pop music

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pop music

Development phase: 1950s
Place of origin: United KingdomUnited Kingdom United Kingdom , United States
United StatesUnited States 
Instruments typical of the genre
Bassdrum computervocalsguitarkeyboardsequencerdrumssynthesizer
Stylistic origin
Beat musicDoo-WopFolkRock 'n' RollR&BJazz
Art Pop • Bubblegum PopCantopopChristian PopDance-PopElectro-PopEuropopItalo PopJ-PopK-PopLatin Pop • Operatic Pop • Progressive Pop • Sophisti Pop • Synthiepop • Space-Age Pop • Sunshine Pop • Teen Pop
Fusion genres
Baroque Pop • Country Pop , • Disco • Experimental Pop • Indie Pop • Jangle Pop • New WavePop PunkPop RapPop RockPower Pop • Psychedelic Pop • Smooth JazzR&B • Wonky Pop

Pop music refers to music that has mainly emerged from rock 'n' roll , beat music , folk , but also jazz since the 1950s . It was continued by the Beatles , shaped by ABBA from the beginning of the 1970s and, for example, by Madonna and Michael Jackson from the 1980s . It has been an internationally established variant of Anglo-American music since the 1960s , which arose in the context of youthful subcultures and is now mostly processed and disseminated in the mass media on the basis of practice and knowledge from electronic music .

A distinction is made between popular music and pop music. Contrary to the stigma of the popular , pop music has the aftertaste of the "lively" and fresh music event. The term popular music , on the other hand, conveys a feeling of scientific distance from the subject.

Terms pop music and popular music

In musicological terms, pop music is not to be equated with popular music , although the term is also used in this sense, especially in sociological literature. Similar to the art genre Pop-Art , the popularity of which led to the use of the term pop around 1962 , the derivation of pop as an abbreviation for popular is insufficient. According to Peter Wicke, pop music represents "technically recontextualized music and thus in principle any form of music that can achieve an economically profitable degree of distribution". Therefore it is hardly possible to restrict them to certain musical characteristics.

On the other hand, the term is filled with different meanings and evaluations in the literature. The musicologist Tibor Kneif explains : "Today the term pop-rock describes a direction within rock music that is slipping into the kitschy, cheaply sentimental direction". The terms beat and rock music are also used synonymously with pop . In music magazines such as Spex or Rolling Stone , the terms pop and sometimes rock 'n' roll were used to emphasize the dimensions of pop music that go beyond the musical, while the term rock focuses more on musical parameters.

The term popular can be traced much earlier in music history than in the 1960s, when the term pop music was coined as part of the development of pop culture . The German term Volkslied as a translation of the English term popular song comes from a 1773 review by Johann Gottfried Herder about a collection of English and Scottish ballads published in England in 1765 .

The term popular music sometimes refers to so-called popular music in the field of tension between serious and popular music , utility music in contrast to absolute music, or functional music in contrast to autonomous music .

Characterization of pop music

The development of pop music, which began in 1965, reached its end in the 1980s as a purely youth cultural phenomenon. Pop music has largely become a socially accepted phenomenon and part of everyday culture. Numerous pop musicians were now making music specifically for adult audiences.

The pop music now produced for the " mainstream " not only refers to its own original tradition from the vaudeville , the folk song and the art song , but also incorporates various current musical styles. In doing so, it usually removes the complexity of the original forms of music, removes what is unusual and irritating for the common listening habits, in order to make them more accessible and consumable for a broad mass of people. This is particularly true of modified, “tamed” borrowings from original Afro-American musical styles such as jazz , but also rap . The success of commercially oriented pop music is measured in the hit parades . Pop music is the most commercially lucrative branch of the music industry today .

In contrast to art music, pop music is often assigned attributes such as " simplicity " or " triviality ": in particular, through simple harmonics that are perceived as pleasant , easy-to-remember melody sequences that are often based on diatonic scales, less complex, continuous rhythms , a classic song structure of verse and chorus as well as a gentle, melody-stressed singing . However, these are not general characteristics that apply to all forms of popular music. The characterization of pop music as "simple" mostly follows a conscious or unconscious juxtaposition with classical music, which is usually rhythmically, harmonically and melodically more complex.

