Throughout history, popular music has existed as different genres of music that “have popular appeal.” This has always been short, simple, and easily digestible music that can be sold to and memorized by the masses. Usually, pop music has a derogatory connotation to those that write, study, and play more serious types of music. Every once in a while, artist will come out of the pop music genre as pushing the boundaries and making great music, whether it’s considered pop or not. Historically speaking, some recent examples would be The Beatles in the 60’s and Michael Jackson in the 80’s.
I believe we are having another resurgence of great pop music. And it’s not being led by one person. Let me speculate on where it started and who’s doing it right.
In the late 90’s and early 2000’s, not much was happening in the pop world. Cookie-cutter singers releasing cookie-cutter pop songs. Then a rock band came on the radio playing funk-influenced pop music. Nobody knew what to think. Most “serious” musicians wrote them off as pop music even though they were a 5-piece rock band playing their instruments more impressively than a lot of bands on the rock stations.
Maroon 5 continues to make great pop music into this decade.
Later in the first decade of the 2000’s, more and more “rock” bands starting playing with sounds that most people would consider only pop bands using. This lead us into the next decade when the resurgence really got going. In 2011, we had a piano-driven rock band released an incredible “pop” record:
I always pictured Coldplay getting ready for this record and saying, “Look at all the rock bands trying to write a pop record. Let’s show them how it’s done.” And did they.
About this time, people started realizing that there are a lot of great bands doing pop music that just aren’t getting popular. For example, the band Phoenix have been releasing great pop music since the early 2000’s out of France. The masses didn’t know until their breakout album of 2009, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix.
We finally come to this year with what might be one of the greatest pop records in a long time. The funny thing is this artist was part of the cookie–cutter pop of the 90’s I was speaking about earlier. Of course, it’s Justin Timberlake.
I think Relevant Magazine had one of the best reviews of the record. They summed up the whole thing pretty well with this one statement: “The 20/20 Experience is getting criticized for not having enough pep or urgency, which is sort of like criticizing an opera for not having a clown.” The record is a very fleshed-out experience of classic and modern pop music. The tracks are long and the danceability is only there for a few tracks. All that said, it is such a great listen.
So JT brings us to what is currently incredible in pop music. On the flip side, this means that other artists cannot continue to make mediocre pop music. If the listeners are buying JT’s new record and fun.’s record by the millions and millions (they are), then the listeners want good pop music. A great example of mediocre pop music not making the same splash in the world is will.i.am’s new record, #willpower. This album currently has 2.5 stars on iTunes. I know you can’t put a lot of weight on online reviews but I have never seen a rating that low on an album from somebody popular. For reviews from actual publications, this is about how they all read.
That said, mediocre pop music will still sell but I think it will become harder and harder to not be great and try to compete with what’s killing the charts right now.