While pop music has been around since the 1950s, some don’t see it as an actual genre, which begs the question; what is pop music?
It evokes emotions, connects with audiences, and has shaped popular culture.
But many people will never get convinced that “pop music” and “popular music” mean the same thing.
Or they may be right.
In this guide, we delve into the world of pop music, from its definition to its characteristics, global appeal, and the best examples.
We also list the 5 best pop singers of all time.
Definition: What Is Pop Music?
Pop music, or popular music, can be defined as a music genre or simply popular music.
As a genre, pop is a type of music that became popular in the 1950s.
It borrowed heavily from classical, folk, rock, and jazz but could be distinguished from these genres (Well, that’s a little confusing).
Pop music is notable for its catchy melodies, universal appeal, and accessibility.
It’s designed to appeal to large audiences, often evoking emotions or attracting commercial success.
The second definition is purely popular music.
This refers to any music that became popular with larger audiences, even briefly.
While many pop songs find their way into the Billboard Music charts, not every song on these charts is pop music.
The History of Pop Music
Pop music goes back to the early 20th century when it developed as a distinct genre in the 1950s in the US and the UK.
Pop songs at this time were characterized by rock and roll, blues, country, and rhythm influences, with pioneering artists like Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley pushing the genre to global audiences.
Pop and popular music meant the same thing at this time, used interchangeably to refer to any popular song that didn’t fit any of the earlier music genres like jazz, rock and roll, and country.
Pop music evolved as the years passed, adapting to the fast-changing music tastes and needs of global audiences. It incorporated various elements from other music genres, including hip-hop, disco, electronic, and indie.
Early pop songs were purely sentimental ballads, discussing everyday experiences in love and life.
The most important attribute of pop music from this time was the global appeal.
This type of music was meant to resonate with every listener while avoiding controversial lyrics that would make any group feel disconnected.
Record labels had the biggest say in the 1960s, with artists holding little power over their songs or creativity.
But everything changed as the years progressed, with many artists starting to experiment with different styles and music marketing strategies.
The 2000s was a special era for pop singers, with the advent of the internet and the ease of downloading music.
This period gave artists more power over their songs, propelling them to global success through album sales and market penetration, even with widespread piracy.
Above all, this was an era of limitless creativity, with many artists tweaking their style to match whatever the audience craved.
As many people fell in love with pop music, themes of love, partying, and escapism became popular.
Today, pop music is one of the most popular genres, with many songs going viral on TikTok and other digital platforms.
Characteristics of Pop Music
- Upbeat and danceable rhythm: Pop music has energetic beats and danceable rhythms that make you want to hit the dance floor.
- Technology: No other group has embraced technology as much as pop artists, with many songs identified with electronic elements and synthesizers that create a catchy sound.
- The advent of technology has also pushed pop music to popular streaming platforms like Spotify, making it easier for audiences to listen to their favorite artists from any location.
- Catchy melodies: Pop music is notable for simple, catchy melodies with repetitive choruses that are easy to sing along to.
- Relatable lyrics: Pop music caters to large audiences with relatable lyrics about universal themes such as relationships, personal experiences, and love.
- The emotive lyrics are often meant to connect to the listener and make the song stick to their minds.
- Marketing: Pop music is probably the most marketed music genre, with every artist aiming to capitalize on every song’s popularity before they go out of the market.
- Collaborations: Contemporary pop music is also notable for high-profile collaborations, sometimes involving artists from various genres.
- The diverse perspective in such projects pushes pop music to even the remotest regions.
- Immense appeal: Another significant element of pop music is its enduring appeal.
- It’s the reason why it is called popular music in the first place.
- These songs are packed with relatable lyrics and catchy melodies to trigger emotions and make the listener want to play them on repeat.
- For some, pop music is the perfect medium of escapism, resonating with the deepest feelings and personal experiences regardless of race or region.
10 Best Examples of Pop Songs
Of course, the list of the best pop songs depends on your definition.
Here are the 10 best songs to give you a picture of what popular music sounds like;
1. “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” by Beyoncé
Beyoncé’s hit song from her I Am… Sasha Fierce (2008) album is a message to women to fly solo if the man in their life isn’t showing enough commitment.
The infectious beats and memorable vocals are exactly what you’d expect from a great pop song.
2. “Toxic” by Britney Spears
“Toxic” is the masterpiece you’d expect from a pop singer as talented as Britney Spears.
In the 3-minute song, the American singer gives the listeners a glimpse into her love life, marred with negative experiences many will find relatable.
One of the features of pop music is that it appeals to global audiences.
And Britney Spears’ hit does just that, with a relatable message to anybody experiencing bad romance.
Britney’s soaring vocals are a testament to her immense talent, which has put her among the best female pop singers of all time.
And almost two decades later, “Toxic” is still one of the best pop songs ever.
3. “Rolling in the Deep” by Adele
Adele caught the world’s attention with “Rolling in the Deep” from her 21 album.
And over a decade later, it is still one of her best-ever songs, with soaring vocals that have earned the American pop singer two Grammy Awards.
The breakup anthem still gets many people thinking about their first heartbreak as Adele sings emotionally about what would have been.