History of popular and pop music

Popular music in the Middle Ages

In times of feudal systems of rule, music had two main tasks: For the rulers or nobles, the music played at court, which was considered to be demanding and perfect, was not only entertainment, but also a status symbol, since at least in the Middle Ages only wealthy nobles or princes were professional musicians and could afford expensive instruments , while with the population, who were mostly separated over the villages, the music was played less often and only on certain occasions such as weddings or Thanksgiving festivals by low-skilled casual musicians and only had to fulfill the function of being "danceable". The separation between the (musical) layers was quite permeable, because in order to be able to bypass the strict etiquette at court, the nobility invented the masked balls , at which the noble society disguised themselves as simple people and unabashedly imitated their exuberant festivals including music.

However, the rapid spread of pieces of music or even the development of new musical styles was hindered by several factors: the people were relatively isolated due to the village structure, and exchanges were rare; traveling musicians rarely came and did not stay long enough to learn new pieces by heart; most people could not read and write, and thus could not record their own songs, the ability to record sounds in the form of notes was even rarer. In Austria and Germany , it was even more difficult that until a few hundred years ago, for example, There were sometimes enormous language barriers because people who came from far away could barely understand some regional dialects .

Popular music consisted mainly of the song , which was recorded almost exclusively in religious contexts. Exceptions such as the Carmina Burana (1230) allow an insight into the practice of medieval singing. Melodies are only partially preserved, however, and it is no longer possible to say how they were sung. The tradition of counterfacture shows that secular melodies also influenced religious music. Recordings were not necessary for music practice. Famous melodies such as the "timbres" of the vaudevilles since the 15th century spread incredibly quickly despite the arduous traffic routes.

19th century

Until the end of the 18th century, the spread of music itself was limited to copying music sheets, as the notation system was too complicated for letter printing; it was only possible to produce individual copies of sheet music using the mechanical method of engraving (even in the absence of writers capable of reading music). This only changed when Alois Senefelder invented the stone plate printing process ( lithography ). This made it possible for the first time in Munich in 1796 to apply a score written on special paper as a negative and to print it true to the original. Although only a few copies were initially possible with this process, the invention of the steam engine and the improvement of technology made it possible to produce larger print runs of sheet music as early as the early 19th century. The industrialization of sheet music printing had significant consequences for the development of popular music: the music of the "simple" people could now for the first time be cheaply reproduced in masses, which resulted in a standardization of the versions of classical folk songs in terms of text and tone sequence, similarly the “standardization” of German fairy tales through the compilation of the Brothers Grimm ; In the case of classical concert and opera music, a trend set in that is not unlike today's “ covering ” of pop songs. B. whole operas rearranged for a few or just one instrument - with sometimes strange results such as Mozart's Magic Flute as a pure flute solo. This created a completely new profession: the “ arranger ”, who tinkered “fresh” versions from well-known material from classical composers.

The major social upheavals of the 19th century naturally also had an impact on popular music. The urbanization z. B. led to an adaptation of the dialects within the large urban communities, the cities took on the function of cultural “melting pots” in which people from different regions also exchanged musical ideas. The small rural communities in the urban area transformed into the large professional class of industrial workers, who still had to work a lot, but now celebrated their occasional festivities on a large scale (the Oktoberfest in Munich is probably a well-known example). But also the bourgeoisie , increasingly gaining influence and wealth, found a common place and style of music in salons and variety shows . The increasing speed with which people and goods were able to move throughout Europe also facilitated the spread of new styles; in the field of dance music , the waltz is an example.

Development in the United States

There are two main reasons why the USA hardly played a role in music history up until the first half of the 19th century: Firstly, the social conditions were different from those in Europe; before the USA was founded, apart from the Indian cultures, there were only individual colonies more European Nations that did not have an independent cultural identity, but simply imported the cultural assets and music of the mother nations; Second, the process of opening up the West first had to be completed so that a stable social structure and an independent cultural identity could develop.

African American music tradition

Particularly important for the development of popular music, however, was the difference between the groups of people classified as “ races ”: While the population of European descent, despite an American self-confidence in cultural terms, remained largely attached to their mostly European roots, the African-Americans were abducted from Africa as slaves and into the United States has often been deliberately segregated from people of their own ethnic group. Since the settlement structure in Africa was decentralized and some tribes also lived nomadically, the displaced persons in the USA were not only faced with a language barrier (almost everyone spoke a different language or dialect), but also with a cultural problem, as there were no “national” songs that was known to all. In addition, they were forbidden to practice their cultural traditions, including music. So the slaves not only had to learn the language of their “owners” (speaking or singing in their native language was often a punishable offense on the cotton plantations), but also had to agree on common topics, which were mostly influenced by Christian missionaries . On the other hand, as a result of this suppression and forcible separation from their home culture, the Afro-Americans were the first Americans to develop something like a common new culture based on elements taken over from European culture in conjunction with African traditions. In the first half of the 19th century, this did not play a special role due to its status and social situation.

