“Pop” is a word that has been in the mouths of everyone for the past 50 years, but the content of the concept has varied as much as generations did. So, we´re left with the question in our minds: what is pop music today? It´s time to bring down the myth. Read on and find out what´s behind the golden door of pop.
Pop Comes From Popular
This is usually misunderstood or misleading. The term “pop” is the short for popular. There is no definite genre that we can coin as being pop music, because what´s popular changes with time. For example, if you look at the charts of 1978, 1988, 1998, 2008 and 2018, you will see that the number one hit songs don´t even sound similar.
The King Of Rock
One of the first chart breakers and all-around pop icon was undoubtedly Elvis Presley. Wait a minute, wasn´t he the King of Rock? Of course he was, but who said that rock isn´t popular? If it is popular, then it´s pop. This is when the concept gets a little messy, but in fact, it was Elvis one of the first ones to shape the structure that pop music and songs will have in all the years after him. I wouldn´t go as far as saying that he invented the pop formula, but he personified the pop icon like few others.
Wait a minute! They were a rock n roll band! Yes, they were but also the first mainstream world-wide pop phenomenon known as a boy band. They took elements from the king and also vocal melodies from The Beach Boys and were ready to take over the world. Also, it was them who introduced different flavors into pop music like ethnic instruments and deeper lyrics. Their songs never stopped being hits and until their last album they topped charts all over the world.
This is where all currents and styles come together. While it is true that some songs become hits by accident and there are some artists in the history of the world that never wanted to be famous, pop music needs hits. So, in this regard, the intention and most times the structure and resources being used to create them have a certain similarity in each decade.
The Formula Of Success
Music is mostly cyclic and one of the main rules for hit making is knowing how to apply the correct formula for the current times. We add the “cyclic” statement is because there´s always a popular formula that is overused and then another one comes to replace it. The pop music cycle applies to most of the hit-makers and chart-toppers but there are always exceptions that maintain themselves out of the logic and still making hit records. Such is the case of bands like The Red Hot Chili Peppers or The Rolling Stones. They are clear examples of how to stay outside the cyclic wheel of pop music and still make great hit songs.
In this regard, what we call the formula is verse + chorus + verse with melodies, catchy hooks and mostly repeated choruses with lyrics that stick in your mind and you just can´t stop singing. It can have the shape and arrangement of folk, EDM, Hip Hop, Rockabilly or any genre, but using the bullet-proof formula.
To bring down the myth of pop music it is important to realize that is not a genre we are discussing, but an approach to music-making, an idea behind it. Pop music can have folk arrangements, or can be sung with a gospel choir over an orchestra of Hawaiian ukuleles, but if you dissect the parts and the melodies, you will clearly see that the hook as well as the repeated chorus and everything that makes the formula. The Washington post in this article debates the idea that most major festivals in the world including the massive Glastonbury are possible because of people´s like for formulaic pop music played on a big stage.
Times are always changing and the formula for pop music is taking different incarnations, disguises and shapes, but as long as it sells records, it shall not be changed.