Popular music is music with wide appeal that is typically
distributed to large audiences through the music industry. These forms
and styles can be enjoyed and performed by people with little or no
musical training. It stands in contrast to both art music
and traditional or "folk" music.
Art music was historically
disseminated through the performances of written music, although since
the beginning of the recording industry, it is also disseminated
through recordings. Traditional music forms such as early blues songs
or hymns were passed along orally, or to smaller, local
The original application of the term is to music of the 1880s Tin Pan
Alley period in the United States. Although popular music sometimes
is known as "pop music", the two terms are not interchangeable.
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 songs and pieces typically have easily
singable melodies. The song structure of popular music commonly
involves repetition of sections, with the verse and chorus or refrain
repeating throughout the song and the bridge providing a contrasting
and transitional section within a piece.
In the 2000s, with songs and pieces available as digital sound files,
it has become easier for music to spread from one country or region to
another. Some popular music forms have become global, while others
have a wide appeal within the culture of their origin. Through the
mixture of musical genres, new popular music forms are created to
reflect the ideals of a global culture. The examples of Africa,
Indonesia, and the
Middle East show how Western pop music styles can
blend with local musical traditions to create new hybrid
2 Form of Western popular music
3 Development in North America and Europe
4 Global perspective
4.2.3 Middle East
5 See also
7 Further reading
8 External links
Further information: Folk music
Art music § Popular music
Scholars have classified music as "popular" based on various factors,
including whether a song or piece becomes known to listeners mainly
from hearing the music (in contrast with classical music, in which
many musicians learn pieces from sheet music); its appeal to diverse
listeners, its treatment as a marketplace commodity in a capitalist
context, and other factors. Sales of 'recordings' or sheet music
are one measure. Middleton and Manuel note that this definition has
problems because multiple listens or plays of the same song or piece
are not counted. Evaluating appeal based on size of audience (mass
appeal) or whether audience is of a certain social class is another
way to define popular music, but this, too, has problems in that
social categories of people cannot be applied accurately to musical
styles. Manuel states that one criticism of popular music is that it
is produced by large media conglomerates and passively consumed by the
public, who merely buy or reject what music is being produced. He
claims that the listeners in the scenario would not have been able to
make the choice of their favorite music, which negates the previous
conception of popular music. Moreover, "understandings of popular
music have changed with time". Middleton argues that if research
were to be done on the field of popular music, there would be a level
of stability within societies to characterize historical periods,
distribution of music, and the patterns of influence and continuity
within the popular styles of music.
Anahid Kassabian separated popular music into four categories;
"popular as populist," or having overtones of liberation and
expression; "popular as folk," or stating that the music is written by
the people, for themselves; "popular as counterculture," or empowering
citizens to act against the oppression they face; and "popular as
mass," or the music becomes the tool for oppression. A society's
popular music reflects the ideals that are prevalent at the time it is
performed or published. David Riesman states that the youth
audiences of popular music fit into either a majority group or a
subculture. The majority group listens to the commercially produced
styles while the subcultures find a minority style to transmit their
own values. This allows youth to choose what music they identify
with, which gives them power as consumers to control the market of
Form of Western popular music
Form in popular music is most often sectional, the most common
sections being verse, chorus or refrain, and bridge. Other common
forms include thirty-two-bar form, chorus form *(Middleton pg 30), and
Popular music songs are rarely composed using
different music for each stanza of the lyrics (songs composed in this
fashion are said to be "through-composed").
The verse and chorus are considered the primary elements. Each verse
usually has the same melody (possibly with some slight modifications),
but the lyrics change for most verses. The chorus (or "refrain")
usually has a melodic phrase and a key lyrical line which is repeated.
Pop songs may have an introduction and coda ("tag"), but these
elements are not essential to the identity of most songs. Pop songs
that use verses and choruses often have a bridge, which, as its name
suggests, is a section which connects the verse and chorus at one or
more points in the song.
