talkin' about "pop music"
June 25, 2010 9:54 AM   Subscribe

pop music filter: been livin' under a rock the past decade, so what good stuff have I missed?

Music-wise, it's not bad at all under this rock: stacks of CDs accumulated over the years, cool sound system, and more recently itunes, even. But my attention's been focused on specific genres for a while now - '50s jazz, '70s dance, contemporary techno/trance. All enjoyable, but not quite the same as growing up on popular music back in the day.

Yes, I know, terrestrial radio has pretty much died, but they still have pop charts out there, right? If so, those of you more up on things, tell me, what pop singles from the last 10 years or so do I really need to hear, and what's great about them?

For purposes of this thread, let's take the easiest definition of "pop music": singles by artists who consciously sought a wide audience for their music, and/or songs that whatever their original went on to become known to a wide audience.

Likewise, although I'm here in the USA, I'm open to international stuff as well, but let's specify English-language lyrics just to keep things manageable (instrumentals are fine too).

And consider me a tabula rasa as far as musical tastes. That is, although I obviously have preferences like all listeners, the reason I'm asking this question is a curiosity to try new things that might be a *bit* out of my usual comfort zone. Back in the day (when, admittedly, the musical world available to most listeners was much smaller), that was one of the cool things about growing up on the pop charts: the dual expectation that if it made the charts, you might like it, even/especially if a particular tune was in a style/genre otherwise outside your usual routine.

Finally, I already know and pretty much agree with many of the usual critiques that this sort of question raises: corporate pop is evil, real artists don't do pop, the underground scene (whichever one) is much more real/vibrant, pop music is doo-doo, etc. Yeah, points taken, but, still, in a culture this large and into music there must be at least a few recent popular tunes worth listening to, or maybe I really have been living under a rock lately....
posted by 5Q7 to Society & Culture (19 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
When I think "good music in a style I usually don't care for", Lily Allen comes to mind. The Fear video.
posted by anti social order at 10:01 AM on June 25, 2010

Beyonce. Queen of Pop. Her stuff's all good.
posted by earlofrochester at 10:04 AM on June 25, 2010

Also, R. Kelly.

This is coming from someone who like 5 yrs ago would've totally been all 'yeah, pop music sucks, pointless genre, etc etc.' And then one day I woke up and just had what alcoholics call a moment of clarity. I still listen to all the other stuff, and I don't even listen to pop all that often, but once in a while, a song like 'I Wish' or 'The World's Greatest' (both Kells) is like all I need.
posted by earlofrochester at 10:06 AM on June 25, 2010

The Postal Service and Regina Spektor are the first two names that come to mind when I think of good music from the last decade that got reasonably popular. Neither is a record-breaking superstar but the quality is (in my opinion) much higher than that of record-breaking superstars.

Somebody's bound to mention Lady Gaga but I think she's an overrated attention feeder. The woman under all the makeup is actually talented but her album music is the product of sound engineers, not Gaga's own musical prowess.

Stay away from Ke$ha.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 10:15 AM on June 25, 2010

This is totally a one-off, and I expect to get a lot of flack for it, but I really, really like this mashup.
posted by earlofrochester at 10:19 AM on June 25, 2010

KT Tunstall's Suddenly I See and Black Horse and the Cherry Tree.

Lots of songs by Kelly Clarkson (the only justifiable consequence of American Idol).
posted by tantivy at 10:45 AM on June 25, 2010

Amy Winehouse is my first suggestion. Extremely talented singer with major personal issues. Here are a few examples.

Second suggestion is Rihanna. On the first listen I'm always a little unsure of whether I like it, but by the second or third time it's like something takes root in my brain and demands to hear more. Here are a few examples.

Third, not sure if I'd classify this as pop music, but make sure to check out R. Kelly's "Trapped in the Closet" 12-part series of bizarreness. Here's Part 1.
posted by sallybrown at 11:12 AM on June 25, 2010

I'm not sure how much you mean "pop" as in a musical genre or as in commerical success (I did read your explanation), so here are both. I've divided them into two lists.

