What is Pop? | Musical Dictionary (2023)

Pop is music specifically designed for mass appeal and commercial success. It can have almost any kind of instrumentation and musical characteristics. The main thing is that it be catchy, upbeat, and – well – popular.
Because it’s explicitly designed for commercial success rather than artistic inventiveness, pop music is controversial in the world of professional musicians. Some musicians look down at pop music, viewing it as trite and non-serious. Others have no problem with pop – for them, the whole point of music is entertainment, so what’s wrong with entertaining pop songs?
To be fair to pop music, many of its practitioners are extremely talented musicians who simply choose to play popular songs rather than impress their fellow musicians. And, in many cases, their musicianship comes to be recognized as their careers progress. Maybe the best example is the Beatles, a pop band that is now recognized as one of the most inventive musical acts of the mid-20th century.

Musical Features of Pop

There’s one rule for pop music: make it stick. Musically, that usually means a little syncopation in the rhythm, slick vocal harmonies, and not too much dissonance. In short, pop needs to be approachable and easy to listen to, and it ideally it should get stuck in people’s heads so that they have to go back and listen to your recording again and again.
One of the defining features of pop music is its structure. Nearly every pop song has a structure with verses, choruses, and possibly a bridge. The chorus is the most important part of the song: the catchy, melodic part that gets stuck in people’s heads. The chorus is usually repeated a few times over the course of the song, maybe with minor variations on a central theme. The verse is a little less catchy and usually more subdued in tone. There are usually 3 or 4 verses in a pop song, each with different lyrics sung over the same melody. Finally, the bridge is an optional song element that breaks the pattern, sometimes introducing a different set of musical ideas from either the verse or the chorus. In other cases, the bridge might be an instrumental chorus or guitar solo based on the structure of the chorus. And some pop songs have no bridge at all.
This structure has become so successful that many other genres have borrowed it – modern rock music typically also has a verse-chorus-bridge structure, and mainstream hip-hop uses it as well (they typically refer to the chorus as a “hook,” but it plays pretty much the same role.)

Subgenres and Examples


Lady Gaga – Bad Romance

Some of the most recognizable pop songs come from dance-pop. These are songs that are designed to work in two settings: in dance clubs and on the radio. They typically use heavy electronic instrumentation, both because it’s the expected sound of modern dance clubs and because it’s cheaper to produce. But unlike “pure” electronic genres like techno and house music, dance-pop also incorporates well-polished melodies and star vocalists.
The modern era of pop has been dominated by dance-pop ever since the 1980s, when singers like Michael Jackson, Cher, and Madonna started bringing pop and electronic dance music together. Today, some of the most recognizable names in music are dance-pop stars.
Dance-pop artists often get the worst brunt of anti-pop sentiment. Some people consider them too polished and contrived to be musically compelling. But even if you don’t enjoy listening to their music, some of these artists have played a major role in shaping the history of popular music. Some, like Lady Gaga, spent years working behind the scenes before they emerged as stars in their own right; others, like Justin Timberlake, began as talented performers and over time matured into inventive artists.
Important Artists

  • Justin Timberlake
  • Beyonce
  • Michael Jackson
  • Lady Gaga
  • Ariana Grande

Pop-Jazz and Smooth Jazz

Frank Sinatra – Fly Me to the Moon

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In America, the earliest pop music was made by “crooners,” singers (mostly white and male) who sang slower, musically simplified versions of jazz standards. This music started to come out in the mid-20th century, when the middle class was growing and the technology to produce records was getting cheaper and cheaper. All of a sudden, millions of people could afford to buy record players and albums, and it became extremely lucrative to produce a #1 hit. Some of the greatest success stories from that era were those who made gentle, non-threatening jazz music with catchy melodies and simple lyrics that appealed to a mass audience.
Today, jazz isn’t so popular, so jazz and pop have drifted apart. But there is still the genre of smooth jazz, which takes musical ideas from pop and plays them using jazz instruments. Musically, smooth jazz doesn’t have much to do with jazz (it’s an outgrowth of the pop genre), but it uses instruments like saxophones and vibraphones that have become rare in pop music.
Important Artists

  • Frank Sinatra
  • Bobby Darin
  • Perry Como
  • Sammy Davis, Jr.


