rock and roll is a genre of popular music that originated and evolved in the United States during the late 1940s and early 1950s from musical styles such as gospel, jump blues, jazz, boogie woogie, and rhythm and blues, along with country music. While elements of what was to become rock and roll can be heard in blues records from the 1920s and in country records of the 1930s, the genre did not acquire its name until 1954.

From about 1967, the term “pop music” was increasingly used in opposition to the term rock music, a division that gave generic significance to both terms. [13] While rock aspired to authenticity and an expansion of the possibilities of popular music, [13] pop was more commercial, ephemeral, and accessible. [14] According to British musicologist Simon Frith, pop music is produced "as a matter of enterprise not art", and is "designed to appeal to everyone" but "doesn't come from any particular place or mark off any particular taste". Frith adds that it is "not driven by any significant ambition except profit and commercial reward [...] and, in musical terms, it is essentially conservative". It is, "provided from on high (by record companies, radio programmers, and concert promoters) rather than being made from below ... Pop is not a do-it-yourself music but is professionally produced and packaged". [4]

Authenticity (philosophy) concept in psychology and philosophy

Authenticity is a concept in psychology as well as existentialist philosophy and aesthetics. In existentialism, authenticity is the degree to which an individual's actions are congruent with their beliefs and desires, despite external pressures; the conscious self is seen as coming to terms with being in a material world and with encountering external forces, pressures, and influences which are very different from, and other than, itself. A lack of authenticity is considered in existentialism to be bad faith. The call of authenticity resonates with the famous instruction by the Oracle of Delphi, “Know thyself.” But authenticity extends this message: "Don’t merely know thyself – be thyself."

Simon Webster Frith OBE is a British sociomusicologist, and former rock critic, who specializes in popular music culture. He is Tovey Chair of Music at University of Edinburgh.

Business Organization undertaking commercial, industrial, or professional activity

Business is the activity of making one's living or making money by producing or buying and selling products. Simply put, it is "any activity or enterprise entered into for profit. It does not mean it is a company, a corporation, partnership, or have any such formal organization, but it can range from a street peddler to General Motors."


According to Frith, characteristics of pop music include an aim of appealing to a general audience, rather than to a particular sub-culture or ideology, and an emphasis on craftsmanship rather than formal "artistic" qualities. [4] Music scholar Timothy Warner said it typically has an emphasis on recording, production, and technology, rather than live performance; a tendency to reflect existing trends rather than progressive developments; and aims to encourage dancing or uses dance-oriented rhythms. [14]

The main medium of pop music is the song, often between two and a half and three and a half minutes in length, generally marked by a consistent and noticeable rhythmic element, a mainstream style and a simple traditional structure. [17] Common variants include the verse-chorus form and the thirty-two-bar form, with a focus on melodies and catchy hooks, and a chorus that contrasts melodically, rhythmically and harmonically with the verse. [18] The beat and the melodies tend to be simple, with limited harmonic accompaniment. [19] The lyrics of modern pop songs typically focus on simple themes – often love and romantic relationships – although there are notable exceptions. [4]

Harmony and chord progressions in pop music are often "that of classical European tonality, only more simple-minded." [20] Clichés include the barbershop quartet-style harmony (i.e. ii – V – I) and blues scale-influenced harmony. [21] There was a lessening of the influence of traditional views of the circle of fifths between the mid-1950s and the late 1970s, including less predominance for the dominant function. [22]

Development and influence

Stylistic evolution

Throughout its development, pop music has absorbed influences from other genres of popular music: vocal harmonies from gospel and soul music, instrumentation from jazz and rock music, orchestration from classical music, tempo from dance music, backing from electronic music, rhythmic elements from hip-hop music, and spoken passages from rap. [4]

1950s: Origins

Elvis Presley promoting the film Jailhouse Rock in 1957 Elvis Presley promoting Jailhouse Rock.jpg
Elvis Presley promoting the film Jailhouse Rock in 1957

Traditional pop (of the 1920s–1940s) eventually went out of style in the 1950s as rock and roll grew to become the most popular music genre in that era. [23] [24] From the mid-1950s, the term pop began to be used for a distinct genre often characterized as a softer alternative to rock and roll: pop rock. Its main catering audience was the youth market. Artists that are considered to be pop rock include Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley, and Roy Orbison. [25] [26] [27] The detractors of pop rock often deride it as a "slick, commercial" product that is "less authentic" than rock music. [28]

Although often ignored by musical historians, pop music played a significant role in the development of rock and roll as well:

[Mitch] Miller also conceived of the idea of the pop record "sound" per se: not so much an arrangement or a tune, but an aural texture (usually replete with extramusical gimmicks) that could be created in the studio and then replicated in live performance, instead of the other way around. Miller was hardly a rock 'n' roller, yet without these ideas there could never have been rock 'n' roll. "Mule Train", Miller's first major hit (for Frankie Laine) and the foundation of his career, set the pattern for virtually the entire first decade of rock. The similarities between it and, say, "Leader of the Pack," need hardly be outlined here. [29]

