Many musicians, especially highly qualified musicians, hate pop music, especially today’s pop songs. If you are one of these people, you won’t like my opinion: if you think that ALL pop songs are bad, then the problem is you, not pop music.
Before you get angry, just hear me out first.
I get it. I know why you hate pop songs. And I know this because I was one of these people. I was one of the biggest “music snobs” on the planet. So keep in mind that I also criticize myself (my past self) in this article.
My formal education is classical and jazz music. I was studying classical music from the age of 8, and then I got into jazz at the age of 16. In my twenties, I refused to listen to (or play) anything other than jazz.
And I was convinced that I know the answer. I was convinced I know better what good music is. It took me 20 years to realize how wrong I was.
It’s not that one is better than the other. They are just different. Different perspective. But to be honest, in a way, pop music is better. It’s better because you can connect better with the average listener if you write songs they “understand” and enjoy.
After all, music is about connection, isn’t it?
Ask yourself the question: Why do you think that pop music is bad? Is it because they use fewer instruments than songs before? A musical instrument is just a channel to perform a song. If it’s a good song, it should sound good even if they perform it with only a guitar and vocalist. More instrument doesn’t make a song better.
Is it because they use fewer chords? I hope you know that this is ridiculous. The number of chords doesn’t determine the quality of a song. In fact, I believe that in a certain way, today’s pop songs are going in a very good direction. Fewer chords mean a “cleaner”, less corny song. Listen to the songs from the 80s. There is a reason why they don’t write those kinds of songs anymore. They sound corny.
On top of that, it’s much harder to write a good song with fewer chords! Anyone can write and arrange a complicated song. But not many people can write GOOD songs.
Another typical argument is that the average listener “should be” more musically educated so they would appreciate more complex music. Well, that’s a very philosophical question. Maybe they should, maybe they shouldn’t. But the reality is that they are not. The average person is not musically educated to understand and enjoy complex music (for example, jazz). So you decide whether you want to write songs for a world that doesn’t exist, or you want to write songs that the majority of people can connect with.
But thinking that you know better, and everyone else is stupid is just pure arrogance.
If you think that the majority of today’s pop songs are shitty, I agree! If I turn on any radio occasionally, I hear that 90% of the songs are bad or mediocre the best. But this is true to ALL genres and all eras. 90% of the songs from the 70s (or ANY era) are bad, 90% of rock songs are bad, 90% of jazz songs are bad too.
The truth is, 90% of EVERYTHING is garbage. 90% of the books are garbage, 90% of the people are shitty at their job, 90% of the musicians are bad, and we could go on with this list.
So let me tell you what changed my mind, and what made me appreciate pop songs. For the past years, I analyzed more than 2000 successful songs. Mostly pop songs. I analyzed them in terms of songwriting – melody, rhythm, chord progression.
I realized that, many times, these songs are actually clever, innovative (in a good way), and somewhat “clean”. When you work only with a few chords and a few melody notes, there is not much room for “wrong” notes. This gave me a completely different perspective and understanding. The more I learned, the more I realized how wrong I was when I thought that good music should be sound in a certain way.
Today, I listen to songs with a completely different ear. In fact, the other day, I found a song on Youtube that I gave a “dislike” a few years ago. Now I think that it’s actually a good song. How weird!
Just think about it. Learning MORE about music and music theory changed me in a way that now I have a higher appreciation for more simple songs, pop songs.
So if you think that pop music (or any other genre) is shitty, the problem is with you. There are good songs in any genre. You just probably don’t understand why it is good.
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About the Author
Producer, songwriter at Bánhidy András, and Barrio Latino Hungría. Author of The Rhythm Code.