Fall Out Boy – Light ‘Em Up

Light 'Em Up Fall Out Boy Lyrics)

(Video) Point Avenue: Unboxing Dictionary Pop!

At around the same time that crooners like Frank Sinatra were selling millions of records to the new middle class, the children of the middle class were buying a whole different kind of music. They, too, were charmed by the accessible sounds of pop music, but they wanted something with a little more energy. They found it in rock & roll. Tons of artists took musical ideas from rock, removed some of the edgy harshness, and made guitar-driven music with smooth vocals and catchy melodies.
Some pop-rock icons were destined to fade from memory as the public’s tastes changed; others, like Elvis Presley, would be recognized as talented entertainers but not especially creative musicians. A few, though, would go on to gain recognition as true musical innovators. The Beatles are a great example – they were wildly popular throughout the 1960s, and today have the respect of musicians all over the world.
Today, pop rock remains a highly successful genre, though it has moved off the radio and into more festivals and live venues. Pretty much any guitar-based pop music can be described as pop today – some are traditional pop-rock rooted squarely in the popular music of the 1960s and 1970s (The Killers, the Fray), while other pop-rock bands have taken their inspiration from counter-culture movements like punk and metal (Fall Out Boy, Five Finger Death Punch)
Important Artists

  • The Beatles
  • The Beach Boys
  • Elvis Presley
  • The Killers
  • Fall Out Boy

Country Pop

Carrie Underwood – Before He Cheats

Carrie Underwood - Before He Cheats (Official Video)

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Known as the “Nashville Sound,” country pop is the glitzy side of rural American music. It has high production values, a clear verse-chorus structure, and a catchy melody. Musically, it’s a lot like any other genre of pop music, but it uses different instruments (acoustic guitars, violins, minimal electronic sounds) and the vocalists typically have an accent – or at least pretend to.
The line between country pop and “true country” can be a little fuzzy. Most modern country has borrowed at least some elements of pop music – and pop music itself borrowed from American folk music, so the two traditions are closely intertwined. And there are plenty of individual musicians who sit squarely on both sides of the line. Chris Stapleton, for example, makes country pop in solo tunes like “Tennessee Whiskey,” but makes much more traditional country music with his band the Steeldrivers.
Important Artists

  • Shania Twain
  • Carrie Underwood
  • Toby Keith
  • The Dixie Chicks
  • Taylor Swift
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What does pop music mean dictionary? ›

(also pop) [uncountable] ​popular music of the sort that has been popular since the 1950s, usually with a strong rhythm and simple tunes, often contrasted with rock, soul and other forms of popular musicTopics Musica2.

Why is it called pop music? ›

The term "pop music" comes from the phrase "popular music" and refers to the popular, light, and commercial sound that characterizes this style. The term "pop song" was first used in 1926 to distinguish between music that was aimed at people with little musical culture and cult music.

What is the best describes pop music? ›

The term “pop” refers to any form of a popular song that has mass appeal and can describe both the style and contents of this type of music. It's typically catchy, with simple lyrics, short songs, and easy-to-remember melodies.

What are 5 characteristics of pop music? ›

They have a good rhythm, a catchy melody, and are easy to remember and sing along to. They usually have a chorus that's repeated several times and two or more verses. Most pop songs are between two and five minutes long, and the lyrics are usually about the joys and problems of love and relationships.

How do you identify pop music? ›

Identifying factors usually include repeated choruses and hooks, short to medium-length songs written in a basic format (often the verse-chorus structure), and rhythms or tempos that can be easily danced to. Much pop music also borrows elements from other styles such as rock, urban, dance, Latin, and country.

