Pop music

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Pop is a genre of popular music that originated in its modern form during the mid-1950s in the United States and the United Kingdom. [4] The terms popular music and pop music are often used interchangeably, although the former describes all music that is popular and includes many disparate styles. During the 1950s and 1960s, pop encompassed rock and roll and the youth-oriented styles it influenced. Rock and pop remained roughly synonymous until the late 1960s, after which pop became associated with music that was more commercial, ephemeral, and accessible.


Although much of the music that appears on record charts is seen as pop music, the genre is distinguished from chart music. Identifying factors usually include repeated choruses and hooks, short to medium-length songs written in a basic format (often the verse-chorus structure), and rhythms or tempos that can be easily danced to. Much pop music also borrows elements from other styles such as rock, urban, dance, Latin, and country.

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]

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]

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]

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]


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] The structure of many popular songs is that of a verse and a chorus, the chorus serving as the portion of the track that is designed to stick in the ear through simple repetition both musically and lyrically. The chorus is often where the music builds towards and is often preceded by "the drop" where the base and drum parts "drop out". [18] 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. [19] The beat and the melodies tend to be simple, with limited harmonic accompaniment. [20] 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." [21] Clichés include the barbershop quartet-style harmony (i.e. ii – V – I) and blues scale-influenced harmony. [22] 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. [23]

Development and influence

Technology and media

Bing Crosby was one of the first artists to be nicknamed "King of Pop" or "King of Popular Music". Bing Crosby 1930s.jpg
Bing Crosby was one of the first artists to be nicknamed "King of Pop" or "King of Popular Music".

In the 1940s, improved microphone design allowed a more intimate singing style and, ten or twenty years later, inexpensive and more durable 45 rpm records for singles "revolutionized the manner in which pop has been disseminated", which helped to move pop music to "a record/radio/film star system". [25] Another technological change was the widespread availability of television in the 1950s with televised performances, forcing "pop stars had to have a visual presence". [25] 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. [25] 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". [25]

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] 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. [26] 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." [27]

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. [28] Between 1950 and 1970, there was a debate of pop versus art. [29] Since then, certain music publications have embraced the music's legitimacy, a trend referred to as "poptimism". [29]

Stylistic evolution

The 1960s British Invasion marked a period when the US charts were inundated with British acts such as the Beatles (pictured 1964). The Beatles in America.JPG
The 1960s British Invasion marked a period when the US charts were inundated with British acts such as the Beatles (pictured 1964).

Throughout its development, pop music has absorbed influences from other genres of popular music. Early pop music drew on the sentimental ballad for its form, gained its use of 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] [ verification needed ] In 2016, a Scientific Reports study that examined over 464,000 recordings of popular music recorded between 1955 and 2010 found that since the 1960s, pop music had found less variety in pitch progressions, grown average loudness levels, [30] less diverse instrumentation and recording techniques, and less timbral variety. [31] 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". However, he also noted that the study may not have been entirely representative of pop in each generation. [31]

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. [32] 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. [33] 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. [34] A 2019 study held by New York University in which 643 participants had to rank how familiar a pop song is to them, songs from the 1960s turned out to be the most memorable, significantly more than songs from recent years 2000 to 2015. [35]

Before the progressive pop of the late 1960s, performers were typically unable to decide on the artistic content of their music. [36] 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. [37] This situation declined after the late 1970s and would not reemerge until the rise of Internet stars. [37] 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. [38]

Michael Jackson in 1988.jpg
Madonna, Rotterdam, 26-8-1987.jpg
Michael Jackson (left) and Madonna (right), known respectively as the "King and Queen of Pop" since the 1980s. [39]

The 1980s are commonly remembered for an increase in the use of digital recording, associated with the usage of synthesizers, with synth-pop music and other electronic genres featuring non-traditional instruments increasing in popularity. [40] By 2014, pop music worldwide had been permeated by electronic dance music. [41] In 2018, researchers at the University of California, Irvine, concluded that pop music has become 'sadder' since the 1980s. The elements of happiness and brightness have eventually been replaced with the electronic beats making the pop music more 'sad yet danceable'. [42]