After the war of secession , which at least formally gave the slaves the freedom to choose a career, many of the former slaves streamed from the plantations in the south to the industrial centers in the north to earn their living there, but a not insignificant proportion also took up other “simple” professions which were not of particular interest to whites. B. also the profession of the salon musician, who mostly mastered various popular musical styles. More and more blacks mingled with the previously pure white minstrels . Some former plantation workers founded their own small bands immediately after the civil war and bought, among other things. a. the discarded instrument stocks of the quite numerous military bands. In the first 20 years after the civil war, this led to an increasing dominance of blacks in professional musicians, while white musicians predominantly occupied areas such as the “elegant” classical orchestras. From centers like New Orleans , which had developed into a musical center as early as the 19th century due to comparatively greater freedom for Afro-Americans, and Chicago , black musicians gained a significant influence on the development of popular music in the USA. This can be seen z. For example, the increasing imitations of “black” compositions by white composers in the second half of the 19th century. Finally, towards the end of the 19th century, the first style of music influenced by blacks developed, which became a kind of national “trend”: ragtime . The emerging jazz music is considered the first independent American form of popular music.


The ragtime (in German about "Fetzentakt") arose in the 1890s from dances of African American people such as the cakewalk , the jig or the strut, borrowed from European cultural tradition and interpreted in their own way, and was originally conceived as dance music, many of them early Ragtimes also have the time signature "march time", so they are related to the march from Europe - not least because of this, the first ragtimes by white composers were written around 1885. Scott Joplin , whose first pieces were published in 1895, is considered the most important composer of ragtime . He succeeded in turning music from brothels and pubs into a generally recognized style suitable for concerts, not least thanks to his abilities on the piano , the instrument of ragtime and in general during this period, compared to the genius of Mozart , Chopin and Brahms . He achieved a special milestone in music history in 1899 when he published his Maple Leaf Rag , whose "sheet of music" (English for "sheet music" - the popular music of that time was therefore also called "sheet music") within a very short time sold a million times - a previously unseen success of a short piece of light music. Ragtime finally merged with blues and jazz from around 1916 .

Start of record recording and development of the music industry

Media and music publishers

The most important live medium for popular music was the theater until the first third of the 20th century, from the boulevard theater to the music hall . There was hardly any pure concert music. Printed music notes were mainly memories of theatrical experiences. Sound recordings in the early history of the gramophone also fulfilled this function. With the advent of radio and, above all, television , the theater lost this dominance.

In the first two decades of the 20th century, the technology for recording and reproducing sound recordings had developed to such an extent that it was fully commercially viable; Apart from the poor sound quality, the phonograph developed in 1877 was so expensive that only richer Americans could afford such a device. In 1902 the Caruso arias became the first worldwide record - "hit".

The business with music and sheet music was controlled from the so-called " Tin Pan Alley " in New York , where most of the major music publishers of the time were based. Their rise began with the increasing demand for the song sheets (sheet music) and song books (song books) from the 1890s, especially through the popular "rags", the hits of the ragtime era, which, however, musically little to the instrumental ragtime had to do. They started out from revues like the Ziegfeld Follies , Vaudevilles , Minstrel Shows or Musical Comedy .

Tin Pan Alley made a decisive contribution to the increased commercialization of popular music in the USA: only that was released here that would most certainly meet the mass tastes of a possibly large market. If composers wanted to publish more classical pieces, they were usually rejected here and had to take the detour via Europe or publish them themselves. In addition to the factors of the proliferation of phonographs and the growing popularity of Broadway musicals in the 1920s, the introduction of talkies was a particularly important turning point in the second half of the decade as the film and music industries began to merge (e. B. the film studio Warner Brothers became active as a music publisher).

The "successful producers" of Tin Pan Alley, despite prominent competition like Irving Berlin and George Gershwin, are the producers and composers Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein , who not only with the commercial success of their musical Oklahoma! , which was still successful 50 years after its world premiere and as an LP crossed the million mark for the first time (as well as having sold two million copies worldwide as a score in a few years), set a milestone, but was also the first artist to even make an inflation-adjusted comparison With today's fees, they only achieved an exorbitant income of $ 15 to 20 million annually.