The verse and chorus are usually repeated throughout a song, while the
bridge, intro, and coda (also called an "outro") tend to be used only
once. Some pop songs may have a solo section, particularly in rock or
blues-influenced pop. During the solo section, one or more instruments
play a melodic line which may be the melody used by the singer, or, in
blues- or jazz-influenced pop, the solo may be improvised based on the
chord progression. A solo usually features a single instrumental
performer (e.g., a guitarist or a harmonica player) or less commonly,
more than one instrumentalist (e.g., a trumpeter and a sax
Thirty-two-bar form uses four sections, most often eight measures long
each (4×8=32), two verses or A sections, a contrasting B section (the
bridge or "middle-eight") and a return of the verse in one last A
section (AABA). Verse-chorus form or ABA form may be combined with
AABA form, in compound AABA forms. Variations such as a1 and a2 can
also be used. The repetition of one chord progression may mark off the
only section in a simple verse form such as the twelve bar blues.
Development in North America and Europe
Main article: Music industry
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The 19th century singer
Jenny Lind depicted performing La sonnambula
"The most significant feature of the emergent popular music industry
of the late 18th and early 19th centuries was the extent of its focus
on the commodity form of sheet music". The availability of
inexpensive, widely available sheet music versions of popular songs
and instrumental music pieces made it possible for music to be
disseminated to a wide audience of amateur, middle-class music-makers,
who could play and sing popular music at home. Amateur music-making in
the 19th century often centred around the piano, as this instrument
could play melodies, chords and basslines, thus enabling a pianist to
reproduce popular songs and pieces. In addition to the influence of
sheet music, another factor was the increasing availability during the
late 18th and early 19th century of public popular music performances
in "pleasure gardens and dance halls, popular theatres and concert
The early popular music performers worked hand-in-hand with the sheet
music industry to promote popular sheet music. One of the early
popular music performers to attain widespread popularity was a Swedish
opera singer Jenny Lind, who toured the US in the mid-19th century. In
addition to living room amateur music-making during the 19th century,
more people began getting involved in music during this era by
participating in amateur choirs, joining brass bands or playing in
amateur orchestras.
The centre of the music publishing industry in the US during the late
19th century was in New York's 'Tin Pan Alley' district. The Tin Pan
Alley music publishers developed a new method for promoting sheet
music: incessant promotion of new songs. One of the technological
innovations that helped to spread popular music around the turn of the
century was player pianos. A player piano could be used to record a
skilled pianist's rendition of a piano piece. This recorded
performance could be "played back" on another player piano. This
allowed a larger number of music lovers to hear the new popular piano
tunes. By the early 1900s, the big trends in popular music were
the increasing popularity of vaudeville theaters and dance halls and a
new invention—the gramophone player. The record industry grew very
rapidly; "By 1920 there were almost 80 record companies in Britain,
and almost 200 in the USA". The availability of records enabled a
larger percentage of the population to hear the top singers and
Radio broadcasting of music, which began in the early 1920s, helped to
spread popular songs to a huge audience, enabling a much larger
proportion of the population to hear songs performed by professional
singers and music ensembles, including individuals from lower income
groups who previously would not have been able to afford concert
tickets. Radio broadcasting increased the ability of songwriters,
singers and bandleaders to become nationally known. Another factor
which helped to disseminate popular music was the introduction of
"talking pictures"—sound films—in the late 1920s, which also
included music and songs. In the late 1920s and throughout the 1930s,
there was a move towards consolidation in the recording industry,
which led several major companies to dominate the record industry.
In the 1950s and 1960s, the new invention of television began to play
an increasingly important role in disseminating new popular music.
Variety shows regularly showcased popular singers and bands. In the
1960s, the development of new technologies in recording, such as
multitrack recorders gave sound engineers and record producers an
increasingly important role in popular music. By using multitrack
recording techniques, sound engineers could create new sounds and
sound effects that were not possible using traditional "live"
recording techniques, such as singers performing their own backup
vocals or having lead guitarists play rhythm guitars behind their
guitar solo. During the 1960s era of psychedelic music, the recording
studio was used to create even more unusual sounds, in order to mimic
the effect of taking hallucinogenic drugs, some songs used tapes of
instruments played backwards or panned the music from one side to the
other of the stereo image.
