What is pop music? What makes something pop music? Typically when we think of pop music, we think of Britney Spears, 50 Cent, Chris Brown, John Mayer, Justin Timberlake and Lady GaGa to name a few. After pondering a bit longer we realize that U2, Coldplay, as well as the Foo Fighter belong in this category. So how did makes these become labeled Pop? The most obvious answer is that they are all very POPular. They are the ones that have the big posters at Best Buy. Let’s face it, we will never seen a “They Might Be Giants” album advertised at Best Buy. The day I do I will buy YOU a tasty smoothie. Anyhoo, here are some guideline to consider. Note that they are guidelines and not cold/hard/fast rules, because it is easy to find an exception to any these guidelines.
Things that make the artist less Pop
1. Songs greater than 5 minutes in length
2. Instrumentals – the artist has songs without singing or rapping
3. Weirdness factor – Accordion and Tuba solo’s
4. Melody catch – You need to listen to the song 5 times to remember it
5. Ugly Looking – With the exception of Tom Petty
6. Not American Idol material – I’d love to see Tom York, Trey Anastasio and Micheal Stipe on that show
7. If you have a band – Current top Pop artists are: Lady GaGa, Kelly Clarkson, Miley Cyrus, Britney Spears, Jesse McCartney, Beyounce, Jason Mraz, Demi Lovato, Plain White T’s only 1 band in the bunch
Things that make the artist more Pop
1. Songs less than 5 minutes in length
2. No Instrumentals
3. No Weirdness – Drums, Guitars, Piano, Vocals
4. Catchy Melody – The song sticks to your mouth like Elmers
5. Good Looking – With the exception of Tom Petty
6. Probably do good on American Idol
7. Most likely a Solo artist
8. Artist has an association with the Disney Company
9. Lyric’s about simple concepts (love, dancing, and being a smooth criminal)
Now that I’m done getting that off my chest, I’m going to take you down a completely different path, the realtruth of the matter. All that “Pop” music is, is a term used for marketing. I’m willing to bet that Ricky Martin sold more albums as a pop artist than a latin music artist. Once the Decemberists gained enough popularity from the Indie people the marketing people thought “Let’s label them Pop and try to get more people on the bandwagon, they’re current fan base will stay.” A similar concept exists for Christian music. The label of Christian music is there to sell to a specific group of people. If such a label didn’t exist, Mark Shultz and Casting Crowns would be having a lot more trouble succeeding. Both of these labels are less about style and more about marketing to specified people groups.
The label Pop music exists to conduct the selling of music. The attributes that quantify what Pop music is can and probably will change over time. Pop music genre is always going to be the bucket that the most people will be dipping into for more music, meanwhile the marketing people will be deciding what goes in that bucket.