International spread

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 [41]

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. [43] Some of these trends (for example Europop) have had a significant impact of the development of the genre. [44]

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". [45] Some non-Western countries, such as Japan, have developed a thriving pop music industry, most of which is devoted to Western-style pop. Japan has for several years produced a greater quantity of music than everywhere except the US.[ clarification needed ] [45] 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. [45]

Latin pop rose in popularity in the US during the 1950s with early rock and roll success Ritchie Valens, though it truly rose to prominence during the 1970s and 1980s with the likes of Los Lobos. [46] With later Hispanic and Latino Americans seeing success within pop music charts, 1990s pop successes stayed popular in both their original genres and in broader pop music. [47] Musicians like Shakira, Ricky Martin, Selena Gomez, and Demi Lovato have seen lasting mass-appeal within pop music circles. Latin pop hit singles, such as "Macarena" by Los del Río and "Despacito" by Luis Fonsi, have seen record-breaking success on worldwide pop music charts. [48]

As part of the Korean Wave, hit singles such as "Gangnam Style" by PSY have achieved global success. [49] More recently, Korean boy bands such as BTS and girl groups such as BLACKPINK are among the most successful music acts worldwide. [50] [51] Korean co-ed groups (mixed gender groups) have not been as successful. [52]

See also

Related Research Articles

Progressive music

Progressive music is music that attempts to expand existing stylistic boundaries associated with specific genres of music. The word comes from the basic concept of "progress", which refers to development and growth by accumulation, and is often deployed in the context of distinct genres such as progressive country, progressive folk, progressive jazz, and progressive rock. Music that is deemed "progressive" usually synthesizes influences from various cultural domains, such as European art music, Celtic folk, West Indian, or African. It is rooted in the idea of a cultural alternative and may also be associated with auteur-stars and concept albums, considered traditional structures of the music industry.

Rock and roll is a genre of popular music that evolved in the United States during the late 1940s and early 1950s. It originated from musical styles such as gospel, jump blues, jazz, boogie woogie, rhythm and blues, and country music. While rock and roll's formative elements 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.

Rock music is a broad genre of popular music that originated as "rock and roll" in the United States in the late 1940s and early 1950s, developing into a range of different styles in the mid-1960s and later, particularly in the United States and the United Kingdom. It has its roots in 1940s and 1950s rock and roll, a style which drew heavily from the genres of blues, rhythm and blues, and from country music. Rock music also drew strongly from a number of other genres such as electric blues and folk, and incorporated influences from jazz, classical, and other musical styles. For instrumentation, 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 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.

Glam rock is a style of rock music that developed in the United Kingdom in the early 1970s performed by musicians who wore outrageous costumes, makeup, and hairstyles, particularly platform shoes and glitter. Glam artists drew on diverse sources across music and throwaway pop culture, ranging from bubblegum pop and 1950s rock and roll to cabaret, science fiction, and complex art rock. The flamboyant clothing and visual styles of performers were often camp or androgynous, and have been described as playing with other gender roles. Glitter rock was a more extreme version of glam.

British Invasion

The British Invasion was a cultural phenomenon of the mid-1960s, when rock and pop music acts from the United Kingdom and other aspects of British culture became popular in the United States and significant to the rising "counterculture" on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Pop and rock groups such as the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Who, the Kinks, the Dave Clark Five, Herman's Hermits, The Hollies, The Swinging Blue Jeans and the Animals were at the forefront of the "invasion".

Doo-wop Style of rhythm & blues

Doo-wop is a genre of rhythm and blues music that originated among African-American youth in the 1940s, mainly in the large cities of the United States, including New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Baltimore, Newark, Detroit, and Washington, DC. It features vocal group harmony that carries an engaging melodic line to a simple beat with little or no instrumentation. Lyrics are simple, usually about love, sung by a lead vocal over background vocals of repeated, varying syllables, and often featuring, in the bridge, a melodramatically heartfelt recitative addressed to the beloved. Gaining popularity in the 1950s, doo-wop enjoyed its peak successes in the early 1960s, but continued to influence performers in other genres.

