For as long as popular music has existed, there has been an underground. Music thrives on what is popular, what is underground, what is hyper-underground. And for as long as the underground has existed, it has been a soapbox for artists to complain about the mainstream with little or no response because in truth, pop artists have little time for some bedroom thrash-metal group and it would only seem like the ‘man’ picking on the little guy if they did happen to catch wind of the complaints. For underground music fans, popular music is the sonic equivalent of the antichrist. But why? Doesn’t it make sense that popular music is popular because, well, people enjoy it. Many people, in fact. That’s what makes it popular. There is bad pop; the results of the industry machine consisting of a good song being forced through several dumbing-down mechanisms in order to deliver the next bubblegum-pop hit. Of course there is good popular music, just like there is also bad underground music. The reason you don’t believe there is good pop music is you’ve never asked yourself whether some underground music is bad at all. Let’s explore some of that good pop music, on your doorstep in 2015.
Florence & The Machine has had a killer year. Building on her first two albums, How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful crested at Glastonbury 2015, where she took over from the Foo Fighters and had the best set of the weekend. Her music is intelligent, well thought-out and has some of those excellent lyrics that underground music fans crave for amongst the club-pop and love-pop. Another hypocritical viewpoint is of love-pop; that only pop artists exaggerate their romantic sides. Many underground artists and artists verging on pop and the underground have songs, even albums, just about love. For example, Björk, Mac DeMarco, Father John Misty. Florence often includes Björk-like thoughts on nature, even crafting an album about water. Speaking of water, Tinashe had an album out last year called Aquarius, a collection of fantastic songs in the same league as FKA Twigs nu-R’n’B, but with a poppier twist. It’s one of the smoothest things you’ll hear all year. While she’s had more success on her home turf in the USA, I wouldn’t be surprised if she had a trans-Atlantic hit in the near future considering the form she’s on right now.
While we’re on the topic of nu-R’n’B, The Weeknd’s new song ‘Can’t Feel My Face’ probably hasn’t left hit radio for the last month, for good reason. If you’ve been living under a rock, imagine The Weeknd as if Michael Jackson was reincarnated in 2015 and decided to hop on the modern R’n’B train that’s been going around for the last few years. If we’re talking about dance-heavy pop, Disclosure and Years & Years are pretty much ruling the airwaves right now. Disclosure are on track to release their star-studded second album, with help from Lorde and yet another R’n’B scientist, Miguel. Disclosure are committed to the revival of house music and their approval by both the charts and critics has shown that you can, in fact, please both sides of the coin. Years & Years, meanwhile, offer synth-pop with (finally) not another heterosexual love song. Dive into the lyrics and frontman Olly Alexander offers a fresh perspective, something that’s different from the other stale club-pop in that charts.
If you’re looking for something that is a bit of both worlds, FKA Twigs is on fine form with the release of her new M3LL155X EP, Everything Everything just released a pop record with the kind of popular paranoia you’d expect on OK Computer and Lianne La Havas‘ brand of soul and pop is utterly brilliant. These artists have a knack for appealing to the mainstream and the underground; no hard feat.
So there it is. An extensive list of ‘good pop’. And all of them are regularly hitting the charts alongside the EDM giants and the nice boys with guitars. It truly isn’t hard to find and can be a fresh, easily-digested artist alongside your Death Grips and your Radiohead, you indie fiends. Pop does have a heart, it also has a brain. All of the artists listed have just as much artistic credibility attached to them as your favourite Pink Floyd record (popular at the time!), despite what the naysayers might say about their major record deals, conventional album-tour cycles and familiar song themes. It’s also important to note that music is meant to be fun and enjoyable, and as a listener you don’t even need to worry about album and single sales. So just sit back and play that next Taylor Swift banger.