What style is pop music? ›

Pop music. A genre of popular music that originated in the West during the 1950s and 1960s. Pop music is eclectic, often borrowing elements from urban, dance, rock, Latin, country, and other styles. Songs are typically short to medium-length with repeated choruses, melodic tunes, and hooks.

Who started pop music? ›

The first stirrings of popular or pop music—any genre of music that appeals to a wide audience or subculture—began in the late 19th century, with discoveries by Thomas Edison and Emile Berliner.

What's the difference between pop music and popular music? ›

Popular music is a generic term for a wide variety of genres of music that appeal to the tastes of a large segment of the population, whereas pop music usually refers to a specific musical genre within popular music. Popular music songs and pieces typically have easily singable melodies.

What is pop music rhythm? ›

In fact, much pop music is based around the rhythmic interplay between the vocal parts, which tend to be syncopation-heavy, and the accompaniment, in which the rhythms will often be more straightforward. This dynamic arises even in seemingly simple contexts.

How many types of pop music are there? ›

Below are styles of pop music that mixed with other standalone genres.
  • Ambient pop.
  • Country pop.
  • Dancehall pop.
  • Folk-pop.
  • Hip pop.
  • House-pop.
  • Jazz pop.
  • Pop rock.

Why is pop music popular? ›

Pop Music Is Catchy and Easy to Remember

This makes it perfect for listening on the go or while doing other activities. In addition, pop music is often designed to be simple and straightforward, so you don't have to spend a lot of time puzzling over the lyrics or trying to understand what they mean.

What is a fact about pop music? ›

The term 'pop music' became commonly used in the 1950s when rock and roll music became a 'popular' hit with teenagers. Today there are hundreds of different types of pop music, also known as 'genres', including K-pop (Korean pop), hip hop, electric dance music (EDM) and rock music.

What are the four main elements of a pop song? ›

The most important elements of a pop song are the lyrics, the melody, the chords and the structure.

What is the full word for pop music? ›

'Pop' music, is an abbreviation of 'Popular' music. The term by Charly Froud.

What are the three types of pop? ›


The three main types of POP displays include: temporary, semi-permanent and permanent.

What is the basic structure of a pop song? ›

A typical song structure includes a verse, chorus, and bridge in the following arrangement: intro, verse — chorus — verse — chorus —bridge — chorus — outro. This is known as an ABABCB structure, where A is the verse, B is the chorus and C is the bridge.

Who was the first pop singer? ›

The first major pop stars as such were the crooners of the 1930s and '40s. Bing Crosby sold millions of records, as did Frank Sinatra (arguably the first modern pop star, with screaming teenage female fans - the bobbysoxers), and in Britain, Al Bowly.

What is the first pop song? ›

Milwaukee is home to the song 'After the Ball' by Charles Harris. Written in 1891, it's the first song to sell a million copies of sheet music.

What are 5 examples of pop culture? ›

Popular culture in the 20th and early-21st centuries
  • popular music.
  • film.
  • television.
  • radio.
  • video games.
  • book publishing.
  • internet.
  • comics.

What is the most popular type of pop music? ›

Pop is the most favorite music genre for gym-goers, but most personal records are broken while listening to hip-hop/rap music.
Top 5 music genres in the UK.
1.PopHip-Hop/ Rap
3.ElectronicDance/ Electronic
4.AlternativeIndie/ Alternative
1 more row
8 Jul 2022

Is pop same as jazz? ›

The pop music lines are usually diatonic (from the key), whereas jazz lines use chromaticism and tension notes to create harmonic color. Additionally, jazz articulation uses the tool of “ghosting” or “swallowing” a note.

What tempo is pop? ›

There are four level of pop musical tempo which were chosen, they are slow (66-76 bpm), medium (76-120 bpm), fast (120-168 bpm), and very fast (168-200 bpm).

What tempo is most pop music? ›

90-99 BPM is the most popular tempo range.

