If you look at pop playlists and sales you will find some pretty heavy names – Doja Cat, Lorde, The Weekend, Avril Lavigne, Adele, Katy Perry, Ed Sheeran, Halsey, BTS, Olivia Rodrigo for starters. Any pop list today spans a lot of music styles and performers, and at first is kind of puzzling. What, for instance, unites Adele’s “Easy on Me “with Ed Sheeran’s “Shivers”, and Doja Cat’s “Kiss Me” (with SZA) and BTS’s “Butter” and Billie Eilish’s “Your Power”? The answer is they are all found on various pop lists.
Pop music – or popular music for the people – started with Thomas Edison and the recordable cylinder and its later improvements like piano rolls, which brought music to the people in their own homes, rather to a select few who could attend concerts. That popularized ragtime in the 1890s and early 1900s, the jazz era of the 1920s and 1930s, and the big band era of the 1940’s. The vinyl record arrived in 1948 just in time for rock and roll to burst on the scene (and change everyone’s idea of music) in the 1950’s. Rock groups like Haley and Comets and later Elvis went national and pop music became the dominant national music form, shoving aside swing, and ballads.
From there “pop” grew with the Beatles, Elton John, Madonna, Whitney Houston, Motown, Brittany Spears, Christina Aguilera, J-pop, Bubblegum pop, electro-pop, pop-rock, punk pop (remember Fall Out Boy and Simple Plan) and on and on into subgenres like any other music. It receded some as rap and hip hop and cumbia stormed the charts, but remains one of the dominant music form in the world , in fact subsuming those forms to some extent, as in Nancy Sanchez’s pop song “ Gran Civilización” with rapper Olmeca.
Which brings me back to my question of how all those different artists and styles can fit into a “pop” playlist. The answer appears to be both historical and musical. Originally “pop” music was short for “popular music” that the masses listened to. But as it branched out into subgenres and evolved, it became a musical melting pot that blends sounds from throughout the music world and connects them with the melody and structure of what most of us call “ pop” – electronic beats, synth details, repetitive lyrics. But then that changed as other genres incorporated pop details, blurring the lines even further.
One example that strikes me as what pop is and where it is going is the band Sin Color, aka Crisia Regalado (in the banner photo) plus musicians and/or electronics, depending on the song or concert. Trained as an opera singer who still sings occasionally with an LA-based opera, she also sang with a mariachi band, had a rock band, and does solo electro pop. She blends all of that, including the operatic voice – a true melting pot of music. Her song “Pensamiento” blends Latin beats with electronic percussion, synth flourishes and operatic choruses in Spanish. But her song “Unknown Kiss” is a flowing ballad backed by a bubbly electronic beats with synth touches punctuating her jazz voice . Both are pop. Same singer, same album, different blends, different languages – all popular, all pop.
Currently on tour in Mexico, Sin Color is the essences of pop today – bilingual, bi-cultural, electronic, a mixture of genres, talents, musical forms, technologies. I will see her next month when she arrives in the Guadalajara area for two concerts and will report back to you on what she is like live.
In the meantime, for all those people who dismiss pop as mindless bubblegum music, I say listen again. You will hear cumbia, rock, rap, love songs, political songs, narratives, stories, beats, melodies, technological innovations’ short, pop is the music of now, as well as of the past and the future. Long live pop!
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