1960s: Expansion of pop fusion and sub genres, surf rock craze, and the British Invasion

Baroque pop

The genre is traced to the United States and the United Kingdom. [30] By early 1966, various groups began using baroque and classical instrumentation, described as a "baroque rock" movement by Gendron. [31] The Zombies' single "She's Not There" (1964) marked a starting point for British baroque pop. Bob Stanley from the Guardian explains that the song "didn't feature any oboes but stuck out rather dramatically in 1964, the year of 'You Really Got Me' and 'Little Red Rooster'". [32] "She's Not There" would inspire New York musician Michael Brown to form the Left Banke, whose song "Walk Away Renée" (1966) is considered by Stanley to be the first recognizable baroque pop single. [32] "Baroque rock" was the label devised by the band's publicists and the music press. According to Richie Unterberger, "the sobriquet may have been ham-fisted, but certainly there were many Baroque elements in the Left Banke's pop—the stately arrangements, the brilliant use of keyboards and harpsichords, the soaring violins, and the beautiful group harmonies." [33] Guerriri says that, in Britain, the song "bridged the passage from rock into psychedelica for numerous groups: the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Zombies, [and] the Kinks." [34]

Conversely, Decider wrote that the Beach Boys' album Pet Sounds (May 1966) "almost single-handedly created the idea of 'baroque pop.'" [35] The only track on the album that employs a harpsichord in conjunction with a string section is "God Only Knows". [36] [37] The Sydney Morning Herald deemed the song a particularly "exquisite" example of baroque pop, [38] whereas The Record's Jim Beckerman called it "baroque rock" in the same "retro instrumentation and elegant harmonies" vein as the Beatles' "Eleanor Rigby" (August 1966) and Procol Harum's "A Whiter Shade of Pale" (1967). [39] Gendron's "baroque rock" examples include "Walk Away Renée" with Spanky and Our Gang's "Sunday Will Never Be the Same" (1967), and the Stone Poneys' "Different Drum" (1967) – all of which used harpsichord and strings. [40] [41]

Stanley highlighted a strand of baroque pop he calls "English baroque", it being a combined simulacrum of the Zombies' album Odessey and Oracle (1968), Paul McCartney's contributions to The White Album (1968), Honeybus' single "I Can't Let Maggie Go" (1968), Scott Walker's chamber pop, and Crosby, Stills & Nash vocal harmonies. [32] [42]

Beatlemania and the British Invasion

The Beatles during the filming of I Am the Walrus in 1967 The Beatles magical mystery tour.jpg
The Beatles during the filming of I Am the Walrus in 1967

Beatlemania and the British Invasion were cultural phenomenons when rock and pop music acts from the United Kingdom became widely popular in the United States. The Beatles were among these acts, and their mix of beat, rock, and pop ballads immediately took over American pop charts. Other bands that took part in this invasion included the English pop rock group, The Dave Clark Five. Their single, "Over and Over" was number one on American charts in 1965, beating out the Beatles. [43]

Bubblegum pop

According to Stephen Erlewine of AllMusic, bubblegum pop is a manufactured pop subgenre, created by record producers that often hired session musicians to play and sing the songs. He elaborates that bubblegum pop was "simple, melodic, and light as feather [, and] neither the lyrics or the music had much substance". [44]

Orchestral pop

In the 1960s, the majority of mainstream pop music fell in two categories: guitar, drum and bass groups or singers backed by a traditional orchestra. [45] Since early in the decade, it was common for pop producers, songwriters, and engineers to freely experiment with musical form, orchestration, unnatural reverb, and other sound effects. Some of the best known examples are Phil Spector's Wall of Sound and Joe Meek's use of homemade electronic sound effects for acts like the Tornados. [46] At the same time, pop music on radio and in both American and British film moved away from refined Tin Pan Alley to more eccentric songwriting and incorporated reverb-drenched rock guitar, symphonic strings, and horns played by groups of properly arranged and rehearsed studio musicians. [47]

Progressive pop

During the mid-1960s, pop music made repeated forays into new sounds, styles, and techniques that inspired public discourse among its listeners. The word "progressive" was frequently used, and it was thought that every song and single was to be a "progression" from the last. [48] Music critic Simon Reynolds writes that beginning with 1967, a divide would exist between "progressive" pop and "mass/chart" pop, a separation which was "also, broadly, one between boys and girls, middle-class and working-class." [49] Before the progressive pop of the late 1960s, performers were typically unable to decide on the artistic content of their music. [50] Assisted by the mid-1960s economic boom, record labels began investing in artists, giving them the freedom to experiment, and offering them limited control over their content and marketing. [51] This situation fell in disuse after the late 1970s and would not reemerge until the rise of Internet stars. [51]

Author Bill Martin recognizes the Beatles and the Beach Boys as the most significant contributors to the development of progressive rock, transforming rock from dance music into music that was made for listening to. [52] [53] Citing a quantitative study of tempos in music from the era, musicologist Walter Everett identifies the Beatles' 1965 album Rubber Soul as a work that was "made more to be thought about than danced to", and an album that "began a far-reaching trend" in its slowing-down of the tempos typically used in pop and rock music. [54] [55]