In the 1970s, the trend towards consolidation in the recording
industry continued to the point that the "... dominance was in the
hands of five huge transnational organizations, three American-owned
(WEA, RCA, CBS) and two European-owned companies (EMI,
Polygram)".[according to whom?] In the 1990s, the consolidation trend
took a new turn: inter-media consolidation. This trend saw music
recording companies being consolidated with film, television,
magazines, and other media companies, an approach which facilitated
cross-marketing promotion between subsidiaries. For example, a record
company's singing star could be cross-promoted by the conglomerate's
television talk shows and magazine arms.
The "introduction of digital equipment (mixing desks, synthesizers,
samplers, sequencers)" in the 1990s resulted in what Grove Dictionary
of Music dubbed the creation of "new sound worlds", as well as
facilitating DIY music production by amateur musicians and "tiny
independent record labels". In the 1990s, the availability of
sound recording software and effects units software meant that an
amateur indie band could record an album—which required a fully
equipped recording studio in previous decades—using little more than
a laptop and a good quality microphone. That said,
the audio quality of modern recording studios still outstrips what an
amateur can produce.
Main article: Music journalist
See also: Rockism and poptimism
In contrast to Western popular music, a genre of music that is popular
outside of a Western nation, is categorized into World music. This
label turns otherwise popular styles of music into an exotic and
unknown category. The Western concept of 'World Music' homogenizes
many different genres of popular music under one accessible term for
Western audiences. New media technology has led urban music styles
to filter into distant rural areas across the globe. The rural areas,
in turn, are able to give feedback to the urban centers about the new
styles of music. Urbanization, modernization, exposure to foreign
music and mass media have contributed to hybrid urban pop styles. The
hybrid styles have also found a space within Western popular music
through the expressions of their national culture. Recipient
cultures borrow elements from host cultures and alter the meaning and
context found in the host culture. Many Western styles, in turn, have
become international styles through multinational recording
See also: African popular music
Senegalese rapper, Didier Awadi
Popular African music styles have stemmed from traditional
entertainment genres, rather than evolving from music used with
certain traditional ceremonies like weddings, births, or funerals.
African popular music
African popular music as a whole has been influenced by European
countries, African-American and Afro-Latin music, and region-specific
styles that became popular across a wider range of people. Although
due to the significance and strong position of culture in traditional
African popular music
African popular music tends to stay within the roots of
traditional African Popular Music. The genre of music,
Maskanda, is popular in its culture of origin, South Africa. Although
maskanda is a traditional music genre by definition, the people who
listen to it influence the ideals that are brought forth in the
music. A popular maskandi artist, Phuzekhemisi, had to lessen the
political influence within his music to be ready for the public
sphere. His music producer, West Nikosi, was looking for the
commercial success in Phuzekhemisi's music rather than starting a
Political songs have been an important category of African popular
music in many societies. During the continent's struggle against
colonial rule, nationalistic songs boosted citizens' morale. These
songs were based on Western marches and hymns reflecting the European
education system that the early nationalistic leaders grew up in. Not
all African political songs were based on Western styles. For example,
in South Africa, the political songs during the Anti-Apartheid
Movement were based on traditional tribal styles along with hybrid
forms of imported genres. Activists used protest and freedom songs
to persuade individuals to take action, become educated with the
struggle, and empower others to be politically conscious. These
songs reflected the nuances between the different classes involved in
the liberation struggle.
