Words by: Ray Sang
A discussion of how the sounds and themes explored in Pop music have reflected our desire to escape the harsh realities of living through a global crisis.
With the pace at which Q1 one passed us by, a moment of reflection is almost mandatory to take stock of all the whirlwind moments that have happened in the Pop world. After a harrowing 2020, a positive start to the year was all any of us would have hoped for. For recent Grammy winner Dua Lipa and girl group Little Mix, Q1 was ushered in by the sound of celebration.
In the case of the latter, reaching number one on the singles chart couldn’t have come at a better time in the wake of founding member Jesy’s departure announcement in December. ‘Sweet Melody’ the third single from the band’s sixth studio album, Confetti, became their fifth UK number one single and the first since ‘Shout Out To My Ex’ in back in October 2016. But what exactly is it that made this track so popular?
The accompanying visual featured raunchy choreography, and a selection of infectious harmonies which were no doubt contributing factors to the track’s success. However, the real hook stems from the nostalgia inducing way the song reflects on things of the past. Little Mix aren’t the only ones. The current trend in Pop seems to be a shift away from melancholic self-reflection to high tempo dance driven melodies, offering listeners a sense of reprieve from the worries of everyday life.
We have often heard that music reflects what’s happening in society at the time. If the charts are any indication of our thoughts and feelings, then its content mirrors our desires to be anywhere else but in the middle of a pandemic. After the failed attempt at convincing the public that celebrities and us regular folk are all in this together, with a cover of ‘Imagine’ that was awkward at best, the music appears to have completely changed direction. A brief glance at the chart would reflect an intent to almost completely bypass the fact that the world is going up in flames. Almost.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that these new age Pop picks are vacant of any semblance of reality, but they are in fact more swan like than ostrich. Rather than sticking their heads in the sand and ignoring the problems, they focus on the beauty of life. Much like tranquillity induced by swans gliding peacefully across lakes, these tracks hone in on the silver linings instead of the chaos ensuing beneath the water’s surface. Dua Lipa’s ‘Break My Heart’ exemplifies this perfectly by speaking to the revolving door of rhetorical questions we’ve been stuck in since the beginning of the pandemic; the primary one being should I stay at home?
While some of the songs being released were no doubt conceptualised pre-pandemic, tracks like Jessie Ware‘s ‘What’s Your Pleasure?’ prophetically became lockdown anthems by tapping into longing for a reality that once was in the wake of our ‘new normal’.
And it’s not just the women.
The men seem to be following their lead with artists like Shawn Mendes basking in the elation of love in his ‘Wonder’ era. Similarly, 5-piece Why Don’t We jumped on the bandwagon with high energy drum patterns and dance inducing melodies reminiscent of festival life on their latest album. Living vicariously seems to be the theme of the day. At a time where club doors are firmly shut, we have retreated to shaking a leg in our bedrooms and sliding across the kitchen floor.
The tempo of Pop music is seemingly rising with these artist’s attempts to lift our spirits. According to the BBC, Pop hits are currently experiencing their highest average BPM (beats per minute) of the last 10 years at 122BPM.
An even more intriguing expression of nostalgia is reflected in the melodic arrangement of the music and more importantly the interpolation of 80s influences. It seems that Pop is suddenly sample central with everyone from Ava Max on ‘Kings and Queens’ to Miley Cyrus on ‘Midnight Sky’ taking a ride on the throwback express. The beauty is found in the way these artists are able to repackage the classics in a fresh and modern way.
An impassioned mix of frantic drum fills, transcendent vocals and punchy bass lines, the latest pivot in Pop is the perfect remedy for the lockdown blues. It offers a sense of release at a time where many have felt trapped in a place that was once a symbol of solace. These moments of escape, however fleeting, provide listeners with just the strength they need to dance another day.