Surf pop

Hot rod rock

Hot rod music, or hot rod rock, evolved from surf music. [56] [57] According to The Ultimate Hot Rod Dictionary by Jeff Breitenstein: "While cars and, to a lesser degree, hot rods have been a relatively common and enduring theme in American popular music, the term hot rod music is most often associated with the unique 'California sound' music of the early to mid-1960s... and was defined by its rich vocal harmonies, amplified (generally Fender brand) electric guitars, and youth-oriented lyrics (most often celebrating hot rods and, more broadly, surfing and 'girls')." [58] [59]

Author David Ferrandino wrote that "the Beach Boys' musical treatments of both cars and surfboards are identical", [60] [61] whereas author Geoffrey Himes elaborated "subtle" differences: "Translating the surf-music format into hot-rod tunes wasn't difficult. ... If surf music was a lot of Dick Dale and some Chuck Berry, hot-rod music was a little more Berry and a little less Dale—i.e. less percussive staccato and more chiming riffs. Instead of slang about waxes and boards; you used slang about carburetors and pistons; instead of name-dropping the top surfing beaches, you cited the nicknames for the top drag-racing strips; instead of warning about the dangers of a 'Wipe Out', you warned of 'Dead Man's Curve'." [62]

Popularity of surf music
The Beach Boys performing "I Get Around" in 1964. Sullivan Beach Boys.jpg
The Beach Boys performing "I Get Around" in 1964.

In late 1961, the Beach Boys had their first chart hit, "Surfin' ", which peaked at number 75 on the Billboard Hot 100, [63] [64] followed by "Surfin' U.S.A." (1963) and "Surfer Girl" (1963) which reached the Top 10. [65] [66] In mid-1962, the group released their major-label debut, "Surfin' Safari". The song hit number 14 and helped launch the surf rock craze into a national phenomenon. [67] Breitenstein writes that hot rod rock gained national popularity beginning in 1962 with the Beach Boys' "409", which is often credited with initiating the hot rod music craze, which lasted until 1965. [59] [nb 1] Several key figures would lead the hot rod movement beside Wilson, including songwriter-producer-musician Gary Usher and songwriter-disc jockey Roger Christian. [69] [70]

Wilson then co-wrote "Surf City" (1963) for Jan and Dean, which spent two weeks at the top of the Billboard Top 100 chart in July 1963. [71] [72] In the wake of the Beach Boys' success, many singles by new surfing and hot rod groups were produced by Los Angeles groups. Himes notes: "Most of these weren't real groups; they were just a singer or two backed by the same floating pool of session musicians: often including Glen Campbell, Hal Blaine and Bruce Johnston. If a single happened to click, a group would be hastily assembled and sent out on tour. It was an odd blend of amateurism and professionalism." [62] [nb 2] One-hit wonders included Bruce & Terry with "Summer Means Fun", the Rivieras with "California Sun", Ronny & the Daytonas with "G.T.O.", and the Rip Chords with "Hey Little Cobra". The latter two hits both reached the top ten, but the only other act to achieve sustained success with the formula were Jan & Dean. [75] Hot rod group the Fantastic Baggys wrote many songs for Jan and Dean and also performed a few vocals for the duo. [76]

1970s: Soft rock, punk rock, and country influences

Country pop

Glen Campbell in 1967 Glen Campbell 1967.JPG
Glen Campbell in 1967

Country pop was emerging during this time period, which stemmed from country artists’ attempts to reach a more mainstream audience. [43] Acts included Glen Campbell, John Denver, Olivia Newton-John, and Anne Murray. [77] [78] [79] [80] By the 1970s, Nashville had been fully established as a music center with its own regional sound. In order to market country music internationally, Music Row executives polished the "raw" sound of the "outlaw" eras of country music, and created a "middle-of-the-road sound" with harmonious string sections and vocal choruses. Country pop can be distinguished through two major styles: soft shell country and hardcore country. Soft shell country is described as a "polished" form of country music. The lyrical content is usually written in a standardized American grammar and performed without any distinctive accent. Singers tried and reproduced feelings and ideas of the songwriter in a way that a broad audience can relate to them. As for hardcore country, it is characterized by its twangy speech and nasal intonation. Its performers usually go in and out of meter to tell the story of the song (usually admitting to their own vices). George Jones is an example of hardcore country music. [81] [82]

Indie pop

Indie pop, which developed in the late 1970s, marked another departure from the glamour of contemporary pop music, with guitar bands formed on the then-novel premise that one could record and release their own music without having to procure a record contract from a major label. [83] Both indie and indie pop had originally referred to the same thing during the late 1970s. Inspired more by punk rock's DIY ethos than its style, guitar bands were formed on the then-novel premise that one could record and release their own music instead of having to procure a record contract from a major label. [84] According to Emily Dolan, indie is predicated on the distorted music of the Velvet Underground, the "rebellious screaming" of early punk, and "some of rock's more quirky and eccentric figures", such as Jonathan Richman. [85] Pitchfork 's Nitsuh Abebe identifies the majority of indie as "all about that 60s-styled guitar jangle". [84]

