[Pt. I Proj.2] ~ Exercise – The qualities of pop music

If possible, do this exercise in conversation with someone under the age of 20.

What makes pop music good or bad? Write down two or three examples of pop music (preferably in different styles) that you like and explain why you think they are good songs. What makes them work? Why did they become popular? Then do the same for two or three successful pop songs that you consider ‘bad’ and answer the same questions.

Three pop songs I consider ‘good’ music;

1) Since I am from Sweden and grew up there during the 70’s and 80’s I’d be remiss not to pick Abba as one of my ‘good’ pop song choices. Choosing which one of their songs to pick is a bit trickier, it could be any one out of a number of them. I’ll pick ‘Chiquitita’ simply because it’s the first one in my playlist. In some ways it is quite typical of Swedish pop and alt folk music from this time in that it borrows influences from traditional Spanish and Latin American music. There was a ‘leftist’ movement in Swedish music in the 70’s and 80’s with many artists and musicians heavily invested in what was happening politically in South America in general and in particular with the Sandinistas/Contras Nicaragua during the 80’s. These sociopolitical concerns seeped into the pop music of the time in the form of Spanish sounding guitars and South American style pan flutes and the use of Spanish words and names. Clearly some of this made it into Abba’s music too.

What makes Abba good music to me is the combination of extremely well structured songs with incredible vocal performances and harmonies. Everything is executed with mastery without ever loosing it’s pop sensibility. It remains perfectly memorable, catchy and dance-y whilst being relatively musically complex.

2) I also can’t leave out Kate Bush out of my top favourites. Again, there’s a number of songs I could pick. I’ll choose ‘Wuthering Heights’. Just the opening alone with it’s bonkers vocal delivery is enough to earn it a top spot. It then builds to one of the catchiest choruses ever written. This juxtaposition between almost Avantgarde verses and poptastic choruses really makes this a subversive piece of genius songwriting. I never tire of it.

3) Bjork is one of my personal favourites. I’ll use a track from her debut album as an example, namely ‘Human Behaviour’. It’s another incredible vocal delivery, infused with the guttural sounds of traditional Icelandic music. Bjork’s constant self reinvention and technologically unafraid approach to pop music has put her on the vanguard of pop music for several decades. She is not afraid to continuously experiment, lay herself bare and push the boat out. She has a great sense of rhythm too and the use of beats in her music is always modern and ahead of the curb. When Human Behaviour came there was nothing else quite like it. She delivers every single time.

There are countless artists other than the above which I could have used as examples of good pop music. Elvis released countless pop tunes in the 50s and 60’s, the Beatles wrote songs that I would consider ‘pop’ and so did Prince and many, many others. More recently there has been hip hop/pop cross overs which could also have made my list.

Pop songs I consider ‘bad’ music;

Pop music which I don’t like tends to be too generic and formulaic. When it gives a sense of being disposable and mass produced I tend to loose interest. If no new ground is covered and there is no uniqueness I find it too bland and shallow. Do I really need to name three songs when I could probably name three thousand? I’m  going to keep my opinions to myself to avoid potentially criticising someone else’s guilty pleasure…

bjork digital