Blues and Country

From around 1920 it was possible to produce records and the corresponding playback devices that were affordable for the common people in terms of sound quality for the time. These records were sold in drugstores and general stores for a few cents, the playback devices were available from furniture dealers. Crank turntables, which became popular during this period, were of particular interest to the rural population who were not connected to the power grid.

In order to open up the new market, recordings of minority music such as the soon-to-be-so-called "Race Music" of the African-Americans and the old-time music of the white rural population in the south of the country were also made. In February 1920 the first blues record was released, recorded by Mamie Smith . It sold so well that the music industry suddenly became very interested in the black blues singers who had previously only been heard in so-called vaudeville theaters. Just how close the blues was to the roots from the time of slavery is shown by the country blues , which were also very popular during this period, alongside the "classic" blues , which clearly resembled the work songs and "field hollers" of the plantation workers in terms of text and music . In order to meet the demand for blues records, special music labels were founded by the record companies, which initially only signed black singers - including Bessie Smith and John Lee Hooker .

Country music , which was later referred to as this and which had developed from various folk music styles of European immigrants, especially Irish and English, was discovered as a sales market from around 1923. The businessmen Polk Brookmann and particularly successful Ralph Peer discovered the commercial potential of the music of the remote mountain regions of the Appalachians . Due to its popularity, the music was also promoted in part to curb the nationwide enthusiasm of many whites for ragtime . During the Great Depression of the 1930s, country music, which was also popular with southern blacks , was popularized by the state as unifying American music.

Swing and rock 'n' roll

The Swing , which had its heyday (the so-called "Swing Craze") about 1935 to 1945, was the first style of popular music, which reached the entire American society without differences between black and white or rich and poor. This was not least due to the character of this style, which was geared towards danceability instead of "statement". In a certain sense, this music is also a commitment by the Americans to size and effort, manifested by the big bands , which consist of twice or three times as many musicians as the usual jazz formations. In big bands with 14 or more members, the collective improvisation typical of jazz was practically ruled out; instead, solos by individual musicians, mostly by well-known “star soloists”, were used. The swing contains clearly audible elements of jazz, but also of “white” music styles, whereby the share of black music in swing is often underestimated, as many of the well-known big bands were strongly cast in white due to racist restrictions. The best-known black band leader is likely to be Duke Ellington , more well-known names can be found among the whites such as B. Benny Goodman , Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey , Les Brown and of course Glenn Miller . Not least due to the Second World War , the swing remained an almost exclusively US-American phenomenon, which only found a certain distribution as an "import" in Great Britain . The widespread view that the 1930s to 1950s brought the artistic peak of (sung) popular music creation in the USA is expressed in the term Great American Songbook , which is used to describe an unspecified number of outstanding songs in American popular music of the time .

The rock 'n' roll as a musical style is a synthesis of several independently created (regional) styles, the most important being the rhythm and blues (short R & B) and the country substyles western swing and honky tonk . The R&B is basically a blues style, but it also contains elements from special jazz and swing styles and was shaped by “vocal groups” with only minor instrumental accompaniment (mostly guitar only ). The most important regional forms were the R&B from Chicago, the z. B. Chuck Berry influenced, and the New Orleans variant, the most famous representative of which was Fats Domino .

The Western Swing is a variety of marked by the white rural population of the US Southern Country -music with elements of swing, the end of the 1930s it became known special lift but only by the ASCAP got -Streit 1944th He influenced well-known artists such as Bing Crosby and Bill Haley .

Not least because of the previously unknown star cult around the "King" Elvis Presley , rock 'n' roll became a global trend, which also took hold of Europe, which had now recovered somewhat from the Second World War, and thus Austria and Germany, where one could find oneself again longed for entertainment and (“innocent”) role models . In addition, he had a decisive influence on the youth cult in pop music, since in rock 'n' roll the performers were first selected by the record companies mainly on the basis of age proximity to the target audience and were often only amateur musicians. The emergence of rock 'n' roll is closely related to the massive social upheavals of this time and, together with the beats, also marks the beginning development of pop culture .

A short-lived trend of rock 'n' roll was the “ twist ” at the beginning of the 1960s, which was replaced by the beat music of the Beatles and others, which determined this decade. Finally, the musical styles summarized under the term “ rock ” followed. Since then, rock 'n' roll and subsequent styles have greatly reduced the popularity of previous styles such as entertainers and hits and determine the pop music charts . Since the commercialization of rock 'n' roll (and thus also the weakening of its resistive potential) in the late 1950s, trends in pop music in Europe and the rest of the world have been shaped by the USA, not only for aesthetic but also economic reasons .