Distinguished from the angst and abrasiveness of its indie rock counterpart, [86] the majority of indie pop borrows not only the stripped-down quality of punk, but also "the sweetness and catchiness of mainstream pop". [85] Music critic Simon Reynolds says that indie pop defines itself against "charting pop". [87] [88] Abebe explains:

One of those things was the idea that rock music was supposed to be cool-- 'cool' meaning sexy, tough, arty, fiery, or fantastical. ... The charts had 'cool' covered-- these kids, in their basements and bedrooms, were trying to hand-craft a mirror-image of it, a pop world where they were the stars. ... and a little bit of a raspberry blown at the larger musical world, which (sensibly) went right on preferring something more interesting than average white kids playing simple pop songs. [84]

Simon Reynolds has said that "what we now know as indie music was invented in Scotland," [89] with reference to the emergence of Postcard Records in 1979. However, some have posited that concept of indie music did not crystallise until the late 1980s and early 1990s. [85] American indie pop band Beat Happening's 1985 eponymous debut album was also influential in the development of the indie pop sound, particularly in North America. [90] In the early 1990s, English indie pop influenced and branched off to a variety of styles. The US, which did not have as much of a scene in the 1980s, had many indie pop enthusiasts by the mid 1990s. [84] Most of the modern notion of indie music stems from NME 's 1986 compilation C86 , which collects many guitar bands who were inspired by the early psychedelic sounds of 1960s garage rock. [91]

Power pop

Cheap Trick playing in 1978 Cheaptrick1.jpg
Cheap Trick playing in 1978

Power pop enjoyed a highly successful and commercial peak in the late 1970s to the early 1980s as it was being spurred on by the emergence of new wave and punk rock. The genre was defined by bands such as the Romantics and Cheap Trick. [92] Ultimately, the groups with the best-selling records were Cheap Trick, the Knack, the Romantics, and Dwight Twilley, whereas the Records, the Nerves, and 20/20 only drew cult followings. [93] Writing for Time in 1978, Jay Cocks cited Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds as "the most accomplished purveyors of power pop", which he described as "the well-groomed stepbrother of punk rock". Edmunds was quoted: "Before the New Wave ... There was no chance for the little guy who buys a guitar and starts a band. What we're doing is kids' music, really, just four-four time and good songs." [94] Cheap Trick became the most successful act in the genre's history thanks to the band's constant touring schedule and stage theatrics. According to Andrew Earles, the group's "astonishing acceptance in Japan (documented on 1979's At Budokan ) and hits 'Surrender' and 'I Want You To Want Me,' the Trick took power pop to an arena level and attained a degree of success that the genre had never seen, nor would ever see again." [92]

Soft rock

Carole King in 1995 Carole King 1995.jpg
Carole King in 1995

Soft rock, a derivative of pop rock, was prominently featured on many Top 40 and contemporary hit radio stations throughout the 1970s. Soft rock often used acoustic instruments and placed emphasis on melody and harmonies. Major soft rock artists of the 1970s included Carole King, James Taylor, Billy Joel, Chicago, America, the Eagles and Fleetwood Mac, whose Rumours (1977) was the best-selling album of the decade. [95] [96] [97]

1980s: Synth and pop metal era


Michael Jackson in 1988 Michael Jackson (1988).jpg
Michael Jackson in 1988

In the beginning of the 1980s, disco was an anathema to the mainstream pop. According to prominent Allmusic critic Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Madonna had a huge role in popularizing dance music as mainstream music, utilizing her charisma, chutzpah and sex appeal. Erlewine claimed that Madonna "launched dance-pop" and set the standard for the genre for the next two decades. [98] As the primary songwriter on her self-titled debut album and a co-producer by her third record, Madonna's insistence on being involved in all creative aspects of her work was highly unusual for a female dance-pop vocalist at the time. The staff of Vice magazine stated that her debut album "drew the blueprint for future dance-pop." [99]

In the 1980s, dance-pop was closely aligned to other uptempo electronic genres, such as synthpop [100] and Hi-NRG. [101] Prominent producers in the 1980s included Stock, Aitken and Waterman, who created Hi-NRG/dance-pop for artists such as Kylie Minogue [102] , Dead or Alive [103] and Bananarama [104] . During the decade, dance-pop borrowed influences from funk (e.g. Michael Jackson [105] and Whitney Houston [106] ), new jack swing (e.g. Janet Jackson [107] and Paula Abdul [108] ), and contemporary R&B [109] .

Other prominent dance-pop artists and groups of the 1980s included the Pet Shop Boys [110] , Mel and Kim [111] , Samantha Fox [112] , Debbie Gibson [113] , and Tiffany [114] .

