Pop Music Essay

Cocaine, clubbing, and drum machines ruled the percussion-forward ’70s and ’80s.

Political flux rendered the ’90s austere; widespread pirating and broadband made the aughts a cultural kaleidoscope.

By the time she’d conceptualized the ’80s revisionist theme of iconography of Drake and OVO Sound signees Majid Jordan’s “Hold On, We’re Going Home” look less delightfully left-field than quietly prescient in this context.) Swift applied her champion ear for melody and the machine-shop precision of her producers Max Martin and Shellback (with a little help from Fun.

alum Jack Antonoff) and came out with gargantuan smashes in “Style” and “Out of the Woods,” archetypal exercises in pop’s new maximalism, thanks to a winning fusion of ’80s Top 40 instrumentation and the blissed-out wall of sound cribbed from the dance-pop upstarts from overseas.

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.

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.

The knock against Taylor Swift records is that they neatly summarize pertinent developments in the music of the present when they could be using their power to point the way to the future.

To that end, is an important album for sheer reach and craft, but it’s not necessarily visionary.


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