pop music

18 Apr

I can’t believe I wrote this paper exactly three years ago, during my very first college semester.


Writing 2010



Pop Music

Everyday the average American listens to hours of pop songs in the car, at home and while shopping. Pop music seems ordinary and yet necessary, encompassing our day to day environment. While an incredible amount of time is spent listening to music, hardly anyone stops and asks themselves why they enjoy the pop songs they listen to. Some might answer by stating that their favorite artists compose the greatest hits of all time, far surpassing classical composers such as Mozart. Although this might not be the case, people have generally overlooked several factors that construct music in general. These factors include lyrics, rhythm, beat, melody and a variety of other reasons why certain songs are well liked or favorable. Researchers and scholarly sources have analyzed possible reasons why pop songs are successful. The answer to this might not be so obvious, since a number of experiments have attempted to solve this ambiguous phenomenon. Researchers have gained further knowledge from these experiments, but have not found the answers. By analyzing and combining all the musical factors (lyrics, rhythm, beat, melody and other musical components) we can further determine structures that affect pop songs musically. Also, technology, psychology, social and marketing aspects conclude that all of these factors contribute why pop songs are successful in the music industry, as well as favorability among the general public.

Before analyzing these factors, you might ask why bother studying pop music? Pop music today merely survives for a few days or weeks before the songs are long forgotten. Although there is truth to this statement, nobody forgets the music they once listened to. Pop music is never really dead. “Stronger” by Kanye West was released in 2007 and rocked the pop charts from America to Australia and throughout Europe. The steady fast tempo and lyrics of “Stronger” boosted my adrenaline before running in cross country. Although I don’t listen to “Stronger” anymore, whenever I hear it, I am reminded of long distance running during the fall of 2007. Music has a way of reminding us of experiences we’ve lived through while listening to music. Not only does music remain popular in the history of pop charts, but pop music becomes a part of us after the songs are no longer on the radio. Pop music lives on and we can identify that pop music affects individuals and American society in pop culture.

The lyrics in songs establish meanings and possess memories and nostalgia, or a combination of both. Musicians and composers write music in context of a time era or a common problem in society so the composers can relate to their audience. In “Pop Music and the War: The Sound of Resignation,” Jon Pareles ties a common theme among different genres of music and their lyrics. Pareles concludes that current events such as war are unavoidable, even in pop music. He names several artists and their references to war themes. He further explains that pop music has gained “political consciousness” (Pareles). War affects a high number of Americans. The artists and songs that Pareles mentions suggest that composers write lyrics to gain attention from a wide range of audience. Since a large majority of Americans can relate with war, these war themed pop songs establish clarity and meaning to their audience. The meanings behind the lyrics create emotion, which is highly effective in selling music, the targeted product. Lyrics play a considerable factor in why pop music is successful.

Emotions are felt throughout music, not only in lyrics but also through melody and rhythm. As music listeners experience a change in mood, we can infer that music controls our emotions. J.L. Smith and Joe Noon prove this in “Objective Measurement of Mood Change Induced by Contemporary Music.” Smith and Noon inform about several experiments performed and hypothesize how contemporary music changes the mood of their subjects. The subjects listened to 13 different pop songs in a variety of genres (Smith and Noon 405). Before and after listening to a song, the subjects then used adjectives, ‘vigorous’, ‘relaxed’, ‘angry’, ‘depressed’ and similar descriptions to evaluate their mood (Smith and Noon 405). From this case study they found that all these pieces of contemporary music created a significant mood change and many of the songs produced a positive content mood change. Sometimes we listen to music that expresses our current mood. Other times we listen to music and it distorts or exerts and extends our moods. Regardless of which emotions music produces, we concur that music stimulates and has the powerful ability to change our mood.

Even in a down turning economy, Americans have not stopped listening to music. Listening to music helps to cope with stress. The expressions in pop music have allowed people to escape from worries, even for a few minutes. We listen to pop music to forget about the world and continue doing so. The emotions of relief and happiness from listening to music have an effect on maintaining our emotional well being during a viscous economy.

Melody is how music listeners perceive tone in music. Melody creates an overall atmosphere which is why it is a considerable emphasis for music therapists. In Melody in Music Therapy: A Therapeutic Narrative Analysis, Gudrun and David Aldridge focus on “melodic events” and these create “rhythmic and melodic motif” which is necessary in improvised music (49). We recognize songs from the melody. Songs are distinguished through keys and musical notes that formulate melody. In the melody these chords and keys, major and minor determine whether songs have a happy or sad tone. Since melody perceives the tone in music, this contributes to why we have emotions when listening to music.