Glam metal

Twisted Sister performing in 2010 Twisted Sister-Live-Norway-Rock-2010.jpg
Twisted Sister performing in 2010

Glam metal, or pejoratively "hair metal", was the most popular form of hard rock during the decade. It consisted of a blend of British glam rock, pop hooks, riffs, and arena rock. [115]

The most active glam metal scene was starting to appear in clubs on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles, including The Trip, the Whisky a Go Go, and the Starwood. These clubs began to avoid booking punk rock bands because of fears of violence and began booking many area metal bands, usually on a "pay to play" basis, thus creating a vibrant scene for hard rock music. [116] [117] Popular bands included Mötley Crüe, Twisted Sister, Poison, Dokken, and Guns N' Roses [118] .


In the 1980s, the digital synthesizer became more prominent in pop music than the analog synth after new wave music popularized the instrument from the previous decade. [119] Instruments were being synced via MIDI so that the backing tracks (typically rhythm) were recorded in a perfect tempo. This gave way to a new era of synthpop and dance-pop [120] , as the MIDI keyboard simplified the creation of electronic effects. The keyboard was deemed by Bulletmusic's Taylor Maddox as "a dominating force" of synthesized instrumentation that would come to define much of pop music throughout the 1980s. [121] [122]

Early synthpop has been described as "eerie, sterile, and vaguely menacing", using droning electronics with little change in inflection. Later the introduction of dance beats made the music warmer and catchier and contained within the conventions of three-minute pop. [123] Duran Duran, who emerged from the Birmingham scene, have been credited with incorporating a dance-orientated rhythm section into synthpop to produce a catchier and warmer sound, which provided them with a series of hit singles. [123]

New Romantic
Duran Duran in 2011 Duran Duran 2011.jpg
Duran Duran in 2011

The New Romantic movement was a pop culture movement that originated in the United Kingdom in the late 1970s. The movement emerged from the nightclub scene in London and Birmingham at venues such as Billy's and The Blitz. [124] The nightclub scene was associated with bands such as Duran Duran, Visage, and Spandau Ballet. [125] The New Romantic movement was characterized by flamboyant, eccentric fashion inspired by fashion boutiques such as Kahn and Bell in Birmingham and PX in London. [126] Many bands that emerged from the New Romantic movement became closely associated with the use of synthesizers to create rock and pop music, which has led to the widespread misconception that synthpop and the New Romantic movement were synonymous. Synthpop was prefigured in the 1960s and 1970s by the use of synthesizers in progressive rock, electronic art rock, disco, the "Kraut rock" of bands like Kraftwerk, the three albums made by David Bowie with Brian Eno in his "Berlin period", and Yellow Magic Orchestra's early albums.

After the breakthrough of Tubeway Army and Gary Numan in the British Singles Chart in 1979, large numbers of artists began to enjoy success with a synthesizer-based sound and they came to dominate the pop music of the early 1980s. Bands that emerged from the New Romantic scene and adopted synthpop included Duran Duran, Visage, and Spandau Ballet. [127]

Of groups associated with the New Romantic movement, Culture Club avoided a total reliance on synthesizers, producing a sound that combined elements of Motown, the Philly sound and lovers rock. [128] Adam and the Ants utilised the African influenced rhythms of the "Burundi beat". [129]

Second British Invasion

The Second British Invasion refers to music acts from the United Kingdom that became popular in the United States from the middle of 1982 [130] into late 1986, [131] primarily due to the cable music channel MTV. [132] The term derives from the similar British Invasion of the U.S. in the 1960s. While acts with a wide variety of styles were part of the invasion, it was synthpop and new wave influenced acts that predominated. According to Rolling Stone , these acts brought a “revolution in sound and style.” [133]

Culture Club and Duran Duran created a teen "hysteria" similar to Beatlemania during the first British Invasion. [134] In April 1984, 40 of the top 100 singles, and on 25 May 1985 Hot 100, [135] 8 of the top 10 singles, were by acts of British origin. [136] [137] At the Second Invasion's height, during a three-month period UK acts claimed eight consecutive Hot 100 number 1 hits, from Simple Minds' "Don't You (Forget About Me)" through Tears for Fears' "Shout", and, were it not for "The Power of Love" by Huey Lewis and the News being on the top during 24–31 August, that string would have continued for another seven weeks. [138] "Don't You (Forget About Me)" (featured in The Breakfast Club) represented the first of three British acts to provide the theme song for a Brat Pack film, followed by John Parr's Hot 100 number 1 charting single "St. Elmo's Fire" (which was eclipsed at the top by Dire Straits' "Money for Nothing") and the Psychedelic Furs "Pretty in Pink". [139]

U.S. radio stations that catered to black audiences also played Second Invasion acts. Music critic Nelson George ascribed this "reverse crossover" to the dancibility of the songs. [140] Another music journalist, Simon Reynolds, theorized that, just as in the first British Invasion, the use of black American influences by British acts such as Wham!, Eurythmics, Culture Club, and Paul Young helped to spur their success. [141] Released in 1984, "Careless Whisper" by George Michael topped the Hot 100. [142] His band Wham! released another 1984 U.S. chart topper, "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go"; its music video featured oversized message T-shirts created by Katharine Hamnett, starting a craze covered in the 2002 VH1 series I Love the 80s . [143]