Folk rock is a hybrid music genre combining elements of folk music and rock music, which arose in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom in the mid-1960s. In the U.S., folk rock emerged from the folk music revival and the influence that the Beatles and other British Invasion bands had on members of that movement. Performers such as Bob Dylan and the Byrds—several of whose members had earlier played in folk ensembles—attempted to blend the sounds of rock with their pre-existing folk repertoire, adopting the use of electric instrumentation and drums in a way previously discouraged in the U.S. folk community. The term "folk rock" was initially used in the U.S. music press in June 1965 to describe the Byrds' music.

Popular music of the United Kingdom in the 1970s built upon the new forms of music developed from blues rock towards the end of the 1960s, including folk rock and psychedelic rock. Several important and influential subgenres were created in Britain in this period, by pursuing the limitations of rock music, including British folk rock and glam rock, a process that reached its apogee in the development of progressive rock and one of the most enduring subgenres in heavy metal music. Britain also began to be increasingly influenced by third world music, including Jamaican and Indian music, resulting in new music scenes and subgenres. In the middle years of the decade the influence of the pub rock and American punk rock movements led to the British intensification of punk, which swept away much of the existing landscape of popular music, replacing it with much more diverse new wave and post punk bands who mixed different forms of music and influences to dominate rock and pop music into the 1980s.

Beat music, British beat, or Merseybeat is a popular music genre, influenced by rock and roll, skiffle, and traditional pop music, that developed in the United Kingdom in the early 1960s.

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.

American rock

American rock has its roots in 1940s and 1950s rock and roll, rhythm and blues, and country music, and also drew on folk music, jazz, blues, and classical music. American rock music was further influenced by the British Invasion of the American pop charts from 1964 and resulted in the development of psychedelic rock.

British rock music

British rock describes a wide variety of forms of music made in the United Kingdom. Since around 1964, with the "British Invasion" of the United States spearheaded by the Beatles, British rock music has had a considerable impact on the development of American music and rock music across the world.

Pop rock is rock music with a greater emphasis on professional songwriting and recording craft, and less emphasis on attitude. Originating in the late 1950s as an alternative to normal rock and roll, early pop rock was influenced by the beat, arrangements, and original style of rock and roll. It may be viewed as a distinct genre field rather than music that overlaps with pop and rock. The detractors of pop rock often deride it as a slick, commercial product, less authentic than rock music.

Heartland rock is a genre of rock music characterized by a straightforward, often roots musical style, a concern with farmers, blue-collar working men, and truck drivers of American life, and a conviction that rock music has a social or communal purpose beyond just entertainment.

British rock and roll, or sometimes British rock 'n' roll, is a style of popular music based on American rock and roll, which emerged in the late 1950s and was popular until the arrival of beat music in 1962. It has generally been considered inferior to the American version of the genre, and made little international or lasting impact. However, it was important in establishing British youth and popular music culture and was a key factor in subsequent developments that led to the British Invasion of the mid-1960s. Since the 1960s, some stars of the genre, most notably Cliff Richard, have managed to sustain successful careers and there have been periodic revivals of this form of music.

This article includes an overview of the events and trends in popular music in the 1960s.

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.

Popular music of the United States in the 1960s became innately tied up into causes, opposing certain ideas, influenced by the sexual revolution, feminism, Black Power and environmentalism. This trend took place in a tumultuous period of massive public unrest in the United States which consisted of the Cold War, Vietnam War, and Civil Rights Movement.

A sentimental ballad is an emotional style of music that often deals with romantic and intimate relationships, and to a lesser extent, loneliness, death, war, drug abuse, politics and religion, usually in a poignant but solemn manner. Ballads are generally melodic enough to get the listener's attention.

Brill Building (genre)

Brill Building is a subgenre of pop music that took its name from the Brill Building in New York City, where numerous teams of professional songwriters penned material for girl groups and teen idols during the early 1960s. The term has also become a metonym for the period in which those songwriting teams flourished. In actuality, most hits of the mid 1950s and early 1960s were written elsewhere.



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