One of the genres people of Africa use for political expression is Hip
hop. Although hip hop in Africa is based on the North American
template, it has been remade to produce new meanings for African young
people. This allows the genre to be both locally and globally
influential. African youth are shaped by the fast-growing genre's
ability to communicate, educate, empower, and entertain. Artists
who would have started in traditional music genres, like maskanda,
became hip hop artists to provide a stronger career path for
themselves. These rappers compare themselves to the traditional
artists like the griot and oral storyteller, who both had a role in
reflecting on the internal dynamics of the larger society. African
hip hop creates youth culture, community intelligence, and global
See also: Music of Indonesia
KRAS, also known as Heavy Metal Punk Machine, is an Indonesian heavy
Popular music in
Indonesia can be categorized as hybrid forms of
Western rock to genres that are originated in
Indonesia and indigenous
in style. The genre of music, Dangdut, is a genre of popular music
specifically found in Indonesia.
Dangdut formed two other styles of
popular music, Indo-pop and Underground, together to create a new
hybrid or fusion genre. The genre takes the noisy instrumentation from
Underground, but still makes it easy to listen to like Indo-pop.
Dangdut attempts to form many popular music genres like rock, pop, and
traditional music to create this new sound that lines up with the
consumers' tastes. This genre has formed into a larger social
movement that includes clothing, youth culture, the resurgence of
Islam, and the capitalist entertainment industry.
Another music scene that is popular in
Indonesia is Punk rock. This
genre was shaped in
Indonesia by the local interpretations of the
media from the larger global punk movement. Jeremy Wallach argues
Green Day was seen as the "death of punk," in Indonesia
they were the catalyst for a larger punk movement. Punk in
Indonesia calls on the English-speaking world to embrace the global
sects of the punk culture and become open-minded to the transnational
In a 2015 study involving young students in Shanghai, youths stated
they enjoyed listening to both Chinese, other Asian nationalities, and
Anglo-American popular music. There are three ways that young people
China were able to access global music. The first reason was a
policy change since the late 1970s where the country was opened up to
the rest of the world instead of being self-contained. This created
more opportunities for Chinese people to interact with people outside
of their country of origin to create a more globalized culture. The
second reason is that the Chinese television and music industry since
the 1980s has broadcast television shows from their neighboring Asian
societies and the West. The third reason is the impact of the internet
and smartphones on the accessibility of streaming music.
In 2015, students in
China accounted for 30.2% of China's internet
population and the third and fifth most popular uses of the internet
were respectively, internet music and internet video use. The youths
described being able to connect to the emotions and language of the
Chinese music, but also enjoyed the melodies found within
Anglo-American music. The students also believed that listening to the
English music would improve their English language skills.
Iranian rock band Kiosk, live in 2007
Modernization of music in the Arab world involved borrowing
inspiration from Turkish music and Western musical styles. The
late Egyptian singer, Umm Kulthum, stated,
"We must respect ourselves and our art. The Indians have set a good
example for us - they show great respect for themselves and their
arts. Wherever they are, they wear their native dress and their music
is known throughout the world. This is the right way."
She discussed this to explain why Egypt and the Arab world needed to
take pride in the popular music styles originating in their culture so
the styles were not lost in the modernization. Local musicians
learned Western instrumental styles to create their own popular styles
including their native languages and indigenous musical features.
Communities in throughout the Arab world place high value on their
indigenous musical identities while assimilating to new musical styles
from neighboring countries or mass media. Through the 1980s and
1990s, popular music has been seen as a problem for the Iranian
government because of the non-religious meanings within the music and
the bodily movements of dancing or headbanging. During this time
period, metal became a popular underground subculture through the
Middle East. Just like their Western counterparts, Middle Eastern
metal followers expressed their feelings of alienation. But their
thoughts came from war and social restrictions on youth.
In interviews of Iranian teenagers between 1990 and 2004, the youth
overall preferred Western popular music, even though it was banned by
the government. Iranian underground rock bands are composed of
members who are young, urban-minded, educated, relatively well-off,
and global beings. Iranian rock is described by the traits that these
band members possess. The youth who take part in underground music
Middle East are aware of the social constraints of their
countries, but they are not optimistic about social change.
Iranian rock bands have taken up an internationalist position to
express their rebellion from the discourses in their national
List of popular music performers
List of popular music genres
Popular music pedagogy
List of honorific titles in popular music
Music popularity index
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