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As an unabashed pop music lover, I am always dismayed to see music elitists talk down to Top 40 radio. Yes, some pop hits are generic, forgettable and digitized to the point of vocal anonymity. However, once the plastic façade of pop radio is unmasked, what can be found is true originality, technological progression and just good ‘ole dance music.
So, does pop music have any artistic merit? Yes, if you look close enough. Although by definition designed for the popular masses, Top 40 music is chock-full of witticisms and prodigious advancement in techno-sonics that make it truly good music. Although having to sift through the trite lyrics of Selena Gomez and Auto-Tune trickery of Ke$ha, catchy lyrics and electronic sounds can actually be used to further artistic expression.
Lady GaGa is an artist who uses her platform in pop music to broadcast lyrics that are intelligently penned and have an important message to express. Widely known for her lyrics promoting love and acceptance for the LGBT community, GaGa smartly embeds her messages with catchy pop hooks. To promote self-love and confidence in her international hit “Born This Way,” GaGa wrote, “No matter gay, straight or bi/Let’s lead a transgendered life/I’m on the right track, baby I was born to survive.” Packed into a delightful and delicious pop bridge, GaGa achieves the noteworthy task of using witty dialogue to give pop music a more intelligent name.
GaGa is not the only wordsmith that uses booming mainstream choruses to express cerebral thoughts. Madonna, Mackelmore and Kanye West have all opted for smart instead of sellable lyrics on several occasions.
In addition to witty lyrics, pop music also pushes the boundaries of technology. Once again, it is important to distinguish what is an acceptable use of tone-altering software like Auto-Tune. “Singers” like Ke$ha and Heidi Montag use Auto-Tune to cover up their lack of vocal ability. However, it can be used to play with an artist’s aesthetic.
Christina Aguilera is a prime example of using synths and vocoders to appeal to mass audiences while at the same time augmenting artistic experimentation. Although her latest album Lotus was not the commercial success Aguilera hoped for, songs like “Your Body” and “Let There Be Love” show off her exceptionable voice—even though they are both loaded with sonic bells and whistles. Artists like Katy Perry, Rihanna and Britney Spears do similar feats. They use pop-like genres such as dubstep, EDM and disco to create visceral, original sounds.
So before you scoff at your Top 40 radio station, take another listen. While there is garbage out there, a lot of pop music is witty and artistically progressive.