Opinion: It’s high time we embrace pop music again

I’m tired of pretending that “Price Tag” by Jessie J is not my favorite song.


Susan Behrends Valenzuela

Admit it — we all have a soft spot for pop music regardless of what we say about our music taste. (Illustration by Susan Behrends Valenzuela)

Aksha Mittapalli, Contributing Writer

Last weekend, I was at one of those parties where no one is dancing and everyone is spending all of their time and energy on making tasteless small talk. During one such blessed interaction, a perfectly nice girl asked what genre of music I enjoy listening to the most. 

“Oh, I don’t know,” I said. “Indie, maybe? A little R&B here and there.”

That was a lie. I know fully well that I am pop music’s biggest fan, and there’s a good chance that I don’t even know what alternative music is.

If you’ve spent enough time at NYU and have made similar insipid small talk, you are probably acquainted with this kind of answer. NYU students, and people our age in general, seem to have a performative interest in music genres that steer away from the mainstream. Our tastes in music are associated with our personal identities. So, it makes perfect sense that we want to stand out because of our preferences. We want to show people that we are interesting and unique, and our tastes make us sound mysterious — we want to show that we’re worth spending time with.

Arjan Madan, a music business student at NYU who moonlights as a producer, agrees that students at NYU are afraid to express any interest in pop music.

“People love to love underground artists,” Madan said. “I think it’s the way that people associate their identity with the music they listen to, which is very tempting. We all do it.”

Pop artists seemed to have picked up on this strange way that the youth are digesting pop music, and many of them have started rebranding themselves accordingly. Halsey, whose music is mostly categorized under pop, insists that her music is alternative. Lana Del Rey, who recently earned herself a course in the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music, joining other popular singers like Taylor Swift and David Bowie, is no different. The singer is widely considered an alternative artist, and she even has the most No. 1 songs on Billboard’s Alternative Albums chart. 

“I think a lot of people that love Lana Del Rey very secretly like how much she taps into pop music melodically,” Madan said. “[It’s] packaged as this very alternative thing.” 

Although it is perfectly natural for artists to rebrand themselves and shift genres during their musical career, he said it hints at a response to a shift in the way that pop artist’s target audiences want to define their music taste.

Lost in our feigned interest in underground artists, we struggle to accept pop music as important art. But, we can’t run from the facts. With its repetitive hooks and bridges, choruses that are introduced early, and catchy lyrics that are easy to sing along to, pop music is one of the most sonically accessible genres, and is relatable to the largest group of listeners in the world. It also gave birth to a multitude of other music genres like R&B, hip-hop, and even that weird, alternative, indie stuff we pretend to like. 

Jerry Del Colliano, founder of the music industry news publication Inside Radio and an adjunct professor at NYU Steinhardt, says that pop is his favorite genre. 

“It’s not that cool, but it’s my thing,” Del Colliano said. “Our short attention spans are a factor, and we love familiarity. We know that Pop music is our Google Maps — it leads us down the road to stuff we might not ordinarily sample.” 

Pop music is constantly evolving — it reflects our culture and can serve as a response to current events at any given time. The genre’s role as a baseline from which people can delve into or create, quite literally, alternative music reinforces its great relevance and importance to the music industry. 

“They could have Jim Morrison, they could have Jimi Hendrix, they could have Bob Dylan,” Del Colliano said, referring to some older pop musicians. “And at the same time, they could have bubblegum [pop], because it all kind of came together.”

Pop music is a quintessential part of our culture, even in NYU’s most pretentious musical circles. It’s time to get over ourselves, drop the facade, and re-embrace pop music.

WSN’s Opinion section strives to publish ideas worth discussing. The views presented in the Opinion section are solely the views of the writer.

Contact Aksha Mittapalli at [email protected].