A key factor most music researchers and scholarly sources address is rhythm. Gudrun and David Aldridge define rhythm to other music therapists as “a stabilizing effect an important precondition for melodic form” (316). Gudrun and David Aldridge both suggest that without rhythm, there would not be melody. Ben Neill in “Pleasure Beats: Rhythm and the Aesthetics of Current Electronic Music” specifies rhythm by stating 4/4 time is the most common rhythm in pop electronic music. This generic and overused rhythm in music implies that music listeners like consistency in music. Pop music tends to flow in a simplified manner that’s not overly complex. This points out that simplicity in pop music is achieved by a plain and easy rhythm, which is a pattern seen throughout may pop songs. Gordon C. Bruner II also considered rhythm in “Music, Mood and Marketing.” Bruner II writes, “fast music is considered to be more happy and/or pleasant than slow music” (Bruner 95). Not only does rhythm affect melody, but also perceives and interconnects back to mood. All these authors emphasize the importance of rhythm in structuring music which suggests that rhythm is an ultimate factor affecting pop music.

Music is widely available through the internet on iTunes, Napster, Amazon and other corporations, which have allowed music to disperse comparable to an internet wildfire. Technology has further exposed music and gained listener approval because of the sounds and advances technology has made. Ben Neill addresses this in his article. He mentions that computer software has allowed electronic music to follow 4/4 time of composition in music. He also brings up the idea that technology improvements have created a culture of both popular art, social and cultural order. Because technology has allowed composers to see beyond melody and look at time structures in rhythm, music has advanced because of technology. Neill suggests that more electro sounds are becoming more favorable because of clubs and the product of music is available in digital files instead of purchasing records and CDs. Technology has allowed music to expand and allow music listeners a more fully in depth angle of experiencing music, which is another significant determinant why pop music is successful.

Every day, thousands of new videos are uploaded on YouTube. In these thousands of videos, pop music alone contributes to a large majority of the material on this website. Musicians and ordinary average people upload videos of themselves singing and playing the tunes to their favorite pop songs. There are many cover songs and renditions of pop music from a wide demographic of YouTube users. Many of them produce a form of art dedicated to pop songs. They are expressing an appreciation for pop music. This behavior asserts that people are moved and driven to express their emotions from music through technology and online social networking. Sharing their interest for a certain pop song creates additional attention towards pop music.

As discussed, lyrics, melody, emotions, rhythm and technology are a few reasons why pop music is successful. Music in general exhibits these basic components and factors that music depends and relies on. From acknowledging all these factors, we can now observe marketing and social aspects that compose pop music.

Marketing effectively promotes pop music through many mediums. Such examples include radio and satellite radio, television and the internet. The internet has major benefits when promoting the likability or popularity of a song. As mentioned above, iTunes, Napster, Amazon and other corporations provide discovery of music and promoting pop music. Online social networking and music blogs have made underground and indie songs popular. No scientific facts from scholarly sources have acknowledged a strong correlation between online media such as music blogs and pop music. However, the mass media in television have persuasively promoted pop songs through commercials. One example is the legendary and pop icon, iTunes commercials. Americans know the silhouette dance figures and recall the songs from the commercials. Bruner introduces a study by Stewart and Furse (1986) who analyzed 1000 commercials (Bruner 98). From this study, they found a strong correlation between music and recalling a product (Bruner 98). Evidently, there is proof of a relationship between marketing and music.

There’s also a social aspect behind pop music. The environments we are in determine the pop songs we listen to. In “Sounding out the City: Music and the Sensuous Production of Place” by Sarah Cohen, she discusses how place and music affects people socially. In one case study by Finnegan (1989), they examined how Jews living in Liverpool socially interacted in history. “Music was the focus of many social gatherings, helping to establish and strengthen the relations with each other or their relationship with God” (Cohen 436). Times have politically changed and all of us might not be religious, but as a society we have moved towards music as a spiritual experience with our friends. Attending a live concert brings a crowd of music listeners who share similar tastes together in a social setting. Driving on the streets with friends and listening to music has an ability to bring friends together and place music in a different context than listening to music alone. As Neill mentioned in his article, songs have become more favorable because of clubs. Even the pop music played at the clubs make a statement about society that we as music listeners share similar music tastes and enjoy music in social settings.

