Pop is the single worst genre of music in America. As pop is also the most popular genre of music in America, few recognize quite how terrible it is. Therefore, in the interest of introducing people to the idea that better music is out there, I will list some of the key reasons that pop is devoid of intelligence.
The first thing to look at is the mechanization of the music creation process. In the past, artists have composed their own songs, then performed them. More recently, the role of “producer” has been introduced to allow artists to make recordings of their music for distribution. Producers have essentially conquered the pop music industry, and the results are a slew of unoriginal, unimaginative, computer-generated hits.
Before I start taking cracks at everyone’s favorite songs, allow me to express just how much pop music is being influenced by individuals other than the artists themselves. Looking at Teenage Dream, by Katy Perry, Animal, by Ke$ha, or The Fame, by Lady Gaga, one can see that each album required the production assistance of no less than 30 individuals. Giving a pass to the backup vocalists and musicians, it is impossible to overlook that all three artists have numerous co-composers, audio engineers, and production staff working with them to fabricate a made-for-radio album. Every single track on each album was the construction of the producer more than any of the artists. In fact, one might argue that pop artists such as Ke$ha and Katy Perry don’t write their songs at all. And though these two have been caught rehashing chord progressions due to letting the same songwriter work on their albums, it’s safe to say they’re not the only ones.
What’s particularly amusing is that even regularly-criticized groups such as Nickelback write their own songs. Superior artists may go so far as even producing their music themselves. There is something to be respected in artists who have the musical integrity to compose their own material (even if it isn’t very good). If nothing else, it means that they aren’t letting some guy like Simon Cowell run some beats through a computer, lay down a popular chord progression on top, add literally random lyrics about partying, then let marketing pimp it as real music.
The lyrical content of pop songs is very easy to pick apart, so I will not spend much time doing it. A simple contrast will suffice. Pop music provides such wonders as: “Do you ever feel already buried deep, six feet under? Scream, but no one seems to hear a thing. Do you know that there’s still a chance for you? ‘Cause there’s a spark in you.” (Firework, Katy Perry). Conversely, you can take a song like “For the Widows in Paradise” by Sufjan Stevens: “I have called you preacher, I have called you son, if you have a father, or if you haven’t one, I’ll do anything for you.” Firework’s lyrics use classroom phrases like “there’s a spark in you” in a competent display of a middle school student’s grasp of English. Sufjan Stevens’ lyrics are not as insultingly explicit, and actually involve some form of interpretation to understand. Again, this is because he put some thought into what he was doing more than “I wonder if this will sell?”
More difficult to tackle is the musical content of pop songs. By definition, any pop song is music. Likewise, a kindergarten drawing of a turkey made by tracing one’s hand and drawing a beak is art. The fact is that pop is simply the lowest form of music. There comes a point when one should realize that every song they hear on the radio is the same as the one that came before it. The examples given above are only two of many instances of the similarities between hit songs. And the similarities go beyond mere song structure – it’s not just that every song is intro verse chorus verse chorus break chorus. It is that pop artists reuse chord progressions, song timings, beats per minute, and ultimately anything they can find to produce a song people will like. What is the purpose in listening to a new Lady Gaga song if it’s just going to do what the last #1 hit did? The biggest leap a pop song will take from the norm is the addition of a different synth effect. When you cross into the realm of even the most basic of rock bands, you find so many differences, even when they’re all following the same song structure. With pop, it’s so very bland. The Billboard Hot 100 today isn’t bringing anything to the table that wasn’t there this time last year. In the meanwhile, every other genre with any sense of musical integrity has continued to produce original and creative new music.
Do yourself a favor and listen to an artist that’s willing to add something to, or deviate from, the classical western musical model. You gain nothing from listening to the same beat, same melody, and same lyrics sung by different artists. Remember that every pop song is the work of one pop diva, plus thirty guys on computers tweaking every aspect of her work to maximize the profit they can get from you. Then, turn off the radio and listen to something that doesn’t suck. (here’s a starting point)