How should we begin our investigation of pop music? First, let’s agree on a loose definition. According to Wikipedia, “Pop music (a term that originally derives from an abbreviation of “popular”) is usually understood to be commercially recorded music, often oriented towards a youth market, usually consisting of relatively short, simple songs utilizing technological innovations to produce new variations on existing themes.” In a world where the Internet makes it almost as easy to find death metal, second wave ska, or eurotrance as it is to encounter a Justin Bieber single, it’s difficult to put a neat musical grouping on what’s popular. Luckily, we have album sales and iTunes downloads as tools to track song popularity, acknowledging that illegal downloads make these statistics estimates at best.
What makes a pop song successful? Critically acclaimed? Unique? For that matter, what makes it “popular music”? Do all pop songs sound the same, according to the familiar criticism? Over the course of my project I will attempt to answer these questions from a tonal theory perspective. By analyzing current American chart-toppers, I will search for common music fundamentals in pop music. I intend to prove that a comprehensive knowledge base of tonal theory and of music composition is not necessary to write (or appreciate) pop, as suggested by the latest wave of highly successful young artists who built careers without either. Tracing common elements such as lyrics, basic melodies, rhythms, and chord structure in pop music with my own limited knowledge (supplemented by reference materials), I hope to debunk the claim that all pop songs sound alike.
As an aspirant music composition major, what’s the fun in studying a composer if you can’t emulate him? Igor Stravinsky once said, “A good composer does not imitate; he steals.” However, I somehow think the College would frown on plagiarism, so this project steers a bit clear from Stravinsky’s recommendation. My project entails the composition of four pieces a la Sullivan, so here is an outline of certain traits of the four Sullivan archetypes I’ve writing in homage, along with the text I used, with some indication of how they fit into a hypothetical Sullivan operetta.