What is pop music


One would hardly think that when asked 'what is pop music?' gets a concise answer. Willi, the bogus extreme columnist and friend of Jazzthing editor Pit Huber, knows them: "Pop is the final liturgy of the imploding information society." Although he is badly wrong with a few other statements ("Jazz is the syncopated continuation of the revolutionary discourse"), his definition of the powerful phenomenon of pop hits the nail on the head, doesn't it?

What is pop music?

Wikipedia, the free Internet encyclopedia, formulates it pragmatically and describes pop as light music that is heard by the majority of the population and is characterized by its simplicity. A few harmonies in sequences that are perceived as pleasant, catchy melodies and simple, continuous rhythms are the most important components of solid pop music. Despite everything, popularity does not rule out originality, as important exponents of adult pop music (Sting, Tom Waits, etc.) never tire of proving.

The handbook of popular music (Wicke / Ziegenr├╝cker, Schott) speaks of music that avoids extremes in its stylistics as well as the exclusive reference to certain subcultures. In both cases we are talking about mainstream pop music as we know it today. The mainstream's direction is dictated by the charts and thus by the mass of buyers who cast their votes at the CD dealer.

The sales figures for records were originally listed in hit lists in the specialist magazine 'Billboard'. In the 40s and 50s, these original charts were divided into three sections, which focused on the racial affiliation of the band members. "Popular Music" was understood to mean hits, so the term "Popular Music" at the time has nothing to do with the current term "Pop Music". Music for whites is listed under 'Country and Western' and 'Rhythm'n'Blues' represents the listening habits of the black population. At the beginning of 1954, in a process of growing political awareness, the unbelievable happened: the black bands 'The Crows', 'The Chords' and 'The Orioles' succeeded in making hits that found themselves in the white charts, despite belonging to the Rhythm'n'Blues division . A short time later, the white singers Bill Haley and Elvis Presley were singing 'black' Rhythm'n'Blues pieces for a white audience. This sacrilege is considered to be the real birth of pop music.

The history of pop music

Pop music and the social changes in the context of the formation of youthful subcultures in the 50s and 60s are therefore closely related. "Similar to the way childhood was invented in bourgeois society in the 19th century, the 'youth' who wanted to distance themselves from the adult world and who also had the financial means to do so was invented during this period Choosing his consumer goods and not least his music to do "writes Thomas Zimmermann about this time of political upheaval.

The origins of all pop music creation, however, lie in Afro-American folk music, better known as the blues. And to be precise at this point, it is "actually Afro-North American folk music - Afro-South American folk music is called 'Latin'". The distinguishing features of Afro-American music are the musical parameters of rhythm and timbre. They are emphasized more than in Western European music, which puts melody and harmony in the foreground.

The path of the blues at the beginning of the century provided a fertile breeding ground for pop. On the roots, expanded to include jazz and swing, rhythm'n'blues was created in the 1940s. It is the black contribution to the musical racial crossover that is expressed in rock'n'roll (Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, Bill Haley).

Pop is revolution

The youth no longer wanted to have anything to do with the traditional political and secular views of their parents and so the lyrics of Rock'n'Roll revolved around the fears and worries of American adolescents. Love, school and the revolution against the parental home are long-running hits. To this day, music accompanies important puberty tasks and conveys a certain attitude towards life, is a demarcation and an expression of one's own individual self-confidence.

Starting in 1965, the Rolling Stones and The Who explicitly formulate open protest against the adult world in their song lyrics. But the musicians don't just want to provoke through the use of words. The stage shows, outfits and the entire behavioral repertoire are also among the weapons of the pop world against the establishment. While some are smashing a hotel room, the mushroom heads are seen as pioneers of an independent European pop consciousness that is emancipating itself from its American parents.

In the USA, the rebellion reached its peak in the hippie and flower power times of the late sixties. The Vietnam War and its consequences determined the consciousness of American youth at that time. The political demands are directed towards pacifism, free love and the expansion of consciousness through LSD and marijuana. They find their musical expression in psychedelic rock with groups like Pink Floyd and Grateful Dead. Unfortunately, during these self-experiments, important artists such as Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison (The Doors) and Brian Jones (Rolling Stones) fell by the wayside.