Functions of modern pop music and future

Countless new styles and sub-styles of pop music have developed since the 1960s. The function of the styles is mainly in the entertainment aspect . Nevertheless, musicians like Bob Dylan , in the early 1960s, also succeeded in creating a popular synthesis of music and political content and, like John Lennon in his song Imagine, for example, to spread a philosophical idea. With the song Houses Burning Down in 1968 Jimi Hendrix processed current political and social events. The song is about the Watts riot .

Examples of the commercialization of new trends

Pop music was and is always a means of expression of a generation or a milieu and serves to convey a communal attitude towards life and a common aesthetic , which e.g. B. in the form of music and in clothing.

An example of a milieu style is rap , which was originally just the music of black youth in the American big city ghettos and whose roots go back to rhythm and blues. It was not until around 1990 that the media corporations, who were always looking for new trends, “highly promoted” rap as a globally popular music style, although this development was not limited to music, because the hip-hop movement's clothing style also became general in the 1990s Fashion trend and is now almost an integral part of our fashion consciousness. Examples of styles that span generations are the flower power movement and the disco music of the 1970s. However, the music producers now not only support mass movements, but also globally distributed, but in contrast to the music of a Britney Spears or Madonna, music styles that are in demand only by a smaller target group in cultural niches such as. B. Gothic rock . This is the result of the extremely tough competition among producers, which almost forces them to take advantage of any trend that promises sales in any way or even to create new, "unused" trends themselves.

In contrast, with another function that has always covered popular music, the individual tailoring is not at all required, but mainly the rhythm and the satisfaction of the masses, mainstream . The aim here is not a differentiated aesthetic standard, but rather encouragement and accompaniment to dance . The best-known successors of swing as dance music, in addition to the twist of the early 1960s, are above all disco music, which had largely lost its underground character since the mid-1970s , and which were part of the later popular techno .

In the early 1980s, German-language pop music experienced a major boom in Germany as part of the Neue Deutsche Welle . Austropop existed in Austria and enjoyed great popularity.

Film and popular music

In connection with disco music, the aspect of the interrelationship between film and music becomes interesting again, since in the rock 'n' roll era music films were more the result of the already popular style, while disco music its worldwide Triumphant advance as a result of the film Saturday Night Fever began in 1978. Not least because of this film and its successors, the trend was strengthened to provide pictures with music (music and related pictures had been around since the Nickelodeons ). The most significant date in this context is August 1, 1981, when the first niche television channel for music videos only went on air in the USA : MTV . From now on there was hardly a pop musician who became a star if his songs did not have a video. Accordingly, the greatest pop star and the greatest video artist of the 1980s are mutually dependent - Michael Jackson . The videos are by no means a necessary component of pop music - it can do without them - but rather something like commercials that are intended to draw attention to the artist and his product with the most intense, unusual or spectacular images possible.


Even if one could get the impression that pop music is slowly but surely stagnating in its development, significant changes are looming for the future in connection with the progress of communication and computer technology . Just as the development of electronic amplification and post-processing, the synthesizer , digital recording, etc. changed the sound of music, so will the new possibilities of dissemination through the Internet also decisively change the current form of music production. The singles known since around 1900 and the albums that were added later could soon be history, as fewer customers spend money on a data carrier on which only the music of individual artists is stored when individual interesting pieces are simply free via file sharing such as peer-to-peer - Networks or can be downloaded from the Internet for a fee from commercial providers. In view of the sheer unbelievable abundance of music titles on the Internet, the possibility of consuming pieces of music without saving them permanently on your own computer (e.g. via music streaming offers) is becoming increasingly important.

Pop music and politics

Political content has a long tradition in pop music. In addition to the topics of love, sex and partnership, social and political motives have always been represented in popular music, albeit with different intensity, different artistic content and for a wide variety of reasons. In general, however, the effectiveness of politically motivated music is often underestimated by the media and science.

In fact, however, political pop music is one of the most important areas of popular music, from which a clear aesthetic effect emanates. One should not confuse the concept of political aesthetics with the aesthetic effect of politically oriented pop music, although similar means are often used in both areas. In the political aesthetics as well as in the field of the aesthetics of politically oriented pop music, advertising techniques and suggestion are used. Both aesthetic forms are aimed at mass effects, with the aim of establishing an emotional identification of the addressed masses with the content of the politicians and musicians. Of course, the goals differ enormously. While politicians try to use aesthetic means to arouse and consolidate the awe of the citizens on the one hand, and to evoke a willingness to support a party or a person on the other, politically motivated pop music often focuses on the self-portrayal of the artist.