First, here are some good overtly "pop" songs:

John Mayer - "No Such Thing," "Daughters," etc.

Beyonce - "Crazy in Love"

Sara Bareilles - "Love Song," "Bottle it Up"

Rihanna - "Umbrella," "Disturbia"

Lady Gaga - "Paparazzi"

Amerie - "1 Thing," "All I Need"

Amy Winehouse - "You Know I'm No Good"

Daniel Powter - "Bad Day"

Gnarls Barkley - "Crazy"

Mika - "Grace Kelly," "Big Girl"

Estelle - "American Boy"

Lenka - "The Show," "Bring Me Down," "Trouble is a Friend"

Justin Timberlake - "Cry Me a River," "FutureSex/LoveSound," etc.

Tori Amos - "Sorta Fairytale"

Michael Jackson - "This Is It"

Kate Havnevik - "New Day," etc.

Imogen Heap - Speak for Yourself album

Rufus Wainwright - "Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk," "I Don't Know What it Is," etc.

Goldfrapp - Seventh Tree album

Uh Huh Her - Common Reaction album

Alicia Keys - "You Don't Know My Name," etc.

Seal - "Waiting for You"

Adele - "Cold Shoulder," "Melt My Heart to Stone"

Ben Folds - "Zak & Sara"

Now, here are some that have been reasonably successful but are often categorized as "indie" or "alternative" (arbitrary though those labels is):

Regina Spektor - albums Begin to Hope and Soviet Kitsch, especially "Fidelity," "Us," "Better"

Death Cab for Cutie - albums Plans and Transatlanticism, especially "The New Year" and "I Will Follow You Into the Dark"

The Postal Service - Give Up album

Yeah Yeah Yeahs - "Maps," "Zero"

The Arcade Fire - "No Cars Go" and the whole Funeral album

Rilo Kiley - More Adventurous album

Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest album, especially "Two Weeks"

Green Day - American Idiot album

The Killers - "Read My Mind"

Phoenix - "Lisztomania"

The Strokes - Is This It (first album)

MGMT - Oracular Spectacular album

Bjork - Vespertine album
posted by Jaltcoh at 11:37 AM on June 25, 2010 [5 favorites]

These are the first two that popped into my head. I don't generally listen to "pop" music besides what I hear coming out of other people's cars, but really love both of these songs...

Alicia Keys - No One
Outcast - Hey Ya
posted by bobafet at 11:40 AM on June 25, 2010

arbitrary though those labels is

Woops, sorry for this subject-verb agreement disaster; I originally had only one label.
posted by Jaltcoh at 11:55 AM on June 25, 2010

I've loved Gwen Stefani's solo albums Love. Angel. Music. Baby. and The Sweet Escape, especially the former.

Bat For Lashes also comes to mind, but may be on the outside of pop.
posted by activitystory at 11:56 AM on June 25, 2010

I've always never known what qualifies as 'pop', so take my suggestions with a grain of salt:

John Mayer's first three albums.
All of Coldplay's music.
Jason Mraz's We Sing, We Dance, We Steal Things
posted by makethemost at 1:41 PM on June 25, 2010

Many of these have already been mentioned, but hey, that's because they're pop and everyone knows them. :)

Hip Hop:

Jay-Z (I love pretty much all his stuff, but the Black Album is his best)
Kanye West (start with College Dropout and Late Registration)
The Streets
Gorillaz and Gnarles Barkley (not strictly hip hop, but both were Danger Mouse projects and hip hop influenced)

Women with Big Voices:

Beyonce (start with "If I Were a Boy" and of course "Single Ladies")
Lady Gaga (just try to resist Bad Romance)
Kelly Clarkson (start with "Since U Been Gone")
Lauryn Hill if you missed her
Rihanna (unfortunately a lot of her stuff sucks, but "Russian Roulette" is a pretty amazing song)

Guitar-strummy folkish-type stuff

The Shins (and James Mercer's side project with the aforementioned Danger Mouse, Broken Bells)
Rilo Kiley (More Adventurous is one of the best albums of the 00s)
Jason Mraz ("I'm Yours" is cheesy as hell and always makes me smile)
Beirut (especially "Gulag Orkestar")
Regina Spektor

