The term “pop music” originally referred to any kind of music that happened to be popular, but several decades on it has evolved into a genre all of its own. Sometimes the tracks are simple and receive disdain, particularly from older generations, but pop music has a few things going for it that no other genre can boast. Pop music acts as a melting pot where every genre can come together to create new sounds, a process that can often lead to the creation of another new genre.
We live in an interesting era for pop music and even music as a whole; labels no longer possess the total power that they once did over artists and the music that most of us hear. Band’s regularly experiment with releasing royalty-free music as a way of reaching new audiences, and even the creation of music has largely moved from huge recording studios to smaller setups as computing power has continued to increase. Today we’ll be examining how all these changes (and more!) have affected pop music from 1950 to the present day.
The Birth of Pop Music: 1950’s
Pop music as it is today was born out of rock and roll music, a style which spread rapidly throughout post-war America, replacing genres that had been popular for decades. The most obvious examples are the swing sound that was huge during the Roaring 20’s and the “Crooner” ballads by the likes of Frank Sinatra. The high tempo of rock music was infectious – it was completely unlike anything that had come before it and attracted many new people to visit the dancehalls and discotheques of the day.
The Chief Producer of Columbia Records at this time was Mitch Miller, and he began to work with many of the most popular artists in his collective to craft a new sound that could spread across many genres – pop music. Miller combined elements of several growing genres of the time – country, folk, blues, and jazz with the now-mainstream rock and roll beat that had captured the public’s attention so strongly. By the time that Elvis Presley was becoming popular towards the middle of the decade, Miller’s new sound had found its legs.
The British are Back: 1960’s
Mitch Miller hadn’t intended his new sound to be targeted specifically towards younger people, but by the time the 1960’s came around it had become clear that the majority fan base of pop music was largely made up of teenagers and young adults. The introduction of the portable radio made it easier than ever for pop music fans to listen to music anywhere, so they did – much like the youngsters listening to music on public transport with their mobile phones today!
A new subgenre of rock music was born when the Beach Boys combined the harmonies of traditional pop songs with what quickly became known as their “surf rock” rhythm. This style of rock appealed to even more people than the previous high-tempo rock and roll songs of the 50’s, but it was British band The Beatles who really lit the flame of pop music during this decade. It had been a century since the end of the American Civil War, and any signs of tension between the USA and its former colonial master were ancient history by now, and Americans welcomed this new British Invasion of their Billboard pop music charts.
It would be fair to argue that it was The Beatles’ enormous popularity in the USA which helped them to become such a huge worldwide success by the middle of this decade. The Beatles combined elements of big beat, rock, and earlier pop ballads to craft their own sound, marking the end of the era of solo pop artists and the beginning of a new period that was dominated by bands and groups.
The Superstar Era: 1970’s
Pop music changed dramatically once again during the 1970’s as new influences continued creeping into the genre from punk rock and country music. Country artists were eager to grab a slice of the huge audience that pop music was attracting and began to mix vocal hooks and pop melodies with their signature drawl and twang, creating a new sound that many unimaginatively labeled “country pop”.
The 1970’s marked the beginning of the “pop rock” era too, with huge household name stars such as The Jackson 5, Queen, Fleetwood Mac, and ABBA quickly taking over the charts. Dozens if not hundreds of songs from the 1970’s are still regarded as all-time classics today, making this decade one of the most influential periods ever for pop music.
Music Goes Digital: 1980’s
The power of computers began to increase exponentially during the late 1970’s, and by the time the next decade came around these machines were finally powerful enough to be useful tools in the production of music. Samplers and synthesizers filled the walls of every major recording studio, and it became more-or-less a requirement for every new band to have at least one member who could create electronic sounds using a synthesizer.
The days of the Jackson 5 ended, but out of the ashes of the group came Michael Jackson, previously regarded as one of the most talented members of the Jackson 5. Michael’s album “Thriller” was released during this time and still holds the number one spot as the biggest-selling record of all time forty years later. Michael was undoubtedly the most popular artist of the 1980’s, but there were plenty of other hugely talented artists making a name for themselves in this decade.
Prince was trained as a classical musician and was enormously talented; he could play more than a dozen instruments and was always eager to learn more. Prince molded elements of pop, rock, and funk into a flamboyant sound which hit just the right note in the 1980’s era.
The Start of the Modern Era: 1990’s
The fifth decade of pop music was less influential than the 1970’s and 1980’s; pop music carried on much like it had before, but many elements of the sound did become stagnant in the 1990’s. Artists seemed less keen to take risks and experiment with new sounds, so would instead focus on recreating whatever had been popular from previous decades.
That’s not to say that the 1990’s were all bad; The Spice Girls became the biggest British band to enter the American market since the days of The Beatles, and later in the decade a huge trend towards dance music did eventually see new sounds and melodies move into the pop music genre from trance, house music, and drum and bass.
Other hugely popular artists of this time included The Backstreet Boys, Take That, and Britney Spears, who’s single “Baby One More Time” was one of the best-selling records from this decade.
Fast forward to the current day and pop music is as strong as it has ever been, but the attitude of artists that first appeared in the 1990’s is still evident in the music being released today. You can understand the attitude of pop artists to this – their music is selling better than it ever has before, so why would they do anything different? The only problem here is that pop music was born out of experimentation, and if that experimentation should ever stop completely, the entire genre could end up being replaced by something else.
Nevertheless, the rise of computing power that took off in the 1980’s has continued until the present day and there are now more people creating music than ever before. Fresh sounds continue to be made, and it is now easier to find and access new music than ever before thanks to the rise of music streaming platforms.
Perhaps the next decade of truly original and experimental pop music is right around the corner?
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