Pop music defines the era in which it is released. The sound of pop music has evolved, but it never loses the sheen of positivity that distinguishes it from rock music. Pop music is thought of as being light or shallow, but it is actually the product of careful craftsmanship.
Pop music has always been regarded as the safest form of popular music. Historically, it was composed by professional songwriters and sung by the best voices of the day. This process was considered normal until the popularity of the Beatles caused music fans to consider whether or not their favorite music stars wrote their own songs. This line of thought does a major disservice to talented musicians who know their own strengths; songwriters who cannot sing should not be forced to do so, and people who have great voices are not always gifted composers.
The bias against singers who do not write their own songs has prevented female singers from being afforded the respect they deserve. The girl groups of the 1960s released some of the most tuneful, ebullient tracks of all time. The Shangri-Las recorded songs that are practically epic in their scope. Their story-songs like “Leader of the Pack,” “Out in the Streets” and “I Can Never Go Home Anymore” are fully-fledged vignettes of teenage experiences. The Ronettes’ “Be My Baby” is considered the best track of all time by many music historians.
Classic pop music has almost nothing in common with contemporary pop music besides a tendency to feature female singers. Today’s pop music is essentially adjusted dance music. The singers are secondary to the music supporting their vocals. It goes without saying that singers are signed to labels on the strength of their looks and dance skills as often as they are chosen solely on the basis of their voices.
This does not mean that modern pop music lacks merit; to think about it that cynically is to fall victim to the ideology that prevents classic pop from receiving the respect it deserves. The producers and songwriters behind today’s pop music are on the cusp of the hottest European dance trends, smoothing out the electronic elements and making them palatable to mainstream audiences. This is no easy feat. Stuffing fringe trends into pop music requires a level of talent and an awareness of other genres that many rock musicians do not possess. This is why pop vocalists are treated like afterthoughts to the recording process. They are vehicles for the talents of their songwriters and producers.
Pop music has never had lyrics that were inherently meaningful. Any importance that a pop song acquires is due to the people who make it popular. This is how a song becomes emblematic of its time period. A song with universal lyrics has the paradoxical ability to resonate with a lot of people on a deeply personal level.
This is the quality that modern pop music tends to lack. It sounds great and is fun to dance to, but there is nothing in the lyrics that speaks to people. Music fans will continue to regard pop music as a guilty pleasure until they have a reason to take it seriously. Classic pop is not technically better than modern pop. In fact, pop music becomes more and more artistic as technology and recording techniques continue to evolve. However, modern pop will not win over today’s cultural critics until producers stop undervaluing the importance of well-written lyrics.