Updated: Mar 21, 2022
It's no surprise that the pop music genre continues to dominate listening lists year after year. But what exactly is defined as pop music? And how did it get to be so ingrained in our listening habits?
The most listened to genre in 2022 is… Pop Music! As you probably could have guessed, the genre of “pop music” was #1 on our listening charts this year. Pop music is synonymous with waiting rooms, workplaces, car radios, and other “easy listening” atmospheres. But what exactly is pop music? And how has it evolved over time?
It’s hard to picture a genre that can somehow encompass Rihanna, Lady Gaga, Elvis, The Beatles, and Madonna all under the same umbrella. Yet, pop music manages to cover all of those artists and more. In fact, some pop artists may fall in your “favourites” category, and some could even “cringe” at some other pop artists.
So - let’s review how the pop music genre came to be. And maybe, where it’s headed.
What is Pop Music?
The quick definition of “pop music” is any type of music that is popular during a particular time in history. Obviously, a very vague definition with broad implications. And that is why the most popular genre of music is so broad and all-encompassing.
The History of Pop Music
When examining the history of pop music, some musical scholars go as far back as the 1900s. This era was when ragtime and other piano musicians were considered pop. It should be noted that while ragtime music was considered pop in the 1920s (when compared to classical music), it would actually be categorized as jazz by today’s standards.
As the radio became a staple in North American households, so too did “pop’ big band groups and crooners. This pop music style was the soundtrack of many households through the 1940s and into the 1950s.
Moving into the 1950s, pop music became a recognizable term. Television also was introduced across North America and became another medium for consuming music. Fans could even watch their favourite singers and bands while eating their dinners in front of the TV. The 1950s also saw the rise of rock and roll as a genre - many of these artists (The Beatles) are considered “pop-rock” now.
And so, the evolution of pop continued through the next few decades. Pop rock, dance-pop, Brit-pop, K-pop, indie pop, and country-pop have all had their moments in the spotlight depending on the general vibe of music at the time.
Pop as a Genre (and Subgenres)
Let’s take a look at some of the subgenres that have evolved from traditional pop as an all-encompassing music genre. Various subgenres of pop music contain elements of other music genres.
The simple answer to all of the different pop music artists is that it’s due to the various offshoots and subgenres that have evolved in the larger category over time. You could think of it in comparison to science, where a genre may be defined as rodents, but this encompasses subgenres like mice, squirrels, chipmunks, and rats. Each of these rodents is its own likeness, but they all have some similarities.
Here are just a few of the larger pop subgenres in existence:
1. Country Pop – The fusing of country and pop together creates this unique subgenre. Country pop is boppy, easy listening, and eliminates a few of the traditional tropes that classic country is known for. One example of a country-pop artist is Taylor Swift.
2. Art Pop – Art pop blurs the lines between low and high culture. It’s often infused with weighty and expressive emotion. One example of an art-pop artist is Björk.
3. Bubblegum Pop – Bubblegum pop is totally unique to other pop subgenres in that there is no separate “bubblegum” music genre like there is for country or rock music. Bubblegum pop is catchy, popular, and easily enjoyed by most. One example of a bubblegum pop artist is Josie and the Pussycats.
4. Anti-Pop – Anti-pop is the antithesis of pop music. It’s quiet, it’s edgy, it doesn’t rely on traditional tune structures, and it’s got a totally unique sound. Despite the uniqueness of the anti-pop sound, some artists rise to massive fame with songs that wouldn’t necessarily be thought of as “pop” out of the gate. One example of an anti-pop artist is Billie Eilish.
5. City Pop – City pop (or J-pop) rose to popularity in the 1970s but is seeing a resurgence in the 2020s because of a renewed interest in anime. City pop takes inspiration from other feel-good genres, including funk, disco, Latin, jazz, soft rock and Caribbean. One example of a city pop artist is Sugar Babe.
6. K-Pop – K-pop is fresh on the North American listening scene as new groups start to reach the masses in the western world. Groups in the K-pop sphere are known for their sleek choreography, impressive vocals, and unique personalities. Think of K-pop bands as a refreshed version of the traditional 90s boy band and girl band stereotypes. One example of a K-pop band is BTS.
7. Grunge Pop – Grunge pop was born during the 90s and early 2000s, alongside the rise of the grunge music sound. Some also name this genre “post-grunge,” which is a later evolution of the original grunge sound. Grunge pop still incorporates the grittiness of grunge but is easier to listen to and has a wider array of fans. One example of a grunge-pop artist is Nickelback.
Notable (and Game-Changing) Pop Artists:
● Patti Page
● Elvis Presley
● The Beatles
● Fleetwood Mac
● Michael Jackson
● Elton John
● The Spice Girls
● The Backstreet Boys
● Alanis Morisette
Some of Today’s Most Popular Pop Artists:
● Justin Bieber
● Lady Gaga
● Harry Styles
● Ariana Grande
● Taylor Swift