In Defense of Pop: Why I'm Not Embarrassed by My 2020 Spotify Wrapped

One consequence of the catastrophic events of 2020 was that many people were forced to work, study and socialize from home. With this came more freedom to listen to our own music while we worked. According to Spotify, I spent a whopping 84,602 minutes streaming music in 2020. That's almost 60 days of non-stop listening!

2020 was also a big year for the music industry. When tours and shows were cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic, many artists turned to recording new music. Taylor Swift and BTS each dropped two highly-anticipated albums and pop giants like Selena Gomez, Halsey, Dua Lipa, Louis Tomlinson and Niall Horan came out with albums or chart-topping singles. (Feel free to yell at me in the comments with your favorite artists that I missed). 

This increase in new music coupled with my extensive listening made me extremely excited for my Spotify wrapped. And the results were pretty much as I expected: pop was my number one genre, followed by indie pop, rap, modern rock, and adult standards (which, in case you were wondering, is the pop music your grandma grew up with or as my friend calls it "hotel oldie music"). 

So while I listen to a variety of genres, I consume enough pop music for the Pudding's AI to call my Spotify "tay-tay-fangirl-twitter-fighting-you-probably-bring-a-tent-to-the-beach bad." Which may or may not be a fair assessment (does sleeping in a hammock in the woods count?) but that's beside the point. 

The point is that people love to hate pop music. And granted, there is a lot not to like: the repetitive choruses and chord structures, the sometimes annoyingly upbeat tempos, and the radio stations, social media and advertisements that play pop songs to death.  

To get people's anti-pop opinions, I turned to Reddit. Specifically this Reddit post titled "Why do people hate pop music so much?" from r/LetsTalkMusic on September 10, 2020. To summarize the thread for you, most Redditors dislike (or think others dislike) pop music because it seems "too simple"/"formulaic," over commercialized, too "polished," and because teen girls like it, and everyone loves to hate on things teen girls like (enough said). Which brings me to the electric lighter that sparked this blog post. 

Last semester in one of my English classes, my professor asked the class whether we listened to artists who incorporated their political views into their music and if not, whether we would stop listening to our favorite artists if they started writing songs with political messages. One person in my class said they listen to a lot of alt/punk artists and that a large part of this genre is centered around voicing dissenting opinions that critique society, so a lack of politicism in this genre would feel strange. The student contrasted this with pop music which "is just a bunch of songs about love and stuff." Let's unpack that.

Pop and Politics

Politics is not an inherent part of pop music, but I appreciate the room pop allows mainstream artists to incorporate their political and social justice views into their music. It's hard to argue with a superstar with millions of followers, and this fame allows pop artists to leverage their platforms. Of course, many artists are still under strict contracts, but the industry has come a long way since the days when the then Dixie Chicks were cancelled over calling out President Bush's strikes on Iran. 

Of course, many artists still choose rap or alt genres over pop to express their views on social and political justice. But because pop samples other genres, incorporating everything from rap to classical, and changes over time, there is a flexibility in pop music that is not as present in other genres. 

Songs About "Stuff"

In addition to being flexible in terms of sound, pop music is also flexible in lyric content. This can be seen in the sheer number of 2020 pop songs with lyrics referencing life during the COVID-19 pandemic. Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande's "Stuck with U," Alec Benjamin's "6 Feet Apart," and Avenue Beat's "F2020" are all examples of this. These songs illustrate another thing I love about pop music -- it brings people together. People from all over the world know and can relate to these songs and there is this special connection when you recognize the music someone else listens to.

On the other hand, many people, myself included, turn to music as a form of escapism from politics, the pandemic, and other daily stressors. While we should absolutely be thinking about the messages in the music we consume, there are times when we need a catchy, upbeat tune to get ourselves through the day, and pop music is convenient and accessible. Simply pop on the radio of your 2006 Honda Civic and you may find yourself singing your heart out to Harry Styles on the way to the grocery store -- the only place many of us are going these days. 

Songs About Love

Another reason why pop remains at the top of my playlists is its ability to cover interpersonal topics like love and relationships in a way that feels nostalgic but not overly depressing. In 2020, many couples had to make the difficult decision to quarantine together, break up, or start a long distance relationship. Still others tried dating during a pandemic or embraced being single for a while -- and pop music was ready with lyrics for every situation. With so many people in isolation this year, relating to other people through music was a life line, and older music couldn't reassure us in the same ways pop could. 

To me, pop music feels like trick-or-treating. You knock on the music industry's door and they give you some candy (bubblegum pop anyone?). By the end of the night, you have a lot of duplicates in your bag, and some of those are inevitably candies you don't like very much. Sometimes you get some surprisingly good homemade or foreign candy. But at the end of the day, it's all candy -- manufactured to be sweet, familiar, and full of nostalgia. And eating too much candy might give you cavities and kill your sweet tooth.

To all the pop lovers, I support you. To all the pop haters, I hear you. To everyone else, thanks for reading. Drop the album that got you through 2020 in the comments! 




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