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In Defense of Pop Music

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 24/02/2016 Austin S. Harris

My taste in music has been a long-running joke amongst my friends since about the moment I bought my first iPod.
In high school, a close friend laid her hand on my shoulder and told me that my taste in music was similar to that of a trashy, 12-year-old girl who lived behind a mall. It used to actually be a source of embarrassment for me, especially when I came to NYU, which is largely populated by people who pride themselves in having never heard the songs on pop radio (how anyone avoided hearing "See You Again" or "Uptown Funk" last year, I'll never know). But then I came to terms with my taste in music, and now I realize that pop music is nowhere near as bad as people make it out to be.

What's "good" vs. "bad" music?

First of all, I would like to clarify to the haters that pop music is far from the only music I listen to. I could easily divide my music library into two categories: "good" music, and "fun" music. The "good music" category is where I'd put artists like Kendrick Lamar or Arcade Fire; artists who write songs with strong, personal messages, often at the price of mainstream popularity. I'm not discussing those artists in this article.
Then, there's "fun" music. What some people call bad, or tasteless, or whatever -- I call "fun," because it is. Take the song "I Really Like You" by Carly Rae Jepsen. It doesn't offer much production-wise, nor does it tread new ground lyrically, but I guarantee you enjoyed watching Tom Hanks lip-sync the song in its music video.
"Pop music is nowhere near as bad as people make it out to be."

The chorus is insanely repetitive, but once you've learned it (which you can do after one listen), it's fun to sing along too. It's an all-in-all fun song, about a girl who really really really really really really likes a guy, and most people can identify with that feeling, and the weightless emotion that comes with it. If I choose to listen to that song, I'm not listening to it to have my life changed, I just want to have a good time.
I definitely spend a lot of time listening to more serious artists as well, but every now and then, I need a break. I liken it to the films I see in theaters. As a film student, I try to see most of the films that are garnering Oscar buzz, but sometimes I want to see a (fantastic) popcorn flick like Jurassic Park, which brings me to my next point.

I liked "Happy," okay?

You might be tired of hearing it, but you cannot deny that "Happy" by Pharrell Williams is a good song. It has simple lyrics, a catchy beat, and accurately sums up an emotion. I also think its admirable that, at least for 10 weeks, the Billboard top song in the world was something so innocent and positive, when typically the number one song is about drinking, sex, drugs or some combination of those things.
Think about some of the songs that are widely-considered the best ever written -- songs like "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" or "Billie Jean." Those were, and are, pop songs.

Pop music is just as good as that "older" music.

Thinking about older songs brings up a point that I am tired of hearing from adults, and especially from people my age -- "pop music is so bad now." No, pop music is not "bad" now, and it's certainly not any worse than it ever was. The argument that pop music is on some sort of decline is reductive and incomplete.
Each year, thousands of songs are released. Of all those songs, only a select few will gain any traction at the given time, and even fewer will be remembered as the years go on. The ones that will be remembered will be the good ones. Everyone remembers "When Doves Cry," Prince's first #1 hit, and the top selling song of 1984. But there are many other songs that were on the radio all the time in 1984 that have faded into obscurity.
Only time will tell if songs like "All About That Bass" or "Problem" will be considered good in twenty years. Besides, I think it's already safe to assume that artists like Amy Winehouse and Adele will be considered classics, they basically already are. It's also important to point out that sometimes, songs we love now were not loved when they were released. "I Wanna Dance With Somebody," possibly Whitney Houston's most famous song, got bad reviews when it was released because it was "too similar" to her previous work. Who would've known that we'd hear and love this song more than any of that previous work?

Pop music is just so catchy.

Pop music is often criticized for being too repetitive or simple. Simple scientific facts point to why this is the case -- the human brain responds well to patterns, so the more repetitive a song is, the "catchier" it is, the easier it is to learn, and the more you "like" it. That's why you started liking "Blank Space" after you heard it on the radio a hundred times. But considering the statistics listed above, it should be obvious that it's not so easy to write a good, catchy song.
For every "Shake It Off," a song which is deceivingly simple and repetitive, there are thousands of wannabe songs that fail to capture the zeitgeist for one reason or another. That's why I think it's fair to give credit where credit is due to artists like Taylor Swift or Katy Perry or Jason Derulo, who consistently pump out catchy songs that, while not so lyrically-deep or risky, are good enough to capture the hearts of radio listeners and guarantee repetitive play.
It's even better when artists can find that cross-section between "simple and fun" and "good" like I'd argue Katy Perry did with her song "Teenage Dream," a song that was critically-acclaimed and often called the best "Song of the Summer" of all time.
It's also important to give credit to pop songwriters like Sia, who are able to write songs for different people, taking on their voices and maintaining their own. A song like "Diamonds," which Sia wrote for Rihanna, exemplifies that.
When jazz music became popular, people said that it wasn't music. When rock and roll became popular, people said it wasn't music. When The Beatles came to America, people said it wasn't music. I think it's time that we stop considering songs "not music." If it has vocal or instrumental sounds, then according to the Dictionary, it's music. So next time you hear that new Selena Gomez song or whatever, set aside the cynicism for a second, and just try to have fun.
I like pop music.
There, I said it. And if you do too, you shouldn't be embarrassed.
Check out Spaced Out, the online publication where this article was originally posted here.

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