The anatomy of a modern pop song

Have pop songs changed at all over the decade and do they need to?

The next time you find yourself out dancing at a club, have a close listen to the blaring music. 

What you’ll find is a lineup of hit tracks straight off the assembly line. In today's monotonous musical landscape of shimmering EDM tracks, beat drops and catchy hooks, the adage "good artists copy; great artists steal," has never been more fitting.

The parallels between pop songs have been around long before the era of Bieber and The Chainsmokers. From Led Zeppelin's hallmark hit, 'Stairway to Heaven', to Robin Thicke's smash single, 'Blurred Lines', record companies and artists have been pointing the copyright finger for decades. However, it's unclear whether these similarities are really foul play, or an inevitable product of pop music's increasing homogeneity.

The origins of pop music are often traced back to the 1950s and 60s, during the era of The Rolling Stones, The Beatles and ABBA. Today, pop music has broadened beyond the rock and roll genre to include an eclectic mix of styles, including hip hop, EDM and country. 

In 2015, the global music industry was valued at around $15 billion. It's unsurprising, that pop music is losing its sense of ingenuity in exchange for consistent commercial success. 

When examining society's most beloved songs, I often notice recurring themes: finding and losing love, sex, addiction, loss and death. We, as fans, being able to see a piece of our lives articulated musically by celebrities elicits a sense of attachment to the artist. 

This leads to another particularly interesting shared aspect of popular tunes: their juxtaposition of somber lyrics and light melodies. 

Take Mike Posner's recent reappearance on the charts with ‘I Took a Pill in Ibiza'. Arguably the anthem of the summer, countless partygoers, me included, have belted the lyrics to this soaring dance tune. 

Surprisingly, however, a closer examination of Posner’s words paints a picture of a disillusioned, lonely, washed-up artist with a substance abuse problem. A wretched singer professing his most debilitating burdens through an upbeat tune is alluringly paradoxical, and may explain why so many listeners are drawn instinctively to these complex songs. 

The uniformity of pop music is undoubtedly also a product of the monolithic nature of song writing. With powerhouse producers, like Sweden's Max Martin, shaping nearly all of the greatest hits it's no wonder that pop songs sound formulaic. 

From the Backstreet Boys' ‘I Want It That Way’, to Taylor Swift's ‘Shake It Off’, and even Adele's latest single, ‘Send My Love (To Your New Lover)’, Martin's work has dominated the charts for decades.

But at the end of the day, that’s not to say the tried-and-true pop song formula produces bad music, or that music of the pop persuasion is any less valid than those of other genres. 

In fact, pop music's sheer listening reach is breathtaking. The most compelling pop tunes have managed to replicate this proven rubric while adding in enough individual flair to take listeners on an exciting journey.

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