Pop Music Uncovered (Briefly)

by Music at King Edward's School, Birmingham

What is it?

Pop Music is actually an abbreviation for Popular Music and really means any music that is fashionable and trendy at the time. There are certain elements which define this musical genre. These include generally short to medium-length songs, written in a basic form (often the verse-chorus structure), as well as the common employment of repeated choruses, melodic tunes, and hooks. The key feature of pop music is the hook as it makes the song catchy and therefore memorable.

The term “Pop Music” was first used in the 1880s. However, Grove Music Online claims that pop music is a term originating from Britain in the 1950s as a description for rock and roll and the new youth music styles that it influenced. This was the province of the young who defined themselves by urban tastes and interests. Pop is one of the most inclusive genres of music as it can include parts of many others, especially dance, jazz and rock.

General Characteristics:

  • A comfortable length so that the listener doesn’t get bored too easily. This usually means of a length of around 2-4 minutes. This also allows songs to be quickly played over the radio
  • Normally associated with a particular trend – Simon Cowell said “Image is everything”
  • Catchy or irritating to listen to so that you can easily remember it. If a song sticks in your head, it is very difficult to stop thinking about it. Others can also passively learn about new songs via their friends. Memorable choruses are vital to successful pop songs.
  • Something that relates well to children and teenagers as they often decide whether the music is cool or trendy. They also form the largest proportion of the record-buying public.


Music Department at King Edward's School, Birmingham

The MTV logo

Developments and Influences

There are and have been many iconic, memorable and downright controversial people who have been involved in the music and pop business over the years. In 2013 alone, the music industry contributed £3.5 billion to the UK economy. Recent stars such as Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears and Taylor Swift have greatly helped the rise of the pop music industry. But before these celebrities were even born, technological advances such as an improved microphone design in the 1940s laid foundations for its development. Also crucially, in the 1950s televisions became commercially available, adding the possibility of a visual dimension to the music and in the 1960s cheap transistor radios were popular amongst teenagers who are still a large target audience today. During the early 1980s icons such as Michael Jackson and Madonna were brought up on and had their careers nurtured by channels such as MTV – a music television channel. These two figures clearly went on to reach the top of the business and helped make MTV the giant of a company that it is today. In other words, in the music world you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours! However, there are many people involved in the industry who work very hard behind the scenes for instance the studio, production, distribution and retail staff.

Music at King Edward's School

Michael Jackson, the king of pop

The business has been dominated by USA and the UK but many smaller countries have their own version of pop music with local characteristics and trends. Grove Music Online stated that “Western derived pop styles have spread throughout the world”. Many non-Western countries however have developed a prosperous pop music industry, most notably Korea for ‘K-pop’ (Korean Pop).

Overall the pop music business is predominantly an international monoculture but has influenced many different parts of the world to create their own versions to fit in with the local cultures and customs.


Rayan De, Fourths


Music at King Edward's School, Birmingham