I've been listening again to Top 40 recently (I was a huge Top 40 fan in my teens, circa early 1990's and haven't listened to it much since then). It definitely seems like there's a new aesthetic in pop, and while it doesn't match my own tastes, as a student of music, I'm interested in its character. What defines the Top 40 sound of the mid 2010's?

Some of my hypotheses:

  • Intensely personal, idiosyncratic lyrics --a move away from generic and/or universal themes, often with self-empowerment themes.

  • Rhythmically and melodically complex lines based on natural speech rather than on memorable melodies --showing a strong hip-hop influence across all genres.

  • Unselfconscious, direct "naive" lyrics --a move away from both irony and symbolism.

  • A sound with strong retro elements from both 60s/70s pop and 80s/90s pop.

On the positive side, I appreciate how much more interesting the lyrics are now than just a few years ago. On the negative side it all seems very forgettable to me --although maybe that's just a reflection of how many years of pop it's competing for mental real estate against.

EDIT: Here is the current Billboard Top 40 Chart: http://www.billboard.com/charts/pop-songs

  • There might be some non-American, non-top-40-listening users who could attempt an answer more easily if you could add some links to a few tracks you considered archetypal..? – user16 Apr 15 '16 at 9:12
  • I don't want to slant it too much --I'm far from an expert on current music --so I just put the Billboard link in. Most Top 40 stations play a pretty narrow loop of the most currently popular songs. – Chris Sunami supports Monica Apr 15 '16 at 17:16

In the 90s, music was dominated by California (San Francisco, Los Angeles), New York, Seattle, Miami, Chicago, and Nashville. That is, there was a lot of various urban presence in the charts within the United States. So a lot of American values were represented. London also had a major impact with the arrival of Britpop.

In the 2010s, you see the rising presence of Toronto having a significant impact. Of what I have seen, there is an anti-cynic element to this music and abstaining from partisan politics. This is a common feature of Southern Ontario music that we can find going back a fair bit. A most classic example is Stompin' Tom Connors back in the 1970s. The big turning point seems to point at the work of Jason Amm (Solvent) who grew tired of fitting into the Brooklyn electroclash scene in the early 2000s. Other bands like Metric would adapt the rock sound for something more positive.

With the rise of artists like Drake and The Weeknd, they have spread this messaging into hiphop and R&B. The big shift is the re-framing of concepts like trust away from the aggressive cynicism that had come to represent American music in the last half of the 20th century. And with it a dose of melody that had been whittling away prior.

This shift was perhaps necessary as the 00s pop charts were getting staid with atonality, a significant element for many of the pop hits during that decade. Whether that was crunk and hiphop or it was post-grunge, emo and pop-punk. Atonality was huge in the 00s. At least until the Great Recession.

The Great Recession is having an enormous impact on pop music. Much like how music changed in the 1930s, there is a hunger for sweet music. And musicians have been filling in the gap with melodic music. While there was a moment when Dubstep rose to prominence in the wake of the recession, it quickly learned to go melodic or it got out. Same as with trap music.

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