Pop music has been a popular genre for decades. With many of the catchy melodies and bass lines largely taken and rehashed with variations, it isn’t unsurprising to hear how homogeneous pop music sounds. Have you found the pop hits from any given year to sound similar to each other?
Unfortunately most smash hit songs follow the same formula. A notable example would be the same popular chord progression in songs. If you don’t believe, just search Axis of Awesome’s 4 Chord song.
Generally speaking, the simpler a song it is, the better. Pop sells so well because it is a well-established genre everyone can identify with. Record companies are happy to promote something they know will sell. Musicians and production companies with this reasoning end up creating disposable music, rather than classic and timeless masterpieces.
Talent is one thing but being able to break through the mass release of music content is another thing. It’s not surprising to know that the music industry is rather manipulative either. Most online radio stations and artists are constantly timing the release of albums and singles to coincide with big breaks on the billboard charts.
The other aspect about pop music, like with any artistic project, is its heavy influence from what has come before. We like authenticity, not only in personalities but also in music. But if there is this magic formula, then artists are discouraged from innovating and taking risks which narrows the available range of sounds.
Occasionally, technological advances in music will create a new wave of refreshing development. When the synthesizer first released with its peak use present in the 1980’s before its use plateaued out.
In describing the pop songs today, many follow a track and hook method. Some of todays hit singles feature a team of song writers. In theory, the idea is that music theory and the timbre of selected sounds is averaged out across the group to reflect something that is less unique. Track and hook is present in hip-hop rehashing the existing catchy beat with variations and progressive chord patterns. As modern emphasis is placed on beats and melodies, lyrical complexity is lost.
We could also link this with a slow creep in explicit lyrics only propelled with rebellious teen movements and the introduction of the parent advisory rating system. On the other hand, some songs have become wordier as the overall tempo has started to climb.
Looking back in the past, each decade sounds distinctive in its own way, but homogenous to that time period all the same. Statistics also reflect that a larger share of top ranked billboard songs are owned by less music producers.
Another idea suggests that music is greatly widespread. Music production is a very popular hobby. Digital audio-editing software is available online for free. And in today’s society, so many people make music with a plethora of techniques. The argument says that even if pop music dies off, it would easily be cannibalised by any number of existing genres.
The red herring in this discussion of course, is music streaming platforms. Working behind the scenes, is an unknown algorithm that aims to keep us listening for as long as possible. Yet record labels are still controlling the industry. Streaming also creates a very low barrier of entry. Got a mad mix you want to push out? No need to worry about messy music contracts, simply publish it online for the world to listen. And the days of carefully created albums with intricate songs that blend together meaningfully is dying off too.
All in all, we should be clear about what factors we are analysing in making any claims that pop songs are homogenous.