Contemporary pop music is a fairly young art form that developed in the 20th and 21st century into one of the most influential cultural industries. The phenomenon of popular music is so pervasive that sometimes a person is not inclined to pay critical attention to this phenomenon. People live in a world shaped by popular culture to such an extent that pop music can be perceived as something extremely superficial, like interior design. The goal of this study is, among other things, to change the habitual perception of pop music as something not worthy of analysis.
Popular music generally does not seek to appeal to any particular subculture or class. Pop focuses on subjects that are thematically relevant to the widest possible audience and presents them in the most comprehensible way. The very structure and composition of a pop song is organized in such a way that it is as easy to perceive and memorize as possible. The choruses and verses make the song not only comprehensible but also intuitively predictable. However, popular music reflects human needs and values at one point or another in the development of society. Music and lyrics can be a powerful tool for criticizing society and changing it for the better. Suffice it to recall the unprecedentedly grandiose Live Aid festival, which raised a large amount of money drawing attention to the problem of hunger in Africa. The issues of social inequality, identity, sexuality and gender in pop music are an intense subject of academic research. There are a variety of scientific journals researching not only pop culture, but even celebrities. Popular music lyrics are often viewed from a sociological and anthropological perspective.
A popular song can be a significant stimulus for empathy, since music in general has the most direct emotional impact, more than any propaganda. Thus, using the emotional potential of music, a popular artist has the opportunity to give the listener a deeper sense of the problem underlying the message of the song. A pop artist is always looking for a certain resonance with the listener, seeking to get some kind of emotional feedback or agreement from them. Therefore, a professionally written, tenacious pop song with an important social message is capable of turning the heads of a fairly large number of people. At the same time, it is important that the song contains a message that will not be delivered directly, but subtly enough so as not to alienate aesthetically. The work will use modern cultural prisms often used in Popular Music Studies, a distinctive sphere of academic research for at least 40 years (Prior, 2018). For the most successful implementation of the project, an interdisciplinary apparatus is required, capable of including sociological, cultural, musicological and textological developments.
It would be no exaggeration to say that in many respects problems in society begin with the relationship of people with each other. Pop songs, many of which are already dedicated to the theme of happy, unhappy or unrequited love, can describe the complex relationship between a man and a woman. At the same time, in modern pop music, these relations can be problematized at the level of social inequality or toxic masculinity. It is important that this problematization can be carried out not only by the performer, but also by the researcher. In order to fit all the developments into several pages, one needs to pay attention to those songs that contain a clear social message on a planetary scale. The lens of this study of contemporary pop music is limited to the 2010s for maximum relevance of the information produced. Moreover, in the process of research, several female performers singing about the problem of gender relations will be mentioned and problematized at the social level. Issues of social injustice and black identity also correlate with the field of popular music in terms of its commercial success.
Although it is arguable that pop music may have a negative effect on the younger generation due to the nature and lyrics of certain songs, they contain valuable cultural importance. For example, the Song “Palace” by popular rapper A$AP Rocky came out in 2010. The song contains explicit language and depicts the drug abuse and dangerous lifestyle in the US. Arguably, the song was good in the usage of instruments and music rhythm, but the lyrics are not as pleasing, at least for the unprepared audience. However, for those previously in contact with popular rap songs, it is evident that the darkness within rap aims for change and liberation. The discourse on the oppression and marginalization of the Afro-American population is long-lasting and continues today through a similar approach to music-making and activist movements.
Another example of pop music which confronts social and cultural norms is the work of the Russian band Little Big. The group is active since 2013 and shocked the audience with its non-normative and extravagant songs and music videos (Bennetts, 2020). Their first video, “Everyday I’m drinking,” addressed the typical stereotypes which concern the Russian population, such as alcoholism, domestication of wild bears, and unfaltering attitude to cold climate. It was done while utilizing simple lyrics consisting of, primarily, repetition of the phrase “Everyday I’m drinking” and occasional profanity. However, the group exploited direct exaggeration of the stereotypes in the music video through sexualization of the relationship with the bear and constant consumption of what seems to be vodka. This video was purely made for comical entertainment, and the group received numerous positive reviews. The works of the band helped partially improve the Russian Federation’s militaristic image and received admiration within the global community. Thus, it is evident that the social discourse could be guided through the production of unordinary pop music, which ignites the change of heart among people.
Pop music is also guided by the social condition of the time and represents the public perception of life. Hence, the genre of Indie Pop or independent pop music was established. Indie Pop. The early 2010s were the times when indie-pop peaked, and the audience was getting dissatisfied by the constant exposure to happy music. These times represented a difficult economic situation, and the youth of the time was getting devastated. Interestingly, this devastation manifested itself in indie-pop. Popular songs of the time were “Pumped Up Kicks” by Foster the People, “Some Nights” by Fun, and “A-Team” by Ed Sheeran. The latter song is dedicated to severe substance abuse, specifically abuse of the drugs belonging to the category “A.” The song addresses the transformations within the global economy and depicts the story of a woman with drug addiction. According to the artist, the song is based on a true story, which fortifies its importance and power in directing the attention of the people to the existing problems. It is relatable for the global community, and in a way, this relatability resulted in the song’s popularity.
In conclusion, the importance of pop songs is immense while analyzing the culture and trends of modern society. The songs use creative and unique approaches to addressing the problems of modernity and are certainly considered as magnificent forms of expression unbound to any constraints. Numerous social aspects are seen within pop songs, be they cultural, political, or economic. The songs also play an enormous role in directing the social movements due to the direct emotional impact of the music. Consequently, it is evident that pop songs are a subject that could be extensively analyzed for academic purposes and remain highly interesting for society.
Bennetts, M. (2020). Meet little big, the punk pop band of Putin’s Russia. Magazine | The Times.
Prior, N. (2018). Popular music, digital technology and society. Sage Books.