Pop Music Brings Its A-Game

If you’ve been as disappointed in pop music as I’ve been for as long as I have, fear no more! I’m excited to announce that pop music is taking back an inch of artistry and getting good again. There’s a strange but exciting trend of artists recalling 90s beats and conventions, but somehow it sounds completely fresh. Let’s take a look at this summer’s best pop hits:

Fences (feat. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis) – “Arrows”

Text from my brother: You listen to the new Fences/Macklemore song? I’m not sure if I actually like it, but I sure can’t stop listening to it. You know what? I can’t either.

This isn’t the first time Fences and Macklemore & Ryan Lewis have worked together. I’ve written about their magnum opus “Otherside” before (which, let’s be real, is still Macklemore’s best song) so when I realized they’d collaborated again, I got excited. And the product is excellent, once again. This is good pop. Not only does Fences have a bright, clean, fun sound, but it’s great to hear Macklemore bringing his A-game again.

Jessie J, Ariana Grande, Nicki Minaj – “Bang Bang”

In an unexpected transatlantic collaboration that ended up being summer’s pop trifecta, Jessie J, Ariana Grande, and Nicki Minaj came together for “Bang Bang,” an absolutely epic and chill-inducing big pop number that combines more genres than you’d realize. It’s got some Motown in the belting harmonies, a little bit of 90s pop, and some really refreshing new sounds. Nicki is back on top of her game in “Bang Bang.” I was really disappointed in her work post-Kanye-West-“Monster,” but “Bang Bang” has brought her back. Of course, Grande has been something of a sensation this summer and I wasn’t really sure why until I heard this song. She brings a really nice, straightforward sound that’s not overworked. That alone is worth listening to. And Jessie J, as ever, is flawless.

Taylor Swift – “Shake It Off”

Of course Taylor Swift’s getting mixed reviews for “Shake It Off” from haters and lovers alike, but I know I’m excited for her pop album coming out this fall. Nobody should be particularly surprised by her pop transformation, but what I am surprised by is how well she pulled this off. The thing about Taylor Swift is that she’s actually a fantastic artist, but a lot of her artistry and performance power is overlooked in the face of her public persona (sounds an awful lot like another artist I love…) Where you expect her songs to zig, they zag. She plays with pop conventions, but she really messes with them (in a fabulous way). The first time you heard this, did you really expect that bridge?

5 Seconds of Summer – “She Looks So Perfect”

I’m not sure how on-board I am with the comparison, though I definitely see the connection, but 5 Seconds of Summer have been compared to blink-182. They’ve got that awesome pop punk vibe that hasn’t been terribly “cool” in music for a while, but they make it look effortless. Plus “She Looks So Perfect” has that perfect everybody-sing-along chorus that everybody loves. I mean, it’s really hard to hate this song.

Ariana Grande – “Problem”

I told you she was sweeping the charts, but Ariana Grande really brings something awesome to pop. I really want to think of her as conventional since she looks like a bubblegum pop star, but “99 Problems” is frighteningly good. The drop to a whispered chorus is surprising, the horns in the background are a 90s throwback, and her voice doesn’t overpower the song. It’s light and effortless.

Iggy Azalea (feat. Charlie XCX) – “Fancy”

From the bare 90s beat to the Cluelessreferring video, “Fancy” really plays homage to the best/worst decade ever. But “Fancy” is another pop/hip hop song that’s kept itself relatively underprocessed. It has the same appeal that Lorde‘s “Royals” has. She brings something new to the female rap scene, mostly because her work is so bare. In songs like “Black Widow,” where you expect the beat to drop, everything stays the same. So far, she has the unique ability to spit decently hard but also have a voice like honey. Tell me how that works… Also, it’s just really fun to scream out “I’m so fancy!” on the dance floor.

Pharrell Williams (feat. Miley Cyrus) – “Come Get It Bae”

Pharrell’s G I R L is an amazing pop album. Again, it’s relatively bare for pop, but that’s how Pharrell has always worked. “Come Get It Bae” is a blast from beginning to end. The thing about Pharrell’s music is that it just makes you want to move. You can’t help it. Plus the collab with Miley Cyrus really suits the vibe of this song. I’m mad for this one.

Kimbra – “90s Music”

Speaking of 90s music… Though she swears it’s a joke, Kimbra’s “90s Music” is amazing. With a complete disregard for traditional pop structure, Kimbra brings a bizarre and delightful pop single that’s unexpected from the first second to the last. Her music has always had a unique edge, but never this unique. And it’s wonderful.

So all in all, I think my pop cynicism is gone for the moment. The hits are recalling the 90s these days, and it’s a welcome throwback. The sound is clean, refreshing, tight, and oddly authentic. I’m loving it. Really, really loving it.

1 Comment

  1. Lauren Silvestri

    September 17, 2014 at 6:39 pm

    You bring up a great point, pop is definitely having something of a (much needed) revival. “Bang Bang” is so catchy! “Shake It Off” still isn’t grabbing me though.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.