The musicians proclaim a message, the content of which is mostly secondary; what matters is the myth it emanates. Pop music follows exactly the structures of the myths of everyday life by always falling back on what is already there, known. It is therefore never authentic, but plagiaristic. Pop music has therefore always borrowed from other styles of music.

“Pop music uses the aura of authentic forms of music to encode a completely different message with them. The same goes for the lyrics. They are latently poetic, but seldom authentically poetic, they are latent ideological, but rarely openly ideological, they are latently political, but never really political, they are latently socially critical, but never get to the bottom of the matter. "

But it is precisely this fact that is heavily criticized by musicologists and journalists. Obviously the prerequisites for the creation of pop music are forgotten. The musicians try to arouse as much public interest as possible with their music. However, this can only succeed if the audience is not presented with a fait accompli. The music is supposed to stimulate the imagination of the recipient, statements with an unrestricted truthful character would soon bore the audience.

This approach does not mean that political content has to fall by the wayside, but only that the musicians strive to give the audience a leeway to interpret the outgoing messages. The representatives of pop music can very well act critical of the system, but if they acted in a way that destroys the system, then they would evade their own (livelihood) basis.

The boundaries of pop music in this area are clearly defined; no matter how disrespectful the musicians are to the establishment, they know that they are part of it. Although this circumstance seems to restrict artistic freedom, political pop groups operate very successfully in the international music scene.

Ideally, the representatives of pop music succeed in educating the audience to become politically conscious without having to present solutions to musically treated political issues at the same time. If the musicians actually always presented solutions, they would soon no longer be musicians, but rather to be found in the field of (party) politics.

Bono , singer of the Irish pop group U2 , made a statement in this context that, like no other, demonstrates the hopeless demands of the musicians on the exaggerated expectations of the audience and the media: "It is damn dangerous to be constantly presented as the mouthpiece of a generation, when you have nothing else to say but 'Help!' But we don't say more with our music. Don't keep asking us for answers, we can't give them to you. All we can do is ask the right questions! "

The question is therefore not how political popular music is, but whether it is political and whether it is at all a suitable medium for disseminating political content. The latter can definitely be affirmed, as the strength of pop songs lies in their communicability. "Songs can communicate even to those who can't read and write and, at their best, can inspire, console, dodge round censors and frontiers, summarize a political mood, or as that most political star of the salsa world, RUBEN BLADES, put it, 'tell people they are not alone'. "

The musicians soon realized that this made them part of a privileged class of the population; with their work they could reach large numbers of people with relative ease. Because of their popularity, they were able to exert a great influence on political and social decisions.

It is not surprising that in the early days of pop music musicians were mainly concerned with problems in their immediate social environment. Since pop music was often made by young artists, the development of political pop music went hand in hand with the development of political youth movements.

Political pop music therefore had its origins in the 1960s with the emergence of the flower power movement. But even before that, singers like Woody Guthrie or Pete Seeger were instrumental in the development of political pop through their critical questioning of the modern form of society. Her most famous protagonist, however, was Bob Dylan , the innovator of the protest song.

With the success of singers like Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan and Pete Seeger, who dealt not only with war but also with questions of human rights, environmental policy, nuclear energy and racial segregation, political concerns increasingly established themselves in pop music. What is interesting about this development is that the politically oriented musicians and bands and their messages are still generally attributed to the left political camp.

In fact, the political concerns of the pioneers of Polit-Pop, such as fighting unemployment and lifting class barriers, have not lost their importance to this day. In Great Britain in particular, these topics are still very popular with audiences. Bands like Simple Minds or U2, as well as musicians like Sting and Peter Gabriel , were very popular with the audience, not least for this reason.

Despite the growing number of politically interested musicians, the level of effectiveness that political pop music was able to achieve with audiences was consistently underestimated. Up until the 1980s, politicians did not want to allow the musicians' committed work to have any real political impact. Even then there were certainly enough examples of political changes brought about by pop musicians.

In 1982, for example, on the occasion of a political demonstration in front of over 50,000 people in Washington , Stevie Wonder laid the foundation stone for the establishment of the so-called Martin Luther King holiday in America when he said: “... we need a day to celebrate our work on an unfinished symphony, a day for a dress rehearsal for our solidarity. ”Although this holiday, the first ever in the United States to be dedicated to a black man, was not his idea, it was the popularity of Stevie Wonders, of politicians like Reverend Jesse Jackson and it was thanks to John Conyers that this matter got through.

