Music is found in every culture known to humankind and has been in existence since time immemorial varying widely in place and time. All tribes and races including the most isolated, primitive, and minorities have a form of music. Music may have originated from African more than 50,000 years ago before it spread and become an integral part of human life (Ferreira and Waldfogel 634). Each form of music in modern times has evolved through different stages to its status. Pop music is one of the most popular genres of music, and a review offers important insights into its history and evolution.
Pop music commonly referred to as simply "pop", is a contemporary genre of music, which is popular and produces hits, or sales, and liked by many people (Miller 19). Although pop and popular music are used interchangeably, the term does not refer to a single type of music and its meaning is different considering the factors of time and place. Pop music is a genre within popular music whose origins can be traced to the United Kingdom and the U.S. in the 1950s (Holthus 158). Since, then, it has become globally accepted and a recognizable genre that is highly popular.
According to Taylor, pop music is distinguishable from popular, Jazz and folk music (8). However, it may include elements of jazz, rock, hip-hop, reggae, and folk music among other styles. For instance, the pop music of 1920-1950 was largely influenced by jazz, while that of the 1950s by rock and blues, and since 1980 by hip-hop (Chapman 26). Pop music performers/artists and recordings are among the bestselling and widely known across the world. Currently, pop music is distributed by recording companies and mass marketed through mass and social media platforms (Chapman 21). This has garnered a lot of criticism, with critics arguing that pop music is about partying, sex and drinking alcohol. Pop music is, however, more than that as evidenced by expressions of deep emotions like love, loss and life struggles that are also common in other genres and has been constantly evolving over the past few decades.
The 1950s is the era in which pop music began at a time when previously popular genres such as swing and crooning voices were on the decline (Blesh 54). Rock was growing and the roots of true pop were beginning to grow too as a result of creations from the famous producer, Mitch Miller, who was working with Columbia records one of the most successful at the time (Taylor 27). Mitch was also working with the labels biggest artists to create a sound, which was not confined to a simple genre (Warner 80). The sounds combined different aspects of other genres such as blues, country, and folk music with mainstream rock sounds. The move was aimed at moving the music sound from a focus on orchestras to more emphasis on artists and their styles such as Elvis Presley, Frankie Laine, and others of the time.
As it begun, pop had a large teen fan base: with the introduction of a portable radio in the 60s, it made it easier for the teens to carry their music wherever they went (Ferreira and Waldfogel 655). Therefore, it meant that pop was traveling and picking up influences with bands like "Beach boys" best known for "surf rhythm" taking harmonies from traditional pop songs and layering them (Ferreira and Waldfogel 638). Pop music in the mid-60s was at its most fertile, regularly throwing up new sounds, new styles, new techniques which would then be the talk of the town until another little explosion came along (Warner 96). The British group, The Beatles, was the one that led to the mainstreaming of pop music in the United States, and from there, to the world. The band's mixed beat of rock, pop and ballad took over the American pop charts (Chapman 135). The Dave Clark Five band was also popular and their 1965 hit single "Over and Over" topped the American charts out doing the Beatles for the first time (Blesh 26). As a result, the pop genre was thereby growing not only characterized by American solo-pop artistes but bands too. This, in turn, caused the genre to split into sub-genres like Bubble - gum pop whose fan base was largely teens with an upbeat sound and Baroque pop, which blended pop, rock and baroque music together (Miller 44). The sub-genres of pop that had sprung up towards the end of the 60s started to die out and were subsequently replaced by power pop, which was a mixture of pop and punk rock popularized by bands such as Cheap Tricks and Romantics of the 1970s (Ferreira and Waldfogel 643). At this time too, another genre "country pop" was emerging and it was an effort by country artists to reach a wider audience.
Following the introduction of digital recording in the 80s, the new technology made it possible for pop music to grow even more. Synthesizers and electronic sounds were put in pop music resulting in the growth of dance-pop and techno (Holthus 16). Artistes who emerged at this time revolutionized pop with Michael Jackson's Thriller Album becoming the bestselling of the time. Prince followed closely and had his own stardom to claim too. Michael Jackson's flamboyant and extravagant presence together with his music that pulled from pop, rock, and funk, made him shine into the spotlight (Taylor 163). Female pop stars like Madonna and Whitney Houston were also blending in with Madonna becoming the most successful artiste of the decade with her hit songs like "like a virgin". Pop music evolved greatly during this decade creating an impact that would be carried on in the next decades. Jackson and Madonna are referred to as the "king" and "queen" of pop respectively (Ferreira and Waldfogel 639). The rise of television shows like MTV helped promote pop music too since they fancied artistes like Madonna and Jackson because of their appealing popularity.
