Warning: this article contains strong opinions. It may change some of your beliefs about music, or in some extreme cases, have you listening to artists with genuine talent. Reader discretion is advised.
The term “pop” has evolved over the years. Pop music originally was a softer version of rock and roll, and more appealing to the masses. Wikipedia does a pretty good job of summarizing pop music:
“There are core elements which define pop. Such include generally short-to-medium length songs, written in a basic format (often the verse-chorus structure), as well as the common employment of repeated choruses, melodic tunes, and catchy hooks.
So-called “pure pop” music, such as power pop, features all these elements, using electric guitars, drums and bass for instrumentation; in the case of such music, the main goal is usually that of being pleasurable to listen to, rather than having much artistic depth. Pop music is generally thought of as a genre which is commercially recorded and desires to have a mass audience appeal.”
I think this is a pretty fair definition. Like any branch of music, pop has many subgenres (some good ones including piano pop and pop / punk), and there are a few of these that I enjoy. However, in recent years, “pop” has come to mean “whatever music is popular.” The problem is that most popular music is terrible music.
In general, I try not to bash anyone else’s music tastes (and I don’t plan to in this article), but I’m baffled why so many people enjoy music from the Top 40. I can’t understand why they don’t see what is so blatantly clear to me.
1. The music is mind-numbingly dull.
Part of this is personal preference, but the other part is the repetitive, redundant and repetition-filled songs. Really, though, have you ever listened to Top 40 radio with a critical ear?
Most “pop” songs use the exact same structure: Verse-Chorus-Verse-Chorus-Bridge-Chorus-Chorus. I’m not saying there’s something inherently wrong with this structure; many artists of other genres use it successfully. At least, there’s nothing wrong with it on its own.
It gets more repetitive when you break it down further, though. After hearing Top 40 radio all summer at my local public pool, I quickly noticed something worse: they all used the same chord structure, or at least something similar. You’ve got your happy / dance songs, your sad songs, and not much else. This, too, is not that bad on its own, but it gets even worse.
Then you have the blatantly obvious: there’s little change in sound from song to song, almost ever. Most “pop” music today has a thumping beat, some kind of synth sound, and a singer. None of these elements on their own make for bad music necessarily, but when you put them together, you have a specific formula for producing music that people just eat up, for some reason. Some other musical things wrong with “pop” are:
Autotune: This serves no purpose. If the artist uses this to cover missed notes, they should buy singing lessons instead of buying fame. If the artist just thinks it sounds cool…it just doesn’t. They’re smothering any emotion the song was trying to convey.
Attitude: If these people are trying to sound like they don’t give a (insert interjection of the artist’s choice here), they’re succeeding. And I don’t understand why people like it.
Ke$ha: In addition to following the “pop” formula exactly, Ke$ha talk-sings. Her voice moves up and down, but it’s not really singing. It has a vague rhythm, but it’s not really rapping. It just sounds kinda stupid…and on top of that, it’s autotuned. And this garbage sells millions. It makes me angry.
Still, most of what I’ve said so far is just my personal preference. If you’re not bothered by a simple, repetitive structure, that doesn’t really bother me. There are plenty of artists I like that have a somewhat predictable sound; so this reason may only apply to a few people. (However, I cannot understand anyone liking Ke$ha.)
But this isn’t where the real problems are.
2. The lyrics show one desire – the opposite gender.
Have you ever wondered why children nowadays are more infatutated with romance, and earlier, than ever before? It could have something to do with the music they hear.
Take Justin Bieber. Who makes up most of his fanbase? Teenage girls. I’m not generalizing, I know that not all teen girls like the Biebs, but it’s a fact that most people that like his music are teen girls. Why is this? Because everything he sings is a love song of some sort.
Some examples are such lyrical masterpieces as “Baby,” “One Less Lonely Girl,” “Boyfriend,” and many more. I’m not saying that love songs are a bad thing, but it’s literally ALL HE SINGS. The ONLY exceptions are “Pray” and his covers of Christmas songs. And when someone listens to love songs constantly, romance is gonna be on their mind constantly.
Obviously music isn’t the only culprit responsible for lovestruck eight-year-olds, but it certainly contributes. What few songs in the pop industry are not about love are generally about alcohol, partying and even drugs. It’s amazing what gets on the radio – I can think of a few songs which are either blatantly sexual or talk frankly about smoking weed or doing drugs. But hey, that’s what people like, right?
Which leads me to the biggest issue with “pop” music.
3. It’s all a money grab anyway.
Justin Bieber is a talented guy. I have no problem admitting this. Yet, when I hear his music, I don’t hear much of his talent. Why is this? Production. (I know this is a little hipster-y, but this whole section also explains why I like indie music, and why it’s almost always better.) I looked up some old JB videos, and I respected him. The guy was a good singer and a good drummer. Why the change?
His career follows the same path as a lot of “pop” artists: He was discovered by an agent while he was singing something good, then was turned into a pop idol. It wouldn’t have mattered if Bieber had wanted to sing another style of music; his producers knew that songs with power-pop instrumentals were popular, so that’s what he sung. They knew that tween girls would go crazy over him, so they had him sing love songs. And a star was born…or something like that.
It’s surprising how many pop idols were once just humble, talented singers. Justin Bieber, One Direction, Katy Perry and Lady Gaga, just to name a few. In fact, many pop idols were once Christians or at least religious. Justin Bieber and Katy Perry used to sing in their churches, and even Lady Gaga used to be Catholic. We can’t judge for sure whether they are Christians, but most of them don’t seem to show it with their lifestyle.
Because that’s what many producers and record labels do: they take people with genuine talent and reimage them into whatever’s popular. (Compare Owl City’s old music with his new music for an easy example.) Sometimes I wonder if the stars themselves really realize how much they’ve been taken advantage of. Sure, their career will end with them being rich, but when they decide that they want to start writing their own music and make songs with meaning, their fifteen minutes will already be up. It’s sad, really.
When you hear the next terrible, overproduced pop song on the radio, you’ll know it’s not really the artist’s fault that the song stinks, but the producer(s). I’m not saying producers are evil, but many of them take advantage of the artists and strip them of their old identity and ther creativity, and replace it with what the masses want. That’s just what the industry does.
So that’s why I hate pop music. It’s not wrong to enjoy some of it. Even I have listened to One Direction voluntarily…multiple times. So if there’s some pop that you like, I’m certainly not telling you to stop listening to it completely. However, I have trouble listening to most of it because of my personal music tastes and the tasteless lyrics, but even if I could reconcile those, I don’t think I would ever pump any of my money into the pop music industry because of what it does to talent and the people who have it.