Pop Music Essay

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All three songs mix mainstream “indie” flourishes — fluttering horns, folk-pop–indebted guitar licks — with fat synth lines played staccato or else broken up into choppy eighth and 16th notes, and drums that nod either to the hand claps and finger snaps of epochal post-millennial Cali rap hits like “Rack City” or southern trap beats.

The mix comes out a little different each time — Hailee’s song sounds like a funeral procession breaking out into a trop-house second line, while Selena’s sounds like Mumford & Sons with drops — but the core ingredients are largely the same. Cue up Demi Lovato’s “Sorry Not Sorry,” Lady Gaga’s “The Cure,” Lorde’s “Perfect Places,” Fifth Harmony and Gucci Mane’s “Down,” Imagine Dragons’ “Thunder,” Lana Del Rey’s “Coachella — Woodstock in My Mind,” Taylor Swift’s “… ,” Katy Perry’s “Hey, Hey, Hey,” Pink’s “Beautiful Trauma,” Dua Lipa’s “New Rules,” St.

M83 balanced dream-pop, shoegaze, and house music for a decade, peaking with the mammoth “Midnight City,” which perfected group architect Anthony Gonzalez’s knack for making big synth sounds hit like guitars.

The Canadian duo Purity Ring added a brash hip-hop flair with “Ungirthed” and “Fineshrine,” which led to work with the rapper Danny Brown.

had “The Power.” Pop has been led by performers who keep tabs on new developments in dance music ever since the disco explosion.

(For a modern example, see Lana Del Rey calling in the Kanye West and Kid Cudi cohorts Emile Haynie and Jeff Bhasker in 2012 for gloom and top-notch rap beats.) This new movement doesn’t feel like a natural exchange of ideas, though.

It’s hard to catalogue these moves while they’re happening sometimes, the same way it’s tricky to notice long-term shifts in the structure of your face because you see it in the mirror every day. In writing about many of the biggest pop records since January, I started to notice similarities across the board that weren’t as pronounced in years past — sounds were shared by artists who didn’t work in the same sphere or even the same country.

This is different from producers having a signature sound, like the standing four-counts and zany key changes of a Pharrell vehicle or the drowsy, gauzy synths and samples favored by Drake’s right-hand man Noah “40” Shebib.

Vincent’s “Los Ageless,” Halsey’s “Now or Never,” Kesha’s “Learn to Let Go,” and Nick Jonas and Ty Dolla $ign’s “Bacon.” Really skip around. The snaps and claps in the beat turn to high hats in the same place.

The synths crest at the right time, always offset by some twee melodic touch like a horn or a guitar or a high-pitched warble.


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