During the late 1980s, glam metal and dance music replaced Second Invasion acts atop the U.S. charts. [131] [144] In 2011, The Guardian named the Second British Invasion among their 50 key events in the history of pop music. [132]

1990s: Emergence of pop punk, and the rise, fall, and resurgence of teen pop

Pop punk

Green Day performing in Germany in 2017 Green Day 2017 Germany.png
Green Day performing in Germany in 2017

The origins of 1990s pop punk can be seen in the more song-oriented bands of the 1970s punk movement like Buzzcocks and the Clash, commercially successful new wave acts such as the Jam and the Undertones, and the more hardcore-influenced elements of alternative rock in the 1980s. [145] Pop-punk tends to use power-pop melodies and chord changes with speedy punk tempos and loud guitars. [146] Punk music provided the inspiration for some California-based bands on independent labels in the early 1990s, including Rancid, Pennywise, Weezer and Green Day. [145] Blink-182 broke into the mainstream with their 1997 album Dude Ranch . Dude Ranch was certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America in 1999. [147] This success opened the door for the multi-platinum sales of metallic punk band the Offspring with Smash (1994). [148] This first wave of pop punk reached its commercial peak with Green Day's Nimrod (1997) and The Offspring's Americana (1998). [149]

A second wave of pop punk was spearheaded by Blink-182, with their breakthrough album Enema of the State (1999), followed by bands such as Good Charlotte, Simple Plan and Sum 41, who made use of humour in their videos and had a more radio-friendly tone to their music, while retaining the speed, some of the attitude and even the look of 1970s punk. [145] Later pop-punk bands, including All Time Low, 5 Seconds Of Summer, the All-American Rejects and Fall Out Boy, had a sound that has been described as closer to 1980s hardcore, while still achieving commercial success. [145] In the 2000s, Canadian solo artist Avril Lavigne, often referred by media and critics as the "Pop Punk Queen", [150] found commercial success in 2002, with her punk-influenced pop sound. [151] [152] [153]

Teen pop

Britney Spears performs on the National Mall in 2003 Britney Jean Spears.jpg
Britney Spears performs on the National Mall in 2003

As teen pop dominated American charts in 1990 and 1991 with acts such as New Kids on the Block [154] , the genre waned in popularity as grunge and rap music were booming. But in the mid-1990s, a resurgence in boy bands and girl groups began when the Backstreet Boys and the Spice Girls hit the scene and became massive successes. [155] Teen pop also dominated the music scene by the late 1990s and 2000s with female, teenaged pop acts such as Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera rising to superstardom. [156] [157] [158]

2000s-present: R&B, EDM, and trap era

Contemporary R&B

The 2000s saw the dominance of hip hop and R&B releases with dance beats and pop crossovers, replacing the 1990s' trend of sentimental ballads. [159]

"Modern r&b isn't about discrete songs. It's about texture, mood, feel—vocal and instrumental and rhythmic, articulated as they're smooshed together."

Robert Christgau, The Village Voice , 2003 [160]

Usher was cited by Billboard as the no. 1 Hot 100 artist of the 2000s decade, with 7 number-one singles that accumulated 42 weeks at the top. Usherraymond (300dpi).jpg
Usher was cited by Billboard as the no. 1 Hot 100 artist of the 2000s decade, with 7 number-one singles that accumulated 42 weeks at the top.

Following periods of fluctuating success, urban music first attained commercial dominance during the early 2000s, which featured massive crossover success on the Billboard charts by R&B and hip hop artists. [162]

Alicia Keys ranked fifth on Billboard Artist of the Decade list. "No One" ranks No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100 songs of the decade. Alicia Keys, Lisboa 08 c.jpg
Alicia Keys ranked fifth on Billboard Artist of the Decade list. "No One" ranks No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100 songs of the decade.

In 2001, Alicia Keys released "Fallin'" as her debut single. It peaking at number one on the Billboard Hot 100, Mainstream Top 40 and Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs charts. It won three Grammy Awards in 2002, including Song of the Year, Best R&B Song, and Best Female R&B Vocal Performance. It was also nominated for Record of the Year. [164] Beyoncé's solo studio debut album Dangerously in Love (2003) has sold over 5 million copies in the United States and earned five Grammy Awards. [165] [166]

Usher's Confessions (2004) sold 1.1 million copies in its first week [167] and over 8 million copies in 2004, since then it has been certified Diamond by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and, as of 2016, has sold over 10 million copies in the US and over 20 million copies worldwide. Confessions had four consecutive Billboard Hot 100 number one singles—"Yeah!", "Burn", "Confessions Part II" and "My Boo". [168] It won won three Grammy Awards in 2005, including Best Contemporary R&B Album, Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal for "My Boo" and Best Rap/Sung Collaboration for "Yeah!" [169]

Beyonce was named by Billboard the most successful female act of the 2000s. Beyonce Knowles GMA 2011 cropped.jpg
Beyoncé was named by Billboard the most successful female act of the 2000s.

