Every pop decade has its own recognisable sound, from the orchestral baroque and bubblegum of the sixties to the stomping glam, disco and new wave of the seventies, the new pop and shiny synthetics of the eighties, the Brit and teen pop of the nineties and the cultural kaleidoscope of the noughties when pop finally became a respected genre in its own right. However, while listening to the potential candidates for my Secret Pleasures of the Twenty Tens, I started to notice that from mid-decade on the similarities between the songs weren’t as pronounced as in previous decades and that the uniqueness that had once made pop so remarkable had somehow been lost.

    Notwithstanding Charli XCX, who predicted the sound of modern pop radio more than she will ever get credit for on Iggy Azalea’s ‘Fancy’ and her own ‘Boom Clap’, the turning point appeared to be when Taylor Swift conceptualized her eighties revisionist theme, hitched her ear for melody to the machine shop precision of ubiquitous formulist Max Martin and came out with archetypal exercises in pop’s new maximalism like ‘Blank Space’. Closely followed a year later by Justin Beiber’s more contemporary and daring Purpose album and its associated singles, their grab bag approach to genre shuffling turned the mix into a permanent presence on pop radio and the de rigueur pathway to a hit.  

   Constructed by committees of producers, writers, consultants and specialists (in Bieber’s case a staggering 33 producers and 42 writers for one album), their songs contained nothing that hadn’t been extensively researched, coldly calculated and audience tested, choking the charts with a glut of inoffensive tunes and genres reductively moulded together. Since then the biggest records have tended to be either the shameless pilfering of Ed Sheeran, the retro retrenchments of Adele and Sam Smith, odd stylistic left turns like Harry Styles rechanneling of The Eagles mid-seventies hits, or simply artistically bereft singers happy to buy time with the same handful of producer’s workshopping profitable facsimiles of each other’s hits ad infinitum.

   Plenty of critics have been railing against such homogenisation ever since, but it’s not any in demand producer’s fault that 2019 pop sounds like it’s folding in on itself. Quite where it goes from here is anybody’s guess. Whereas most pop epochs over the last half century were easily definable, the final years of the twenty tens have fostered a massive breakdown in the machine. We consume music differently, we’re exposed to more of it than ever before and our idiosyncratic tastes have increasingly direct influence over what breaks though and what doesn’t.

   In 2019 the idea of one monolithic musical identity has been dispensed with, listeners seemingly too fractured and unbeholden to gatekeepers like the radio and MTV to coalesce around one single genre or artist the way we used to. And yet that’s not strictly true. Just ask Billie Eilish, whose wickedly novel twist on home recorded, DIY pop and female superstardom has resurrected that same concept in her own image and has seized upon the current climate of cultural diffusion to help shape what our pop reality might look like in the coming decade and beyond. Against all odds, the faint outline of a more egalitarian version of popular music has emerged. As is the way, only time will tell if it is passing novelty or the future.     

 

1. KELIS ‘Acapella’ (February 2010)

2. LADY GAGA ‘Alejandro’ (April 2010)

3. KESHA ‘We R Who We R’ (October 2010)

4. PINK ‘Fuckin’ Perfect’ (December 2010)

5. ARCHITECTURE IN HELSINKI ‘Escapee’ (March 2011)

6. CADY GROVES ‘We’re The Shit’ (June 2011)

7. MARINA & THE DIAMONDS ‘Primadonna’ (April 2012)

8. KITTY ‘OK Cupid’ (May 2012)

9. JESSIE WARE ‘Wildest Moments’ (June 2012)

10. LABRINTH FEAT. EMELI SANDE ‘Beneath Your Beautiful’ (October 2012)  

11. RIHANNA FEAT. MIKKY EKKO ‘Stay’ (January 2013)

12. ONEREPUBLIC ‘Counting Stars’ (June 2013)

13. TOM ODELL ‘Grow Old With Me’ (September 2013)

14. ELLE KING ‘Ex’s & Oh’s’ (September 2013)

15. ONE DIRECTION ‘Story Of My Life’ (October 2013)

16. PARRA THE CUVA FEAT. ANNA NAKLAB ‘Wicked Games’ (October 2013)

17. IGGY AZALEA FEAT. CHARLI XCX ‘Fancy’ (March 2014)

18. CHARLI XCX ‘Boom Clap’ (June 2014)

19. LOST FREQUENCIES ‘Are You With Me’ (October 2014)

20. TAYLOR SWIFT ‘Blank Space’ (November 2014)

21. YEARS & YEARS ‘King’ (February 2015)

22. JESS GLYNNE ‘Don’t Be So Hard On Yourself’ (August 2015)

23. GRACE FEAT. G-EAZY ‘You Don’t Own Me’ (August 2015)

24. JUSTIN BEIBER ‘Sorry’ (October 2015)

25. COLDPLAY ‘Adventure Of A Lifetime’ (November 2015)

26. THE 1975 ‘The Sound’ (February 2016)

27. ELLIE GOULDING ‘Still Falling For You’ (August 2016)

28. EMPIRE OF THE SUN ‘First Crush’ (October 2016)

29. LORDE ‘Perfect Places’ (June 2017)

30. HARRY STYLES ‘Two Ghosts’ (August 2017)  

31. HAILEE STEINFIELD & ALESSO FEAT. FLORIDA GEORGIA LINE & WATT ‘Let Me Go’ (September 2017)

32. CLAIRO ‘Pretty Girl’ (October 2017)

33. RUDIMENTAL FEAT. JESS GLYNNE, MACKLEMORE & DAN CAPLEN ‘These Days’ (January 2018)

34. JAMES BAY ‘Us’ (March 2018)

35. ANNE-MARIE ‘2002’ (April 2018)

36. CALVIN HARRIS & RAG’N’BONE MAN ‘Giant’ (January 2019)

37. JAMES ARTHUR ‘Falling Like The Stars’ (May 2019)

38. HERVE PAGEZ & DIPLO FEAT. CHARLI XCX ‘Spicy’ (May 2019)

39. GRACE IVES ‘Icing On The Cake’ (September 2019)

40. BILLIE EILISH ‘All The Good Girls Go To Hell’ (September 2019)