Previously discussed, the basic structures of music make pop songs successful. The sounds from the melody and rhythm are reasons why we listen to pop music. However, our personal music taste doesn’t always have to determine the pop songs we listen to. Sometimes we don’t even have to like the sounds in certain pop songs. Psychologically, if others like a certain pop song, it’s possible we have a natural tendency to accept that we like the music as well. This behavior similarly illustrates a form of peer pressure and a popularity element.

Studies on music and pop music as a whole have been broad and focused more on the basic structures of music. Although music is an arduous field to decipher and figure out the direct source behind successful music, there needs to be a stronger emphasis on marketing and how music affects people socially. The majority of experiments were performed a decade or more in the past. Music hasn’t dramatically changed in terms of structure, but technology has boomed and expanded music in terms of sound, product and social impacts. This is where a hole exists in the research of pop music.

Again, as previously mentioned, music researchers and scholarly sources have pinpointed a large majority of musical factors of why popular music is successful, yet little or none has been researched about repetitive music. Every song has a motif in the chorus that is often repeated throughout the song. The chorus or main structure is the underlining characterization of a song. Nevertheless, music researchers and scholarly sources have both ignored and overlooked music that repeats itself throughout the entire song. Electronic pop songs have increasingly gained awareness and popularity throughout recent years. Electronic artists such as Daft Punk, Justice, Simian Mobile Disco and similar artists have at least one or more songs on their albums that constantly repeat a motif throughout the entire song. For two minutes or more, the sound doesn’t change. Some people might consider these songs aggravating and dreadful noise, but a growing audience enjoy and appreciate repetitiveness in music. What can be said from this abnormal peculiarity? What categorizes or statements can be concluded from listeners who enjoy repetitive music? Since little or none research on repetitive music has been taken in consideration, there is another considerable gap in music research. Although there aren’t any scientific facts to back up repetitive music, we can only acknowledge and observe this existing behavior among certain music listeners.

In conclusion, basic structures: lyrics, melody, rhythm and technology are reasons why pop music is successful in terms of sound. The expansion of technology used for marketing and the function of music in a social gathering is a separate, yet intertwined reason why we like and listen to pop music. Pop music affects our daily lives and continues as a necessary component throughout our environment. Researchers and scholarly sources have not gathered all the facts in completeness, but much can be said from these factors that affect pop music. By recognizing these factors when listening to pop music, we realize there are reasons behind the success in the music industry. By gaining knowledge in the field of pop music, we are more fully aware and educated that pop music has a meaning. We acknowledge there is more to pop music than just entertainment. Pop music is a part of our pop culture and generates several statements about our society. The messages and effects of pop music reflect common problems and interests of the general public. Pop music continues existing throughout our lives, even during times of economic failure. We contribute to the popularity of songs through music marketing as well as our own music preferences. Pop music has a social and psychological impact on us, which might ultimately lead us in the direction of discovering that as individuals, we are a part of the reason why pop music thrives today.

Works Cited

Aldridge, Gudrun, and David Aldridge. “Aspects of Music Therapy in their Contexts.” Melody

in Music Therapy: A Therapeutic Narrative Analysis. London, UK: Jessica Kingsley

Publishers, 2008: pg 41-50.

Bruner II C. Gordon. “Music, Mood, and Marketing.” The Journal of Marketing. 54.4

(1990): pg 94-104. American Marketing Association. JSTOR. 10 Mar 2009. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/1251762 >.

Cohen, Sara. “Sounding out the City: Music and the Sensuous Production of Place.”

Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. 20.4 (1995): pg 434-446. Blackwell

Publishing. JSTOR. 20 April 2009. < http://www.jstor.org/stable/622974&gt;.

Neill, Ben. “Pleasure Beats: Rhythm and the Aesthetics of Current Electronic Music.” Leonardo

Music Journal. 12. Pleasure (2002): 3-6. The MIT Press. JSTOR. 10 Mar 2009. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/1513341&gt;.

Pareles, Jon. “MUSIC: Pop Music and the War: The Sound of Resignation.” The New York  

Times. 2 Jan (2007) pg 01. Academic Search Premier. 24 February 2009.

Smith, J.L. and Noon, Joe. “Objective Measurement of Mood Change Induced By Contemporary

Music.” Journal of Psychiatric & Mental Health Nursing. 5.5 Oct (1998):

403-408. Academic Search Premier. 11 March 2009.


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