In 2004, all 12 songs that topped Billboard Hot 100 were African-American recording artists and accounted for 80% of the number-one R&B hits that year. [162] Along with Usher's streak of singles, Top 40 radio and both pop and R&B charts were topped by Outkast's "Hey Ya!", Snoop Dogg's "Drop It Like It's Hot", Terror Squad's "Lean Back" and Ciara's "Goodies". [162] Chris Molanphy of The Village Voice later remarked that "by the early 2000s, urban music was pop music." [162]

Between 2005 and 2009, Raymond, Knowles and Keys released albums— B'Day [170] , Here I Stand [171] , I Am... Sasha Fierce [172] and The Element of Freedom [173] .

Mariah Carey's The Emancipation of Mimi (2005) debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 and earned ten Grammy Award nominations. She also led her second single off the album, "We Belong Together", to number one on the Hot 100 chart for 14 weeks [174] , and was later hailed "Song of The Decade" by Billboard [175] . She would eventually win a Grammy Award for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance for the song in 2006. [176]

The mid-2000s came with the emergence of new R&B acts such as Ashanti, Trey Songz, Omarion, Ciara, Christina Milian, Mario, Keyshia Cole and Akon. [177] Ashanti's eponymous debut album topped both US Billboard 200 [178] and Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums charts. [179] It earned her three Grammy nominations winning one for the Best Contemporary R&B Album. [180] R&B newcomer Chris Brown released his self-titled album in 2005 which debuted at number two on the Billboard 200. His debut single "Run It!" peaked on the Billboard Hot 100, Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs and the US Radio Songs. [181]

During this time also came the emergence of R&B songwriters. [182] Bryan-Michael Cox co-wrote Usher's "Burn" and "Confessions Part II" (2005), Mariah Carey's "Shake It Off" and "Don't Forget About Us" (2006), and Chris Brown's "Say Goodbye" (2006). [183] Keri Hilson would co-write songs Mary J. Blige's "Take Me as I Am" (2006), Omarion's "Ice Box" (2006), and Ciara's "Like a Boy" (2006). [184] Rico Love co-wrote Usher's "Throwback" (2005), Keri Hilson's "Energy" (2008), Pleasure P's "Boyfriend #2" (2008). [185] The-Dream wrote Rihanna's "Umbrella" (2007), J. Holiday's "Bed" and Usher's "Moving Mountains" and "Trading Places" (2008). [186] Ne-Yo wrote Mario's "Let Me Love You", Rihanna's "Take a Bow" and "Unfaithful", and Beyoncé's "Irreplaceable" (2008). [187]

According to Billboard , the most commercially successful R&B acts of the decade were Usher, Alicia Keys, Beyoncé, Mariah Carey, Rihanna, Chris Brown and Ne-Yo. [188]

Electronic dance music

Lady Gaga at the Fame Ball Tour in 2009. Gaga is one of the best-selling music artists with estimated sales of 27 million albums and 146 million singles as of January 2016. Some of her singles are also among the best-selling worldwide. Gaga on Fame Ball1-edit.jpg
Lady Gaga at the Fame Ball Tour in 2009. Gaga is one of the best-selling music artists with estimated sales of 27 million albums and 146 million singles as of January 2016. Some of her singles are also among the best-selling worldwide.

Towards the end of the decade, electronic dance music began to dominate western charts [190] [191] , and by 2014, pop music had already been permeated by it. [192] The media in 2009 ran articles proclaiming a new era of different electropop stars, and saw a rise in popularity of several electropop artists. Electropop is described as a variant of synth-pop with heavy emphasis on its electronic sound. The genre has seen a revival of popularity and major influence since the 2000s. [193] In the Sound of 2009 poll of 130 music experts conducted for the BBC, ten of the top fifteen artists named were of the electropop genre. [194] Lady Gaga had major commercial success since 2008 with her debut album The Fame . Music writer Simon Reynolds noted that "Everything about Gaga came from electroclash, except the music, which wasn't particularly 1980s". [195]

Trap music (EDM)

In the 2010s, a style of electronic dance music (EDM) incorporated elements of trap music, and began gaining popularity. [196] Artists in this decade that delved into the trap sound include Ariana Grande, Taylor Swift, Selena Gomez, Demi Lovato, and Kelly Clarkson. [197]

Scientific studies

A Scientific Reports study that examined over 464,000 recordings of popular music recorded between 1955 and 2010 found less variety in pitch progressions, growing average loudness levels, [198] less diverse instrumentation and recording techniques, and less timbral variety, which declined after reaching a peak in the 1960s. [199] Scientific American 's John Matson reported that this "seems to support the popular anecdotal observation that pop music of yore was "better", or at least more varied, than today’s top-40 stuff." [199]

In May 2018, researchers at the University of California, Irvine, concluded that pop music has become 'sadder' over the last 30 years. The elements of happiness and brightness have eventually been replaced with the electronic beats making the pop music more 'sad yet danceable'. [200] [201]