In this country, this social process celebrates great moments in the 70s. Krautrock is the music of the time. Can, Kraftwerk, Kraan and many others get lost in extensive improvisations, concept albums and total works of art. The intellectual and artistic claim of pop music is formulated just as clearly as the political, the 'clay stones shards' most clearly. After pop music's longing for intellectual recognition in America in the 60s was fulfilled by pop art artists like Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, art rock bands like Yes and Genesis are popular in the motherland of pop music at this time.

The 70s are also the time when rock music splits off from the pop cake and establishes its own style. Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple are important pioneers of this music split. In the black music area, disco and funk are establishing themselves as a contemporary expression of the black soul. Thomas Zimmermann writes about this time: "The diversification of pop music that emerged at the end of the 1960s culminated in incompatible styles in the 1970s and for the first time divided the community of pop music listeners that had previously appeared as a closed group." Seen in this way, all appearances of modern pop and rock music from grunge to country, Goa to Gothic, salsa to soul and hip hop to krautrock are merely named varieties of one and the same phenomenon - pop.

In the 70s, punk focuses on amateurism as a countermovement to the musical outpourings of art and herb rock. "Punk sees itself as a contrast to the rock dinosaurs who drive through the country in columns of semi-trailers and make music in huge arenas that has nothing to do with the everyday life and social reality of the young people." The Sex Pistols and The Clash are impressive testimony to this. In other disciplines, however, pop music has freed itself from all political or other claims. Abba sing about what mainstream pop is about in one of their songs: 'Money, Money, Money'!

In the 80s, New Wave and the New German Wave are popular. The Police, the Talking Heads and Nena stand for this decade as well as the King Of Pop - Michael Jackson, Prince, Whitney Houston and Tina Turner. In 1979 the Sugar Hill Gang presented the first hip-hop track with 'Rappers Delight', giving the music world a new genre that once again put protest at the center. In the 90s, grunge (nirvana) and techno, R&B and still hip hop dominated the scene.

Music as a commodity

Nowadays, pop music has established itself as a generally accepted phenomenon in society. This goes hand in hand with the fact that it is mass-produced, distributed and acquired. It is therefore tied to the technical and financial apparatus that make mass production and distribution possible in the first place. The production and distribution conditions of music, which have changed decisively as a result of the industrialization process, move the aspect of the product into the foreground. On this basis, the music industry emerges as a component of capitalistically organized culture and media administration.

In this, pop music has to bow to the economic laws of the market, which results in normalization and standardization. It has to be simple and understandable, which implies a clear structure. In the everyday practice of its listeners, pop music should fulfill the function that is commonly referred to as entertainment. So it should stimulate us to have fun, dance, sing along, switch off, enjoy, chill, etc., and thus be easy to consume.

Pop = Popular?

It remains to be seen whether this admittedly dissolute contribution will adequately identify, describe and make tangible the phenomenon of pop. It remains to be stated that pop music, the ensemble of very different genres and forms, is constantly changing. Pop is the "result of complex socio-cultural processes, the main actors (musicians, audiences and industry) trying to negotiate and enforce their ideas of what popular music should be." (Vetch / goat back)

There are also different attitudes about whether the term 'pop' can be used as an abbreviation for 'popular'. Perhaps the most common is to think of 'pop' simply as a shortened form of 'popular music' or 'popular music'. The Brockhaus Riemann Musiklexikon, however, has a weighty counter-argument: "Pop as an abbreviation of popular is insufficient to explain the meaning, since the onomatopoeic intrinsic value of this syllable with that dazzling scope for meaning between protest, art claims, extravagant consumption, etc. is lost."

We cannot conclusively answer whether Willi is right with his aforementioned statement that pop is the final liturgy of the imploding information society. If by liturgy he means the entire social process, which is reflected in words, song, music and dance, he is certainly right. And if not, it doesn't matter.