The black US musicians in particular gave the term political pop a new meaning. “The tradition had grown up in the days of slavery, when the blues and gospel provided one uncontrollable outlet for black expression. No one could stop the music in the fields or in the churches, and black America's preachers haven't forgotten what a powerful medium a song can be; .... 'Songs,' said Reverend Cecil Franklin, 'have the advantage of being packaged and wrapped in universal appeal. Songs are not limited by natural or human boundaries. '“This old tradition of political content in the music of black Americans is continued today in the style of rap. Rap music represents one of the most important forms of political articulation among the black population in the United States today.

Another example of the tremendous impact the work of pop musicians can have on a political level is undoubtedly the life's work of Bob Marley . Not only did Bob Marley become the first musician from a third world country to establish himself in the league of western superstars, many of his songs also became symbols of a promising political vision.

In Great Britain, Bob Marley's reggae music inspired the Rock-Against-Racism (RAR) movement, which is still a very successful forum for political concerns among young people interested in music. The style of reggae music was very well received in England, not least because of its most famous representative, Bob Marley. Bands like UB40 or The Police dealt with this style in many of their songs. Even though reggae in white pop music was more and more from a style to a stylistic device, the spread of this style of music by white musicians still gives hope that the original political character of this music will not be forgotten too quickly.

Live Aid and A Tribute to Nelson Mandela

On July 13, 1985, the largest pop festival in history to date was held. Live Aid was a benefit concert organized by musician Bob Geldof after watching a TV movie about the starving population of Ethiopia . After Geldof was able to win the singer of the band Ultravox , Midge Ure , for the idea, more and more music stars expressed their interest in this event. In the end, almost all the relevant pop musicians of the time were represented at Live Aid. In favor of helping the people, all those involved waived a fee. By mid-1987 the event had raised about £ 60 million.

In 1988 the “A Tribute To Nelson Mandela” concert was one of the most important political manifestations in the history of pop music. Songs like Mandela Day from Simple Minds , Brothers in Arms from Dire Straits , Tracy Chapman's Talkin '' Bout a Revolution or Peter Gabriel's Biko became symbols of the new political understanding among young listeners. Nelson Mandela was released from prison 20 months after the concert .

After the successes of Live Aid and A Tribute To Nelson Mandela, there was an almost inflationary number of similar events, so that soon a large number of well-known stars stood up against an overuse of this idea in order to avoid the political message of such events could fade into the background in favor of the individual promotion interests of some aspiring talents. Last but not least, the industry had also discovered the advertising effectiveness of these major events, which at the end of the 1980s deterred many well-known music greats from continuing to participate without hesitation in each of these benefit concerts. As a sign of political resistance, however , the pop concert retained its serious importance. Nuclear power plant politics, environmental destruction and drug problems are the newer topics of political pop.

In the course of the development of political pop, there were repeated misunderstandings and appropriations of the musicians on the part of some political representatives. An example of this is the Irish band U2, often associated with the Irish Republican Army (IRA) . This not least because of the fact that representatives of the IRA repeatedly pointed out the intellectual proximity of some U2 texts to the ideas of the terrorist organization. The specific reason for such speculation was the song Sunday Bloody Sunday , the text of which the IRA members misunderstood as a call to resistance against the British occupiers in Northern Ireland . The members of the band publicly denied this several times, but when the rumors did not stop, Bono recorded during a concert in the USA as an introduction to the song that they are not in favor of armed resistance, but rather against any violent conflict resolution.

Even Bruce Springsteen was not spared from such appropriation. His hit Born in the USA , which was supposed to take a critical position regarding America's role in the Vietnam War , was hyped up to be an American anthem. Springsteen felt completely misunderstood when his song was made the musical symbol of the Reagan era , considering the lyrics to be unambiguous. When asked about the general reasons for political engagement by pop musicians, Jim Kerr , singer with the Scottish band Simple Minds , said : “As musicians, our popularity gives us a lot of leeway to articulate our thoughts, it would be a shame not to take advantage of such an opportunity . "

Related genres

There are pieces of music that can be assigned to popular and pop music from the following genres :

Music that eclectically makes use of the genres of popular music from a purely commercial point of view (especially brass music, popular classical music and musicals) and enriches this with popular hits is called folk music.

