Pop is known to be ‘easy’; pop is known to be ‘light’. After all, pop stands for popular and the only way to create something that almost everyone likes is by making it less complicated. So could pop ever mean anything other than repetitive, catchy beats or silly choruses?
To me, it can. Actually, I find it a bit irritating when people suggest that anything that’s pop is automatically not meaningful enough to stand proudly next to rock masterpieces or indie gems. And even though I am mostly a rock kind of girl, I can safely say that there are good pop songs; it’s just harder to spot them these days!
I remember a time when N Sync and Backstreet Boys were trendy, or a time when Spice Girls ruled the charts. If you were a child growing up in the ‘90s, I’m sure you do too. That was pop back then. It was innocent, romantic and sometimes too neon! But it made our hearts warmer and we loved it no matter what – even those who now claim they didn’t, were seen copying Britney’s moves back in 1999!
Of course, Justin Timberlake is all grown up now – thank God for that – and Britney Spears is, well, showing the world that her late ‘00s meltdown days are far behind her. And while some of our teen pop idols have proven to be quite successful at adjusting their music to today’s needs, what happens with the ones that are actually born in this day and age? Do they stand a chance?
Comparing the modern music scene to that of the ‘90s is obviously useless, given the fact that the various platforms through which music is transmitted and promoted nowadays are far more innovative, yet sometimes scarier, than the ones used two decades ago. Today’s young pop artists are not only faced with the risks of letting fame get into their (usually immature) heads, but they also have to deal with the fact that the needs of the industry and its expectations of them run faster than they could possibly keep up with or even understand.
Somewhere in between selfies and Instagram posts or viral GIFs and live tweeting, one might excuse them for not being that concerned with making sophisticated music! Record companies, and, frankly, anyone who’s in this business, focus on image, with the artists themselves being the product they’re looking to ‘sell’. And now that they have technology on their side, who really cares about music?
I refuse to believe, though, that image is fans’ only concern and that all pop artists are dumb or talentless – although when I saw Miley Cyrus riding that wrecking ball and sticking her tongue out, the thought crossed my mind. So I decided to dig deeper, listen to the songs behind this new generation of stars and try and find something that could connect me to their music. I’ll admit; it wasn’t easy.
Take 21-year-old Justin Bieber for example. Girls love him because he’s obviously good-looking, and he has this bad-boy attitude that is apparently irresistible. Personally, I can’t see what the fuss is all about, but that’s just a matter of taste. And then, there’s the music. OH-MY-GOD. Could this be the future of R&B/Pop/Electro (yes, he added some of that in, in case you were wondering) music scene?
And if so, are we prepared for such a challenge? I am most certainly not. As far as I’m concerned, a cute face cannot really compensate for a mediocre voice and some even more mediocre songs. His 23-year-old on/off girlfriend, Selena Gomez, though, seems slightly more interesting, with a decent voice and, of course, a killer body to back it up.
Yet again, alongside Nicki Minaj’s utter humiliation, Rita Ora’s absence of personal identity, Ellie Goulding’s ‘screeching’ voice and Iggy Azalea’s over-the-top ‘swag’, there’s this glimmer of hope that comes from people who won’t always do anything just to get quickly to the top. Those are the ones that choose music, integrity and creativity, instead.
19-year-old Lorde, 24-year-old Ed Sheeran and 22-year-old Ariana Grande are an example of that, with the latter perhaps being more drawn to the lights, but still making a decent effort. Listening to their unique voices makes me realise that pop may still have something to offer, something other than flashy clothes and high heels. Demi Lovato and Meghan Trainor have also given me a reason to believe that pop can be sexy but also smart and talented.
How about boybands then? The new boyband model is not choreographed, it’s not ‘90s-pop silly’ and it certainly isn’t happy or romantic all the time. One Direction, the greatest of them all, clearly a manufactured product that was meant to generate massive amounts of money, is still a genius conception in all its pink, pop bubble. Of course, the ‘product’ was bound for self-destruction as it drove its members insane, unable to handle the pressure of fans, the industry and the media all at once; which is why they recently announced a hiatus (that could possibly turn into a definite break-up). Nevertheless, a lot of the group’s songs were nicely written (not by the boys themselves), and even worthy enough to be considered legit.
On the other side of the coin, you have 5 Seconds of Summer, the pop-punk version of a boyband, which can easily become a proper rock band once the boys are older. For now, they’ll remind you a little of early-Good Charlotte, being honest and super-talented, gently floating between pop and rock. The huge difference from One Direction is that these boys, who are in their late teens, can write music, play instruments and celebrate the rebellious side of pop! Honestly, teen pop never sounded more punk and that’s an achievement.
Last but not least, there are those artists who are past their mid or in their late twenties – early thirties, who have clearly matured over time; even though some of their songs remain sort of ‘light’ or ‘not so deep’, they have proved that pop can be emotional, it can be daring and it can be wise, after a certain age.
Amidst this blurry haze of image-oriented, digital chaos, artists like Adele, Lady Gaga and even Katy Perry or Taylor Swift can sing about relationships and self-confidence in such a way that’s inspiring, urging people to feel good about themselves, even if some of them compromised a lot to get to the top and are possibly not so proud of their early choices.
So this is pop; it can be in-your-face provocative or naïve, it can be tacky and generic but it can also be powerful, as the most sincere and fun voice of a young generation that’s struggling to survive between unrealistic expectations and photoshopped dreams. Whether it’s going against those or simply helping them grow, it remains to be judged by the listener.
Words by Konstantina Pyrnokoki