In today’s world pop music is everywhere. From grocery store aisles, to the radio, in restaurants, and everywhere in between – it’s inescapable. But we often take its popularity for granted, relegating pop music’s top hits to merely commercial fluff.
Nate Sloan and Charlie Harding argue against this assumption in their new book Switched on Pop: How Popular Music Works and Why It Matters (Oxford – December 13th, 2019), claiming that there is actually an undeniable artistry underneath all this “fluff.”Switched on Pop looks at individual Top 40 hits over the past 20 years, ranging from Taylor Swift’s “You Belong With Me” to Drake’s “God’s Plan,” and it explains the musical techniques behind these songs, revealing surprising connections between contemporary pop music and musical styles from around the world and across history.
Sloan and Harding also delve into pop music as a whole, asserting that pop actually isn’t a genre; it’s a marketing category that encompasses everything that is commercially successful, regardless of sound.
Saxophones, drum machines, sleigh bells, and synthesizers can all co-exist on the Billboard Hot 100 as long as they have a mass of listeners. As a result, pop music is not formulaic and the trending sound of the moment is rather transient. For example, currently the sound of funk is having a moment – pop artists from The Jonas Brothers to Bruno Mars and Lizzo have all embraced funky production. Thus, the only thing truly certain about pop music is that it will change.
Nate Sloan and Charlie Harding host the acclaimed Vox podcast Switched on Pop.