The Mancunion

Britain's biggest student newspaper

2015: The year when pop was cooler than rock

Whether you like it or not, pop is making somewhat of a comeback this year and it’s not just in the mainstream.

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Pop is dominating the charts right now. If you want confirmation of this, look no further than the ridiculousness that is Justin Bieber’s new album. Who would have thought that the guy we loved to hate would turn out to be the guy we hate to love—all in the space of a few months. Whilst it is clear that his ego has been taken down a few pegs and his image rebranded, too—he is also releasing pop anthem after pop anthem that even the most self-proclaimed, chart-loathing individuals cannot help but catch themselves singing along to when they think they’re alone. The UK Top 40 this week features a record-breaking EIGHT singles from Bieber’s new album whilst Adele is smashing fastest album sales ever. Mainstream pop is alive and well and ruling the charts, and one-hit wonder, deep house tracks have been pushed aside to make room for guilt-free, pure pop supremacy.

It’s even infiltrating other music scenes with edgy queen and alternative girl crush, Grimes, producing one of the poppiest albums of 2015 so far, Art Angels. Grimes’ previously ethereal sound has been replaced with songs that drip with as much glucose as an early 00s chart banger—though it’s a twisted take which is thrillingly and unmistakeably her own. She’s not alone, with artists like MØ, BANKS, Charli XCX and Chvrches also fore-fronting this regeneration of pop music. There is a new sense of female empowerment attached to these artists. In decline are the over-commercialised pop princesses, and here to reign are the alt-pop queens—ready to inspire us to grab our hairbrushes and sing along to pop songs we can be proud of. The cool girls are reclaiming pop and making it relevant again.

This cross-pollination of music genres however, have come at the sacrifice of the once ruling indie and rock bands. This pop rock crossover has even created the ideal climate for Busted to make a comeback, encapsulating perfectly this strange regression to our pre-teen conception of what constituted a rock band. Boybands are masquerading as rock bands, brandishing instruments and creating records lacking in substance. They cater to their tween audiences and leave the rest of us wondering what happened. Even going through old albums, we can see the gradual transformation of our favourite rock bands into pop rock hybrids. I think perhaps the reason we are more reluctant to embrace these bands as much is that rock and indie groups have different responsibilities to music lovers. Their songs have been our companions through the best and worst of times in a way which other genres sometimes can’t seem to achieve. Rock, in itself, is an institution—and the grittiness, honesty and rawness of rock doesn’t always translate well into pop—leaving us feeling a little underwhelmed and certainly unsatisfied.

I’m not saying that pop is to blame for the decline in rock music. As Alex Turner had once infamously proclaimed whilst accepting a Brits award in 2014, “yeah that Rock‘n’Roll… it will never die.” Although it certainly took a sabbatical in 2015, like pop, rock will have its comeback. These days, music genres seem to come into fashion as quickly as it goes out. The world of music is a fickle place, with last year’s underground techno lovers, and this year’s grime aficionados. However, for the time being at least, pop appears to be here to stay for a while. It’s permeating all corners of the music globe, with R’n’B, rap and house all taking a pop injection, too. I for one, am embracing it—pop is no longer my guilty pleasure but the feel-good respite we could all do with this winter.