Music is an obvious part of our world; sexual, racial or class differences barely prohibit people
from accessing songs today. However, this global outreach of the music industry today is starkly
different from the one that “reigned” a century ago.
The pop music we know today is an amalgamation of various genres that were popular during
the decades defining the 21st century.
How did they arise and what shifted people from the symphonies of Beethoven and Mozart to
albums by Taylor Swift and Billie Eilish?
In the beginning of the twentieth century, classical music was the norm. This was a genre of
music targeted to the rich and accessible through live performance in concert halls; opera
singers would sing and an orchestra (an assembly of musicians) would play in the background.
However, with the invention of Thomas Edison’s phonograph and, consequently, Emile
Berliner’s flat disk gramophone, the accessibility of music increased. These record players
removed the absolute mechanism of live concerts with pre-recorded music. This eliminated the
sole need for multiple musical performances to sell music and instead people bought records.
These records were cheaper and easier to produce hence, allowed music to be mass-
And so it began, the formation of pop music (aka popular music).
In the 1920s came the invention of the radio; this revolutionized the industry. People could now
purchase an affordable radio and listen to music recordings for free. Before this, individuals
needed to be able to play instruments or have the money to buy multiple record disks or concert
In the 1940s, the surge in technological advancements gave birth to the reel tape recorder, this
allowed artists to record songs with multiple instruments, each recorded individually. So, yes the
developments made on this invention are the reason we have the Queen’s Bohemian
The advancements didn’t just stop there; from flat disks and portable cassettes (that needed
their sides to be periodically changed) to CDs, USB’s and ultimately internet and Bluetooth
technology. The Pop genre has been an unexpected product of scientific discoveries.
Now, in the 21st century, online streaming platforms like Spotify, have influenced the length of
the songs to be even more decreased (around 2 and a half minutes), as shorter songs are
completely listened more and hence, added to playlists more. Moreover, there’s been
speculation that the invention of earphones and headphones have changed the way singers
record their vocals. This results in almost whisper-like vocals that are more intimate and feel as
if the person is singing right next to you.
Yet, it wasn’t just these inventions but also the changing social attitudes of the twentieth century
that contributed to the formation of pop music. Most of it is heavily influenced by the civil rights
The end to racial segregation helped popularise the demand for Jazz and consequently paved
the way for R&B and Hip Hop (in the eighties). Similarly in the ’90s rap became another popular
mechanism through which Black artists could express the injustices against the African
American community. In the US, post world war 2, the youth had money to spend so they could
afford to buy the tickets, records, and cassettes giving rise to the success of Elvis Presley and
the genre of rock and roll. In Britain, the youth had been suffering from high unemployment and
class divisions. This resulted in a wave of anger and dissatisfaction that the tunes of punk rock
A similar shift to punk rock from ‘glam’ rock was also discovered in the 1970s in the US. Due to
the ‘hippie culture’ of the ’60s, folk music took the limelight, therefore, adding a new genre to the
diverse collection of pop music. The recent rise in mental health awareness also led to many
songs being lyrically themed around depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses: giving rise
to lo-fi beat songs.
The change in the industry largely came from the above-mentioned factors. Yet some internal
changes such as the formation of boy bands and girl groups, solo artists, and the increased
importance of music videos and tours have also impacted the rise of pop music. The visual
experience of music (i.e music videos and tours) amounts as much as the listening experience.
However, above all is the ability to maximize profit.
Classical music concerts were expensive and only a select group of people in a specific location
had access to it. However, this alternative form is cheaper to produce and accessible by almost
the entire world. Moreover, the production of songs has also changed with the ‘anti chorus’ (a
technique in which instead of the chorus a catchy beat plays) and rappers alternatively singing
and rapping, gaining more popularity.
Although many believe that pop music ‘dumbs down’ or is “ruining our brains”, it is still highly
commendable that this form of music (so loosely defined) has maintained its stronghold,
catering to almost all age groups. Yet, in the end, only time will tell if it will perish or remain.