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Pop Music

Pop Music

The pop music (short for "popular" music) phenomenon first took hold in the 1950s. Borrowing freely from European folk music, gospel and country, the genre's most celebrated artists, from The Beatles to Michael Jackson and ABBA, have touched millions of people worldwide and continue to do so. For some, however, pop music, as a commercial genre, will always lack the artistic range and stature of rock and roll, for example.

Pop Music

Pop music first emerged in the United States in the 1950s. It was rooted in the disparate folk traditions of several cultures, drawing inspiration from Irish ballads, gospel and country.

Stevie Wonder Iconic American composers George Gershwin and Cole Porter helped to develop the popular style, opening the door to a shorter form where all is said and done in less than three minutes. Combine a catchy, often romantic melody with a succession of refrains or couplets, and hold it together with a piano, guitar or brass riff, and you've got a winning recipe for pop music.

In the 1950s, groups like the Platters and the Drifters brought this short recording format to bear on their brand of R&B, thus giving pop music the form it still has today, more than a half-century later.

The early 1960s saw a number of recording artists achieve popular success working alongside songwriters such as Leiber & Stoller (The Coasters, Ben E. King, Elvis) and famed New York producer Phil Spector (The Ronettes). Also in the early 1960s, the newly minted Motown label brought the likes of The Supremes, The Four Tops, Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder into the pop mainstream.


The Liverpool-based Beatles burst onto the pop music scene in 1963. The group gave expression to its full potential on Rubber Soul (1965), Revolver (1966) and Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967) – albums that served to bridge the gap between pop and rock.

The Four Tops The pop genre was thus allowed to come into its own with arrangements and sonorities that embodied a newfound elegance and sophistication. One would be hard-pressed not to mention the contribution of the Beach Boys with Pet Sounds (1966), an album inspired by the genius of Brian Wilson. Other groups in both England (The Hollies or The Zombies) and the United States (The Mamas & the Papas and The Byrds) also reflected this move toward greater vocal complexity.

By the late 1960s, pop music, increasingly, was viewed in a negative light as a facile formulaic genre – a consumer product that contrasted sharply with rock music in all of its forms. In the 1970s, the pop genre hit an all-time low, with even its greatest names – including ex-Beatle Paul McCartney – at pains to renew its flagging fortunes. The Swedish group ABBA was a notable exception: from 1974 onward, the mixed foursome were nothing less than a worldwide success story.

Sting In the early 1980s, pop music underwent a renewal of sorts with the advent of British techno-pop, made popular by groups such as Duran Duran, Depeche Mode and the Eurythmics.

The 1980s and 1990s were marked by a trend toward the massive promotion of pop music artists and the emergence of the music video culture, with Michael Jackson – the "King of Pop" – and Madonna leading the charge. By the turn of the century, the emergence of TV reality shows such as American Idol further influenced the pop music culture.

Pop Music at the Festival

Among the jazz, blues, folk, rock and world artists who've marked the Festival, many have tried their hand at pop to appeal to a broader spectrum of audiences. Examples include Sting, who performed at the Festival in 2000, Prince, who brought down the house in 2001, and Paul Simon, who appeared at the FIJM in 2006 and was honoured with a tribute concert in the same year.

Jamie Cullum British pianist and singer Jamie Cullum, a favourite among Festival fans, gave memorable concerts in 2006 and 2009, as did cellist and singer Jorane, who first appeared at the Festival in 2002, and singer Corneille, who made his Festival debut in 2007.

Other grand dames of the blues and jazz to mark the Festival include Coral Egan, Norah Jones and Diana Krall: Each has brought her slick and elegant pop sound to the Festival stage.

Finally, in 2009, living legend Stevie Wonder gave an unforgettable concert at the Festival, during which he paid a moving tribute to Michael Jackson, who passed away shortly before the start of the Festival's 30th edition.

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