Reclaiming Pop Music
I’ve wanted to write about pop music for a long, long time, but I thought I’d save the occasion for the day after the release of “SAWAYAMA”, Rina Sawayama’s highly anticipated debut album. Rina came onto my radar after watching this 2017 interview with her and the energy she gave off drew me to her music. The weeks afterwards saw me pumping her EP “RINA” everywhere: sat on the couches of one of our lecture buildings, walking to the bus stop, dancing alone in my room at 2am…
It sparked something in me, a fervent need to find more, more pop music that sounded as confident and unique as hers.
When I turned old enough to have my own opinions on music, pop was what I sneered at, favouring the alternative (predominantly male) artists of the prior four decades. For me, the appeal of not liking pop music was the idea of being a “different” girl, I had built my identity around that concept for years, I still do to an extent. Many people join me on the ride of stigmatising pop music for that reason.
Why do we view pop music as “basic”? Of course the stem of the term comes from “popular”, or music that is appreciated by a wide audience and demographic, but it can’t just simply be that. It isn’t: after doing brief research (mainly being a Google search of “Why do people hate pop music?”) into the phenomenon, pop music perhaps isn’t as “complex” as it once was. With fewer chord changes, the growing repetitiveness and the consistent mastering to be louder. It’s not surprising that the less complex music may be a big reason for why people look down on it, but this Quora thread summarises the phenomenon better than I could ever.
The last argument I’d briefly make is the influence of sexist attitudes. The idea that teen girls love pop music so it must be vapid and simple. We’ve seen this throughout pop culture, Twilight, One Direction, High School Musical and the list goes forever on.
The thing is, pop music, and its related genres, can’t be labelled simple as long as there are still artists like Rina Sawayama, Lady Gaga, Charli XCX, SOPHIE, Kim Petras, Sia, BTS, Carly Rae Jepsen, Troye Sivan, Taylor Swift, Billie Eilish, Rihanna, Lizzo, WILLOW, Stormzy, Little Mix, Dua Lipa, Normani and countless more. The innovation, depth, ingenuity, fun and experimentation they bring to the genre is vastly ignored.
One of my many gateway artists into the pop world was Charli XCX. I was introduced to her in the way most people were: her feature on Icona Pop’s “I Love It” and then again with “Boom Clap” ( from The Fault in Our Stars). She remained on my radar but dormant until her most recent album, “Charli”... it was my favourite album of 2019, easily. It was cool, bubbly, emotional, powerful and perfectly symph-y fun.
She’s also managed to collaborate with an impressive roster of artists, including Lizzo, Rita Ora, Haim, Mura Masa and more. She’s also written songs for Selina Gomez, Bondie (yes Blondie), James Blunt and many more. It’s clear that she’s a force to be reckoned with. A powerhouse in the music industry, specialising in pop and all its glitchy sub-genres.
How do these stars within pop do it? How do they have a knack for making the genre so ground-breaking?
Firstly: the tech. SOPHIE’s Elektron Monomachine is a prime example of how artists across the pop spectrum have used a whole range of different machines to get a unique sound. The Elektron Monomachine allows SOPHIE to create realistic bubble and metal-clanging sounds to give her electronic music a unique flair.
Secondly: a lot of these artists have DJ experience. Why is this important? Electronics make up a lot of what a lot of these musicians do, the ability and knowledge needed to create new and interesting sounds is a part of why their music sounds so interesting. Whilst each track has a team of co-writers and producers I still believe the experience of the artists behind those tracks is a part of what makes them so strong.
Thirdly: the collaborations. I’ve used Charli XCX as an example but the truth is the collaborations are everywhere. Dua Lipa and Blackpink, Ariana Grande with Miley Cyrus and Lana Del Rey, Kim Petras and SOPHIE, and we can't forget Lady Gaga and Beyoncé. The amount of flexibility that these collaborations entail can lead to some groundbreaking tracks.
Finally: the voices. The voices of the women, LGBTQ+, people of colour and other minorities that are carrying pop music forward are so crucial to the genre’s development. They bring, and always have brought, a freshness and sense of new perspective to pop that’s unforgettable. Drawing on their experiences of exclusion, adversity, love and community they manage to create music like no other, that is daring and unapologetic.
Marginalised voices have been changing pop music for decades now, their peers following in suit, and it’s finally time we put aside our conceptions about the genre and embraced it. It’s time to reclaim and embrace pop music.