What are 5 pop artists? ›

  • 1 Britney Spears99%
  • 2 Prince98%
  • 3 Madonna98%
  • 4 Taylor Swift97%
  • 5 Jennifer Lopez97%
  • 6 Lady Gaga97%
  • 7 Michael Jackson97%
  • 8 Justin Bieber97%

How many chords are in a pop song? ›

Almost every song in the pop charts is built around the same four chords. And it's nothing new – they're the same three chords that Pachelbel used in his famous Canon. But why do we keep coming back to this exact structure?

What are the Top 10 pop? ›

The 10 Best Pop Songs in 2022… So Far
  • “Light Switch,” Charlie Puth.
  • “Cuff It,” Beyoncé
  • “Daylight,” Harry Styles.
  • “Anywhere With You,” Maggie Rogers.
  • “All 4 Nothing (I'm So In Love),” Lauv.
  • “Don't Forget,” Sky Ferreira.
  • “Vegas,” Doja Cat.
  • “About Damn Time,” Lizzo.
29 Aug 2022

Why is pop music good for the brain? ›

Listening to pop music as you study will help relax the brain and focus on the creative side of things. Make it a point to listen to your favorite pop music stars and albums each time you feel a break in the creative flow. Music relaxes the brain muscles, improves concentration, and thereby enhances creative ability.

Where did pop music start? ›

Pop music originated from the USA and the UK. The genre started as a mix of various music styles that were popular around the early 50's. Some of the music types that led to the genesis of pop included jazz, country, bebop, rap, and rock 'n' roll.

How pop music affects the brain? ›

Pop. Those who are fans of pop music are said to have high self-esteem and an outgoing attitude. This is because pop music is a stimulant that gets your blood pumping and emotions racing. When you listen to pop music, the auditory cortex relays the rhythmic beat to the brain, making you want to sing and dance.

Is pop music real music? ›

Pop music, often called simply pop, is contemporary music and a common type of popular music (distinguished from classical or art music and from folk music. The term does not refer specifically to a single genre or sound, and its meaning is different depending on the time and place.

How was pop named? ›

“Pop” is used predominantly in the Northwest, the Great Plains and the Midwest. The word was originated by a British poet in 1812, who wrote, “A new manufacture of a nectar, between soda water and ginger beer, and called 'pop,' because 'pop goes the cork' when it is drawn.”

What are the main themes of pop music? ›

But a closer look will uncover a basic fact: every hit song reflects a distinct theme.
What is a theme?
  • Breakup.
  • Desire.
  • Loss.
  • Jadedness.
  • Inspiration.
  • Aspiration.
  • Nostalgia.
  • Pain.
10 Feb 2021

What is the structure of pop? ›

Structure is the order that different parts of the song are played in. Traditional pop music usually follows a verse, chorus, verse structure. If you listen to your favourite pop song you might notice that it not only follows this structure but it will repeat the chorus as this is the catchy bit of the song.

What chords do most pop songs use? ›

C major and G major, along with their relative minor counterparts A minor and E minor, are often considered the best key and scales for Pop music. You can use Major or Minor scales.

What is other name for pop? ›

See also synonyms for: popped / popping. appear. bang. blow. crack.

What are different names for pop? ›

Synonyms of soda pop
  • soft drink.
  • pop.
  • soda.
  • tonic.
  • drink.
  • potion.
  • drinkable.
  • mix.

What is the difference between pop and popular music? ›

Popular music is a generic term for a wide variety of genres of music that appeal to the tastes of a large segment of the population, whereas pop music usually refers to a specific musical genre within popular music. Popular music songs and pieces typically have easily singable melodies.

What is the most common form of pop music? ›

Verse-Chorus Form with Bridge

This is the most common form in modern popular music.

Why is pop music so special? ›

Pop Music Is Catchy and Easy to Remember

This makes it perfect for listening on the go or while doing other activities. In addition, pop music is often designed to be simple and straightforward, so you don't have to spend a lot of time puzzling over the lyrics or trying to understand what they mean.

Who made the first pop song? ›

Milwaukee is home to the song 'After the Ball' by Charles Harris. Written in 1891, it's the first song to sell a million copies of sheet music.


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