In essence, pop music never left. In principle, it's been on a 10-year vacation.
At this year's American Music Awards Rihanna was introduced as the artist with the most number one singles of the decade. While several of her chart-topping hits have certainly been R&B and hip-hop influenced, songs like "S.O.S," "Please Don't Stop The Music" and "Disturbia" have taken her career to new heights with their dance floor ready production, and disposable lyrics. In short,Rihanna's success is a testament to the resurrection of traditional pop music.
No, traditional pop isn't a Britney Spears song with a Neptunes beat, or an *Nsync single featuring Nelly. It's not even Janet Jackson auto-tuning her way through "Feedback," or Madonna trading verses with Justin Timberlake during "4 Minutes." Somewhere around the turn of the century pop artists gave up on pop music, and opted for beat heavy club productions in place of playful bells and whistles. In response, album linear notes have replaced names like Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis with Timbaland and T-Pain, Max Martin with Danja, or Diane Warren with Ne-Yo. That's not to say that producers such as Timbaland haven't been successful for years, or that Jimmy & Terry haven't been successful since, but one would be careless in not having noticed the blurred lines between pop music and urban genres that have developed over the past decade.
But in 2009, pop music has experienced a return to form.
Lady Gaga shamelessly embraces dance floor disco in the pop hits that have catapulted her to stardom."Just Dance" is more Madonna than Madonna has been in years, while the production of "Poker Face" shimmers with the glossy thump of a Cyndi Lauper affair. Both singles have been huge hits in the U.S. in both pop and urban markets. Outside of her Akon owned label, there's nothing R&B about Lady Gaga, even as her singles are sampled in hip-hop remixes.
This year's "Womanizer" is the first number one single Britney Spears has had since 1998's "Baby One More Time." Comeback hype aside, "Womanizer's" appeal rests in the 1, 2 step of its clunky production, and lyrics that are so throw-away they're instantly worth remembering: "I got your crazy." The song is such a guilty pleasure it nearly rots the teeth, not like the Gothic sexiness of "Slave 4 U," or even the acid-washed "Gimmie More," both of which relied on a hip-hop sensibility to boosts Spears' club credibility. More than a decade after her introduction to the industry, Britney's return to relevancy coincides with a return to the Euro-pop sound that made her a star in the first place.
The ladies aren't the only ones going pop for pay. Ne-Yo's 2008 hit Closer was as Donna Summer as any male artist could (or should) get, with the pulsing echo of its intro, paired with the hushed verses and rushed chorus. Elsewhere, Kid Cudi's "Day 'n Nite" is as trippy as Janet's "Rock Wit U," while Chris Brown's chart-topping "Forever" just begs for a strobe light.
Even conventional R&B artists are finding more success in the pop lane. Ciara's Fantasy Ride suffered through three failed singles before the decidedly lighter and more commercial "Love, Sex and Magic" took flight. Likewise, Robin Thicke's similarly titled "Magic" blended his usual adult-contemporary sound with horn bursts and vibrant strings to create a sound as whimsical as the title suggests.
More recent is Beyonce's "Halo," and Jordin Sparks' stunningly desilent "Battlefied," both produced by One Republic's Ryan Tedder.
It's hard to pinpoint exactly what is responsible for the resurgance of American pop music, other than the notion that it simply grew tired of its Europeon vacation. Acts like Craig David and Sugababes have been making waves in Europe for years, with only the occasional crossover success. And while the Spice Girls were huge in the 90's, not so much in the 00's. Still, the same sound that made the ladies huge in the States continutes to thrive in their native land. And, as popular radio grows increasingly predictable and lackluster in America, acts like Lady Gaga have managed to legatimize synthenszied dance music for a whole new audience thirsty for something different but familiar at the same time.
Today pop music is once again sustaining on it's own. Even as artists release simltanoues singles to cater to specfic markets, dance pop has been an undenibale force on Top 40 radio. Not Pop music produced by a hip-hop producer, and featuring a rapper, but shamelessly indulgent, synth-heavy, disco-tinged pop.
Like flared jeans, slim-fit tees or Whitney Houston, pop music is back. But how long will it last?
As always, drop-off a comment and let me know what you think.