Technology and media

Michael Jackson in 1988.jpg
Madonna, Rotterdam, 26-8-1987.jpg
Left, Michael Jackson; right, Madonna known respectively as the "King and Queen of Pop". [202]

In the 1940s improved microphone design allowed a more intimate singing style [203] and ten or twenty years later, inexpensive and more durable 45 r.p.m. records for singles "revolutionized the manner in which pop has been disseminated". This helped to move pop music to 'a record/radio/film star system'. [203] Another technological change was the widespread availability of television in the 1950s; with televised performances, "pop stars had to have a visual presence". [203] In the 1960s, the introduction of inexpensive, portable transistor radios meant that teenagers in the developed world could listen to music outside of the home. [203] Multi-track recording (from the 1960s); and digital sampling (from the 1980s) have also been utilized as methods for the creation and elaboration of pop music. [4] By the early 1980s, the promotion of pop music had been greatly affected by the rise of music television channels like MTV, which "favoured those artists such as Michael Jackson and Madonna who had a strong visual appeal". [203]

A recent study held by New York University [204] in which 643 participants had to rank how familier a pop song is to them, songs from the decade 1960-69 turned out to be the most memorable, a lot more than songs from recent years 2000 to 2015. [205]

Legitimacy in music criticism

The latter half of the 20th-century included a large-scale trend in American culture in which the boundaries between art and pop music were increasingly blurred. [206] Between 1950 and 1970, there was a debate of pop versus art. [207] Since then, certain music publications have embraced its legitimacy. According to Popmatters ' Robert Loss: "There’s a strong argument for the 'rockist' mode in music criticism—that it exists, and that it’s harmful—and poptimism has positioned itself as a corrective, an antidote. ... In general, the Old Guard of rock critics and journalists is depicted as a bunch of bricklayers for the foundations of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. True in part, which is to say, false. Like film studies, rock criticism of the late ‘60s and the ‘70s was an attempt to make popular music worthy of study; it was poptimism before its day." [207]

International spread of pop music

The story of pop music is largely the story of the intertwining pop culture of the United States and the United Kingdom in the postwar era.

 Bob Stanley [192]

Pop music has been dominated by the American and (from the mid-1960s) British music industries, whose influence has made pop music something of an international monoculture, but most regions and countries have their own form of pop music, sometimes producing local versions of wider trends, and lending them local characteristics. [208] Some of these trends (for example Europop) have had a significant impact of the development of the genre. [209]

According to Grove Music Online, "Western-derived pop styles, whether coexisting with or marginalizing distinctively local genres, have spread throughout the world and have come to constitute stylistic common denominators in global commercial music cultures". [210] Some non-Western countries, such as Japan, have developed a thriving pop music industry, most of which is devoted to Western-style pop. [210] The spread of Western-style pop music has been interpreted variously as representing processes of Americanization, homogenization, modernization, creative appropriation, cultural imperialism, or a more general process of globalization. [210]

In Korea, pop music's influence has led to the birth of boy bands and girl groups which have gained overseas renown through both their music and aesthetics. [211] Korean co-ed groups (mixed gender groups) have not been as successful. [212]

See also

Related Research Articles

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Emo is a rock music genre characterized by an emphasis on emotional expression, sometimes through confessional lyrics. It emerged as a style of post-hardcore from the mid-1980s hardcore punk movement in Washington, D.C., where it was known as emotional hardcore or emocore and pioneered by bands such as Rites of Spring and Embrace. In the early–mid 1990s, emo was adopted and reinvented by alternative rock, indie rock and pop punk bands such as Sunny Day Real Estate, Jawbreaker, Weezer and Jimmy Eat World, with Weezer breaking into the mainstream during this time. By the mid-1990s, bands such as Braid, the Promise Ring and the Get Up Kids emerged from the burgeoning Midwest emo scene, and several independent record labels began to specialize in the genre. Meanwhile, screamo, a more aggressive style of emo using screamed vocals, also emerged, pioneered by the San Diego bands Heroin and Antioch Arrow.

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Second British Invasion Music cultural movement

The Second British Invasion refers to music acts from the United Kingdom that became popular in the United States from the middle of 1982 into late 1986, primarily due to the cable music channel MTV. The term derives from the similar British Invasion of the U.S. in the 1960s. While acts with a wide variety of styles were part of the invasion, it was synthpop and new wave influenced acts that predominated. According to Rolling Stone, these acts brought a “revolution in sound and style.”


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  1. "Little Deuce Coupe" (1963) has been cited by John Milward as one of the earliest forms of hard rock with its series of buzzing beats. [68]
  2. From 1961 to 1965, some fifteen hundred car songs were recorded. [73] [74] As in the 1950s, many groups adopted the names of car brands, but with a greater emphasis on hot rods, such as The Duece Coupes, The Duals, The GTOs, The Dragsters, The Roadsters, The T-Bones, and The Roadrunners. [74]