In a recent conversation with my sister about some of the music I’ve been listening to in the past year, artists like Clean Bandit, Nick Jonas, and Jessie J to name a few, my sister came out with the cruel words, “Oh my God Charlie, you’re so basic!” Basic. This coming from the person who only knows what good music is thanks to me.
But I didn’t feel personally victimized; instead my sympathy was with pop music. Pop gets a bad rap as uninventive, mindless rubbish that no self-respecting music lover would ever stoop to listen to. But is this a fair judgment?
Let me jump to the defense of “pop” as a concept: just because something is popular doesn’t mean it’s bad (hipsters, I’m talking to you). I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard music lovers lamenting that a band they like have become famous or “gone mainstream”, as if popularity is some sort of disease to good music, or refuse to stomach certain artists purely because they perform at the VMAs. Am I the only one to whom this disdain seems petty? Have some faith people! Not everyone is a half-deaf musical heathen.
As for pop as a genre, sure you get a lot of formulaic, mass-produced crap (Kelly Clarkson’s cringe-worthy Heartbeat Song springs to mind), but good pop music is amazing – the sort of music that makes you feel joyous even on the rainiest of days, or want to dance for no reason, should be applauded, not reviled! Writing the sort of melody that sticks in your head for days, or that you remember after hearing only once, is a tremendous talent. Look to Paul McCartney, Elton John, or Michael Jackson as examples of this kind of pop songwriting mastery.
Recent bands have taken the form of the pop song and started doing some interesting things with it. Clean Bandit’s melodically inventive, classically infused single Rather Be is a great example of innovative pop song writing. Or look at Sia, who writes powerful pop ballads with meaningful lyrics (see Chandelier or Elastic Heart) that completely defy the label of “insubstantial” that pop is often given. Not to mention the downright fun songs that have made it into the charts in recent times, such as Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars’ (now excessively overplayed) Uptown Funk or Pharell’s Happy.
This brings me to my next point. Imagine being at some cheesy reunion twenty years from now. If Bang Bang by Jessie J or Drunk In Love by Beyoncé comes on, try to convince me that you won’t immediately be brought back to that time in Arena (I mean “Unit 1”) or that party in second year. Pop music, because it is so accessible and widely played, has the effect of bringing people together and creating collective memories. So even if you’re only enjoying it ironically (or drunkenly), for the sake of posterity, give pop a try!
Of course I’m not saying people should only listen to pop music – any avid music listener would quickly go crazy if they limited themselves to top 40. I admit freely that there still are, as there always will be, some awful songs that become hits (take Ellie Goulding’s vacuous and repetitive Love Me Like You Do, which somehow made it to #1). But skeptics, I implore you, give pop a chance and try not to judge those of us who like to enjoy it.