The 90s saw re-introduction of bands in the pop genre notably the Back Street Boys, 'N' sync, and the famous Spice girls (Holthus 46). The British spice girls emerged and later become one of the most commercially successful groups in the United States after the Beatles. Their single "spice up your life" made them among the most successful pop group ever. Later one, teen pop groups and singers such as Britney Spears emerged with her single; "Baby one more time" emerged becoming among the best-selling songs of the time (Taylor 73). Other pop stars include Mariah Carey who amassed much success and became the artiste of the decade and Justin Timberlake.
By 2000s, pop was a genre, which seemed like a highway with many lanes in which artists would choose to follow. Teen pop excelled in songs of Britney Spears whereas pop rock and power rock were coming back through the sounds of the likes of Blink 182s "All small things (Taylor 158)". By the end of the decade ending 2010, hip-hop became the next influential genre on pop music. Some of the artists who emerged this time include Rihanna, and Lady Gaga's, whose album, the poker face, won her a Grammy Award (Miller 17)". Kelly Clarkson, winner of the hit reality show "American Idol" flourished with pop-rock notably with her well recognized hit song "since you been gone (Ferreira and Waldfogel 659). Green's Day eighth studio album 21st-century breakdown released in 2009 succeeded, topping charts and winning a Grammy award. Beyonce Knowles, Chris Brown, and Usher are among other pop stars who have continued to influence the pop music genre.
Pop music has been evolving in the kind of message and tone that artists project in their songs. For instance, there have been concerns that pop music of the past was better and more varied than that of today (Miller 58). Indeed, Warner notes that contemporary pop music is increasingly becoming sad after comparing hundreds of songs in the past three decades (106). Natalia L., co-author of the study noted that as the joy decreased, pop music had become more danceable implying that people want to forget and dance it away. Holthus has indicated that pop music has become more depressing than 30 years ago citing examples from heavyweight ballads of artists like Adele and Ed Sheran (64). Despite being sadder and depressing, its popularity continues.Dance-pop, which has existed since the 1980s and is largely producer driven depends on the artiste and time has gained popularity than earlier thought, around 2014 pop music had become influenced by electronic dance music (Miller 35). The Huffington Post, in an interview with famed DJ and producer, David Guetta revealed that in the past five years lines between dance music had been blurred from solely the soundtrack to raves and nightclubs fully taking over the radio hits (Warner 79). This can be attested by considering hits of artists like Miley Cyrus, Ariana Grande, and Justin Bieber among others.
In conclusion, Pop music as a genre has evolved enormously since the 1950s. It has become popular courtesy of its repeated melodies and captivating rhythms and has seen other genres like rock and jazz loose popularity. Pop music has passed through different phases where different genres such as jazz, folk, and so on have become enshrined into the pop music sounds. Currently, hip hop an influential sound that has been evident in modern pop musicians such as Rihanna and Lady Gaga among others. A major criticism of the pop music genre is that it has changed from lively into a sad genre. It has since become a rich genre where impossibilities of mixing various sounds have been eliminated and resulted into something which has gained enormous love among the fan base. Possibilities are unlimited and amazingly all the sounds feel equally catchy and among the favorites to play. Even though the genre is evolving towards "sadness," it is still gaining more popularity across the world.
Blesh, R. (2013). They All Played Ragtime-The True Story of an American Music. Read Books Ltd.
Chapman, Robert. Selling the sixties: the pirates and pop music radio. Routledge, 2012.
Ferreira, Fernando, and Joel Waldfogel. "Pop internationalism: has half a century of world music trade displaced local culture?." The Economic Journal 123.569 (2013): 634-664.
Holthus, Manfred. Music in a new found land: Themes and developments in the history of American music. Routledge, 2017.
Miller, Karl Hagstrom. Segregating Sound: Inventing Folk and Pop Music in the Age of Jim Crow. Duke University Press, 2010.
Taylor, Timothy D. Global pop: World music, world markets. Routledge, 2014.
Warner, Timothy. Pop Music-Technology and Creativity: Trevor Horn and the Digital Revolution. Routledge, 2017.
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