My attempt to understand (perhaps in vain) the definition (if there is one) of pop music began in the same way I would approach understanding other topics of such nature, specifically by typing “define: pop music” into Google. I was rather shocked with the result:
S: (n) pop music, pop (music of general appeal to teenagers; a bland watered-down version of rock’n’roll with more rhythm and harmony and an emphasis on romantic love)
I had to read it two or three times too. But wait! It gets better. Guess where the definition comes from! Princeton University’s “WordNet,” a “lexical database for English.” You can’t blame Google, Princeton is certainly a credible source, but man they dropped the ball on this one.
I was unsuccessful in my quest to uncover the author of this entry, and I was also unable to find out when it was written, but both of these things would probably give us hints as to the uniqueness of this particular definition.
Unsatisfied and humored, I turned to Wikipedia. They took a definitive stance on the difference between popular music and pop music, something that many people hesitate to do. In other words, according to Wikipedia, pop music has its own sound, while popular music could be anything, so long as it’s popular.
I would have to say that I agree with this approach, in so far as I agree with using genres in general. For example, Mumford & Sons is very much popular music, but to call them a pop band would be inaccurate. By the same coin, I would use the word pop to describe some music that has very little popularity.
Wikipedia takes it a step further and describes common pop instrumentation. The first listed “instrument” is vocals. The argument can be made (quite strongly) that all pop songs feature vocals very prominently. The listed instruments are overwhelmingly electronic: drum machines, synthesizers, samplers, keyboards and sequencers. The rest of the page describes pop’s origins, subgenre’s, MVP’s (including a shout outs to MJ and Madonna), and musical characteristics, with a helpful audio clip of Katy Perry’s Part of Me.
As one delves further into exploration of the genre, many questions arise. Where is the line between electronic dance music, other kinds of electronic music and pop? Is there one? I suppose we can only discuss similarities among songs and hope that people know what we mean when we say the word.
By the way, this is my favorite pop song.