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On CBC Radio 1 last week, host Tom Power interviewed Australian pop singer-songwriter Troye Sivan. In that interview, Power said, “Pop music can be seen to be a conservative genre of music, based on lyrics that haven’t changed since the 80s and 90s… less inclined to take risks….”
In reply, Troye Sivan said, “It’s interesting hearing you talk about pop as a more conservative genre, because I don’t really see it that way… Pop, to me, is like a sonic genre, not necessarily what’s popular on the radio at the time.”
I think that is a very insightful observation from a relatively young musician. I’ve loved pop genres all my life, but from time to time I catch myself thinking of pop music as being a genre that rarely goes deep, that often appeals to the shallower ends of our musical curiosity. That may be true of some acts, but it need not necessarily be that way at all.
Many prog rock groups from the early 70s changed their approach and embraced pop music in the mid to later 70s, in ways that caused their longtime fans to label them as “sellouts” in a shameless pursuit of greater fame and a bigger payday.
But I think it’s just as possible for pop acts to create music and lyrics that are deep, powerful and wise. In other words, the immediacy of pop music is a feature, not a bug we must tolerate. Immediacy does not necessarily equate to mindless simplicity.
In an interview with Tony Banks, keyboardist for Genesis, an interviewer made mention of the fact that Genesis held out a long time before finally “cashing in,” as it were, and writing music that was more straight-ahead pop.
Banks commented that it wasn’t that they held out so long before writing pop — it was more that “…we weren’t very good at it.” He saw pop music as a valid genre, requiring a similar kind of musical skill that progressive rock required.
If you find that your own songwriting process means spending most of your time trying to create lyrics or musical constructs that are complex and difficult, your attention may be misplaced.
It is quite possible to create songs in the pop genres that are stimulating and thoughtful, enticing your listeners to spend more time with them to more fully understand all the nuances, no matter how immediately appealing they might be.
Pop need not at all be a sell-out.
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