See also

Portal: Charts and Pop Music  - More articles on Charts and Pop Music
Commons : Pop music  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Pop music  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations


  • Nik Cohn : Pop. From the beginning. Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London 1969 (also in Stein & Day, New York 1969); as a paperback edition with a new title: Awopbopaloobop Alopb Bäumen. Paladin, London 1970; German title: AWopBopaLooBop ALopBamBoom - Nik Cohn's Pop History. Rowohlt, Reinbek 1971; New edition ibid 2001, ISBN 3-499-11542-5 .
  • David Shepard (Ed.): Continuum Encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World . London u. a. 2003-
  • Michael Huber: Pop music. In: Oesterreichisches Musiklexikon . Online edition, Vienna 2002 ff., ISBN 3-7001-3077-5 ; Print edition: Volume 4, Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Vienna 2005, ISBN 3-7001-3046-5 .
  • Enjott Schneider: Pop Music. A determination based on West German press reports from 1960–1968 . Dissertation . 1977, (= Freiburg writings on musicology. Volume 11). Musikverlag Katzbichler, [Wilhelming], Salzburg 1978, ISBN 3-87397-058-9 .
  • Jochen Zimmer: Pop music - on theory and social history . Verlag Andreas Achenbach, Giesen 1973, ISBN 3-87958-115-0 .
  • Marcello Sorce Keller: Popular Music in Europe . In James Porter, Timothy Rice, Chris Goertzen (Eds.): Garland Encyclopedia of World Music: Europe . New York 2000, pp. 204-213.
  • Christian Bielefeldt, Marc Pendzich: Pop history - stars, sounds, styles . Lugert / Cornelsen, 2012, ISBN 978-3-06-064452-0 .
  • Ralf von Appen, Nils Grosch and Martin Pfleiderer (eds.): Popular music. History - contexts - research perspectives . Laaber-Verlag, 2014, ISBN 978-3-89007-734-5 .
  • Peter Wicke (Ed.): Rock and Pop Music. Handbook of Music in the 20th Century 8 . Laaber-Verlag 2001, ISBN 3-89007-428-6 .
  • Peter Wicke, Kai-Erik, Wieland Ziegenrücker: Lexicon of popular music: Rock - Pop - Jazz - World music. Directmedia Publishing , Berlin 2004, ISBN 3-89853-011-6 . (CD-ROM)
  • Markus Heidingsfelder: System Pop . Kulturverlag Kadmos, Berlin 2012, ISBN 978-3-86599-130-0 .
  • Ernst Hofacker: From Edison to Elvis. How pop music was invented. Reclam, Stuttgart 2012, ISBN 978-3-15-010838-3 .
  • Timo Hoyer, Carsten Kries, Dirk Stederoth (eds.): What is pop music? Concepts - categories - cultures . Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 2017, ISBN 978-3-534-26870-2 .
  • Jens Reisloh: German-language pop music. Between dawn and dog poop. From the beginnings around 1970 to the 21st century . Basic work - New German Song (NDL). Telos Verlag, Münster 2011, ISBN 978-3-933060-34-1 .

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Peter Wicke: «Popular Music» as a theoretical concept. In: PopScriptum. 1/92, pp. 6–42 Terms and Concepts
  2. Peter Wicke: JAZZ, ROCK AND POP MUSIC. In: D. Stockmann (Ed.): Folk and popular music in Europe. (= New Handbook of Musicology. Volume 12). Laaber 1992, pp. 445-477.
  3. according to the definition of the Brockhaus-Riemann music dictionary
  4. "4 Chords: The Truth About Pop Music"
  5. R. Flender, H. Rauhe: Pop music: aspects of their history, functions, effect and aesthetics. Knowledge Buchges., Darmstadt 1989, ISBN 3-534-80105-9 , p. 85.
  6. ^ Dave Thompson : Bono. Translated from the English by Joachim Peters. Moewig, Rastatt 1990, ISBN 3-8118-3038-4 , p. 67.
  7. a b Robin Denselow: When the music's over. Faber and Faber, London a. a. 1990, ISBN 0-571-13906-X , p. XVI.
  8. ^ "People come up to me and talk about the resistance, the revolution, the glory of the revolution and the glory of dying for the revolution back home. Nobody talks about the glory of killing for the revolution. Where is the glory in bombing members of a state parade and leave them dying and crippled for life, where is the glory in that? "
  9. Robin Denselow: When the music's over. Faber and Faber, London a. a. 1990, ISBN 0-571-13906-X , p. 277.