Anthemic Indie Rock:

The Arcade Fire (this is pretty much a requirement)
New Pornographers (check out Neko Case's solo stuff too)
Bloc Party (listen to the album Silent Alarm. I especially like "Bluest Light," "So Here We are" and "Pioneers")
posted by lunasol at 6:26 PM on June 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

The Strokes - Last Night and everything else on that album
Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings - 100 Days 100 Nights (same backing band played with Amy Winehouse)
Someone else mentioned John Mayer upthread, I personally would warn you away from everything by him except for Continuum and Try! Here's a sample of the good stuff.
posted by wabbittwax at 7:13 PM on June 25, 2010

Someone else mentioned John Mayer upthread, I personally would warn you away from everything by him except for Continuum and Try! Here's a sample of the good stuff.

I don't understand this, given the question we're answering. Room for Squares and Heavier Things are good albums. They're not my favorite music in the world, but they're pretty good for poppy, middle-of-the-road rock.
posted by Jaltcoh at 7:56 PM on June 25, 2010

Not a damn thing. Okay okay, I know that's harsh!

I grew up in the 80s and 90s, so those two decades define what I consider pop music (both good and bad): fairly mainstream music that is upbeat, catchy, and has a beat that one can tap their foot to (if not actually music that you can dance to). Some of it is instantly recognizable to most everyone, some of it may not be. I compare everything I hear today to what I listened to during my formative years, and most everything seems to fall short. I'll tell you, though, there are three current-ish singers or musicians that I love, and I know that I will be listening to them (regardless of whether they continue to make music or whether I just have the handful of albums they've put out) along with my Michael Jackson, my Sparks, my falsettoed British new wavers, etc. etc.

Lily Allen - I do admit that I preferred her first album, Alright, Still, over her second album, It's Not Me, It's You. I think I preferred it because of the more layered, less polished sound. There was a bit of a... for lack of better words... reggae-ish, jazzy sound to it (from various brassy horn samples, I gather) that really added to the head bopping element. Her second album was a little more polished, and, at first, I was taken aback by it. Actually, it made me feel old the first few times I listened to it. But, if you decide you like her, give it a few listens.. It does grow on you. (My favorite songs: LDN; Alfie; Nan, You're A Window Shopper; Not Fair; He Wasn't There; and she's done some phenomenal covers and live songs that are even better than some of the stuff on her albums.)

Corinne Bailey Rae - She is so incredibly talented. A similar sort of light, fresh, cool jazzy sound.. You just feel good listening to her music and she has a beautiful, pure voice. None of that autotune shit. She just released a new album (her second) called The Sea. (If you're at all interested, just give one song a try: Put Your Records On).

Finally, my favorite, Mika. At first, I just heard 'Love Today', and I was none too impressed. I thought the song sounded like generic current pop music, but I'm totally hooked now. He's addictively dance-y, yet I hear a sort of Beatlesque influence. And his voice! Both of his albums (Life In Cartoon Motion and The Boy Who Knew Too Much are fantastic). (My favorites: Grace Kelly; Lollipop; Billy Brown; Big Girl (You Are Beautiful); Toy Boy; and, like Lily Allen, he's done some great covers, acoustic, and live versions).

(Special mention: the FIRST Franz Ferdinand album is essential.. but the second and third were a little disappointing, imo)
posted by Mael Oui at 10:22 PM on June 25, 2010

Oh yes, and I do agree with bobafet: Outkast's 'Hey Ya' was the best song of the entire decade. I thought I was the only one who never got tired of that one!
posted by Mael Oui at 10:27 PM on June 25, 2010

Darren Hayes! Pop, rock, electro, a bit of steampunk influence, poetic lyrics, highly personal. Spin is a bit naff but The Tension and The Spark and This Delicate Thing We Made is faboo.
posted by divabat at 11:31 PM on June 25, 2010

One more I forgot:

Daniel Merriweather - "For Your Money," "Impossible"
posted by Jaltcoh at 6:38 AM on June 28, 2010

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