Pop Music: Is it Art?

Travis Anderson, Arts & Community Writer

Pop music seems to get a bad rep in popular culture. Pop music’s reputation is even a plot point in the 2018 remake of A Star is Born. In this film, Lady Gaga’s character transitions from making country music to making pop music and is accused of producing less genuine art. Pop music’s bad reputation even goes against its name, popular music. If this genre wasn’t good then why are so many people listening to pop music?

Defining pop music depends on the time and culture surrounding it. The pop music of today is very different from the pop music of 25 or 50 years ago. In the 1960’s, Rock and Roll and British Invasion were considered pop music, and the pop music of the 1990’s was grunge and alternative. However, looking back at the pop music of the past it does not share the same reputation that pop music is shallow and less genuine. For example, during the 1960’s the Beatles were at the peak of their popularity and were considered pop music at that time. I think I would be hard-pressed to find someone that would consider the Beatles shallow or less genuine. The same could be said of Nirvana in the 1990’s.

The majority of today’s pop music could be characterized as hip-hop and electrotonic dance music or EDM. Hip-hop artists would include Post Malone, Khalid, Lizzo and Lil Nas X which have dominated the Billboard charts for the past year, which is a good gauge of what is popular. All of these artists also implement elements of EDM using danceable beats and a repetitive composition of verses and chorus. The repetitive nature of some pop music may be what brings its authenticity into question. However, I think just because a song is repetitive and easy to sing along with does not make it an ingenuine form of art or expression. Another aspect of modern pop I have seen criticized is the electronic nature. This is relatively new because of technological advancement, but this new medium of creating music does not make this music a lower form of art.

One of pop music’s breakout stars from the past year, Billie Eilish, does not fit into the hip-hop genre. Eilish’s music would be characterized as alternative pop or indie pop and is a great rebuttal to pop music’s reputation of being ingenuine. Songs such as Eilish’s “when the party’s over” or “everything I wanted” are some of the more authentic pop songs I have heard recently and are able to stay away from the overly repetitive structure pop music is normally criticized for. In perhaps her most notable song “Bad Guy”, Eilish dips into the EDM genre with a repetitive dance beat. Eilish’s authenticity and ability to use popular formulas in her album, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, helped her become the youngest artist to win the big four awards at the Grammys which included Best New Artist, Album of the Year, Song of the Year and Record of the Year.

Another example of an artist releasing authentic pop music would be Harry Styles. Similarly to Eilish, Styles’ music would fall into the alternative pop or soft rock genre. Styles’ 2017 debut solo single, “Sign of the Times”, is a five minute and forty-second ballad which peaked at number four on the Billboard charts. This song breaks the formula of the short, easy to sing along with the nature of the average pop song. Another example of authentic pop would be Styles’ most recent single “Falling” from his sophomore album Fine Line. The entirety of Styles’ sophomore album is a great example of pop music that is authentic to the artist.

Although pop music gets a bad reputation it is a product of the culture and time. If you are someone that is not a fan of pop music at the moment, it will likely change in a couple of years. Also, a maxim I like to live by is that there is no bad art, only art you don’t like. Even though pop music is criticized by some, that does not make it a less authentic or valid form of art.