4. “Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepsen
Carly Rae Jepsen’s hit became one of the best songs of 2012, with lyrics about love at first sight.
It’s fair to say the American pop singer hasn’t released a tune as popular as this masterpiece that got everyone lip-synching in the 2010s.
5. “Drivers License” by Olivia Rodrigo
Olivia Rodrigo’s piano ballad tells the tale of teenage yearning with an infectious beat that made it a fan favorite.
The young American singer could rule the pop music charts for years if her recent projects are anything to go by.
6. “Sorry” by Justin Bieber
Justin Bieber has released pop songs since the late 2000s.
And his apology song is one of his best projects throughout an eventful decade-long career that has seen him collaborate with David Guetta, Nicki Minaj, and Ed Sheeran.
In “Sorry,” Bieber apologizes to an unknown lover, presumably Selena Gomez.
The song’s bouncy beat was the best way for the American singer to make his comeback after a hiatus.
7. “Levitating” by Dua Lipa
Pop music and love are inseparable.
After all, this type of music connects deeply with the listeners by addressing personal experiences.
The theme of romance continues in “Levitating” as Dua Lipa expresses how this one person makes her feel.
Finding the right partner can elevate your life.
And you will need pop songs like “Levitating” to express your feelings in your little dreamland.
8. “Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson
“Billie Jean” is one of MJ’s most popular songs from his Thriller (1982) album.
The pop icon wrote this song for a stalker, Billie, using the singer’s fame to pursue her goals.
The early pop song infused dance-pop, disco, funk, R&B, and post-disco elements.
9. “Titanium” by David Guetta and Sia
That’s all about David Guetta and Sia’s masterpiece from the former’s fifth studio album, Nothing but the Beat (2011).
Perhaps that’s the least we can expect when an accomplished French DJ and a celebrated pop singer enter the studio.
But still, they exceed expectations in this explosive hit about being strong in the face of adversity.
10. “Poker Face” by Lady Gaga
Gaga’s expansive discography is exactly what you’d expect from a singer who’s been around since the mid-2000s.
Or let’s put it this way, Mother Monster has surpassed expectations with her beautiful songs about individuality and a little freakiness.
“Poker Face” is another masterpiece in the long list of Gaga’s pop songs dedicated to her boyfriends.
5 Best Pop Singers
Here are the 5 best pop singers of all time;
1. Michael Jackson
A dancer, a singer, a songwriter, and a cultural icon.
There’s nothing you can’t say about the King of Pop.
He was a legendary entertainer who dominated the pop charts for years.
MJ’s voice perfectly complimented his distinctive style.
But his dance moves were even better, building a global following with songs such as “Billie Jean,” “Beat It,” and “Thriller.”
It doesn’t matter how long it’s been, Michael Jackson will always be a true pop legend.
Adele is one of the most popular pop singers of all time, born and raised in London.
She started singing at a young age before rising to fame in 2008.
Many define the English singer by her powerful, soulful voice.
But there’s much more to admire about Adele, from her influence on upcoming singers to her authenticity and a tough upbringing in a single-parent household.
Her songs can get heart-wrenching or painfully relatable, making her one of the best pop singers of all time.
She doesn’t make hit songs anymore.
But what a career Rihanna has had for nearly two decades!
The Queen of Barbados rose to fame in the mid-2000s, taking her place among the best entertainers in an era where Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, and Shakira provided fierce competition.
She’s maintained her reputation over the years, becoming the face of pop music and a celebrated fashion icon with a reputable beauty empire.
Rihanna’s most recognizable pop songs include “Umbrella,” “Diamonds,” and “What’s My Name.”
4. Taylor Swift
Taylor Swift releases painfully relatable songs that have cemented her place among the best pop singers of all time.
With a new release, the American singer gives the listeners a glimpse into her life, be it the heartbreaking love anthems, country pop songs, or the high profile collaborations.
While pop songs never last in the mainstream market, Swift cracked the code by connecting to the younger audience.
That’s why young pop music lovers consider her a role model and the greatest pop singer of her generation.
We’re never getting tired of her “Tim McGraw” hit that introduced her to global audiences.
5. Bruno Mars
Pop music fans will never stop loving Bruno Mars.
And that’s because there’s nothing he can’t do on the stage.
He writes songs, sings, dances, and plays different instruments.
Oh! He also packs extraordinary shows and can make your girlfriend smile when she’s sad.
While pop music has produced several brilliant artists, Mars still takes the spotlight as one of the best-ever entertainers with beautiful songs such as “Just the Way You Are,” “Grenade,” and “Marry You.”
What Is Pop Music? – Final Thoughts
Pop music is an ever-evolving genre that has existed since the 1950s.
Its danceable rhythm, catchy melody, and relatable lyrics have made it a fan favorite, with listeners always singing along to the repetitive chorus.
Even with the cultural changes, pop music has traversed generations, adapting to the varying needs of global audiences while creating a clear path for upcoming singers.
The most enduring artists throughout this period have made a fortune, some making it to the list of the richest singers in 2023.
We hope this guide has highlighted everything you need to know about pop music’s history and immense power.
Perhaps it’s time to create a top 10 list, then.
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