Pop rock

Pop rock
Pop rock
Stylistic origins Pop, rock
Cultural origins 1960s, United Kingdom and United States
Typical instruments Electric guitar, bass guitar, drums, vocals, keyboards, synthesizers
Mainstream popularity Mainstream worldwide since 1960s
British Invasion - Manila Sound - glam metal - glam rock - power pop - soft rock
Other topics
Pop culture - Power pop

Pop rock is a music genre which mixes a catchy pop style and light lyrics in its (typically) guitar-based rock songs. There are varying definitions of the term, ranging from a slower and mellower form of rock music to a subgenre of pop music. Scholars have noted that pop and rock are usually depicted as opposites; the detractors of pop often deride it as a slick, commercial product, less authentic than rock music.[1]



Pop rock has been described as an "upbeat variety of rock music represented by artists such as Elton John, Paul McCartney, The Everly Brothers, Rod Stewart, Chicago, and Peter Frampton."[2] In contrast, music reviewer George Starostin defines it as a subgenre of pop music that uses catchy pop songs that are mostly guitar-based. Starostin argues that most of what is traditionally called 'power pop' falls into the pop rock subgenre. He claims that the lyrical content of pop rock is "normally secondary to the music."[3]

Critic Philip Auslander argues that the distinction between pop and rock is more pronounced in the US than in the UK. He claims in the US, pop has roots in white crooners such as Perry Como, whereas rock is rooted in African-American-influenced forms such as rock and roll. Auslander points out that the concept of pop rock, which blends pop and rock is at odds with the typical conception of pop and rock as opposites. Auslander and several other scholars such as Simon Frith and Grossberg argue that pop music is often depicted as an inauthentic, cynical, "slickly commercial" and formulaic form of entertainment. In contrast, rock music is often heralded as an authentic, sincere, and anti-commercial form of music, which emphasizes songwriting by the singers and bands, instrumental virtuosity, and a "real connection with the audience".[4]

Simon Frith's analysis of the history of popular music from the 1950s to the 1980s has been criticized by B. J. Moore-Gilbert, who argues that Frith and other scholars have over-emphasized the role of "rock" in the history of popular music by naming every new genre using the "rock" suffix. Thus when a folk-oriented style of music developed in the 1960s, Frith terms it "folk rock", and the pop-infused styles of the 1970s were called "pop rock". Moore-Gilbert claims that this approach unfairly puts rock at the apex, and makes every other influence become an add-on to the central core of rock.[5]


As with many musical genres, what constitutes "pop rock" is subjective. As such, music critics and journalists have differing opinions on which category a band should be placed in. Billboard magazine provides one perspective on how to categorize "pop rock" groups from the 1970s to the 2000s. Other perspectives from other magazines and individual music journalists and critics are also provided.


Pop rock performers or groups from this era include Three Dog Night, Elton John, Bee Gees, Fleetwood Mac, Billy Joel and Olivia Newton-John, among others. The Encyclopædia Britannica calls the Bee-Gees an "English-Australian pop-rock band that embodied the disco era of the late 1970s."[6] A university course on the history of popular music claims that Three Dog Night were "one of the most popular bands of the late Sixties early Seventies; pop rock, singles-oriented sound with soul-influences".[7]


Some of the pop rock performers or groups from the early 1980s include Daryl Hall and John Oates, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, Stevie Nicks and Phil Collins. At the start of the decade, Queen had moved away from their hard rock roots and more towards pop rock.[8] In 1980, with the demise of disco, the "music industry floundered in 1980 looking for something to fill the void" and help to boost falling sales. For a period, "easy listening" pop was the top seller. Music critic Michael Gross called it "commercial Cotton candylovers": "Magic" by Olivia Newton-John; "Sailing" by Christopher Cross; "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" by Hall & Oates, and others. The "syrupy pop-rock of Air Supply" hits such as "All Out Of Love" "best exemplified the formula for chart success" during this period.[9] For the later part of the 1980s, Billboard lists: Huey Lewis and the News, Bryan Adams, Cher, Roxette, Billy Ocean, George Michael, Phil Collins and Madonna among others, as significant pop rock performers of the decade. Michael Jackson was notable in that, he was a prominent pop rock artist during the entire decade.


Linda Hopper stands behind a microphone singing with Ruthie Morris to her left playing guitar in front of a stack of Marshall Amps
Atlanta's Magnapop features a blend of pop-influenced vocals from Linda Hopper and agressive, punk guitar work from Ruthie Morris[10]

In the 1990s a new genre emerged into the mainstream, combining elements of pop with punk rock. This new style was termed pop punk, and was pioneered by artists such as Green Day and The Offspring. Billboard magazine considers the pop rock performers or groups from the 1990s to include Ace Of Base. For the later part of the decade, the magazine lists Robbie Williams, Alanis Morissette, Natalie Imbruglia, Shakira, Sixpence None the Richer, The Cranberries, No Doubt, Hanson, Everclear, 4 Non Blondes and Gin Blossoms.


The most notable pop rock performers or groups from this include artists such as Pink, Kelly Clarkson, Avril Lavigne, McFly, Jonas Brothers, Maroon 5 and James Blunt.

Further reading

  • Birrer, F.A.J. "Definitions and research orientation: do we need a definition for popular music?" in D. Horn (ed). Popular Music Perspectives, 1985. Gothenburg. pg 99-105.
  • Chambers ,I. Urban Rhythms, Pop Music and Popular Culture. 1985:OUP.
  • Fiske, J.Understanding Popular Culture, - 1989 - Routledge
  • Frith, S. The Sociology of Rock - 1978 - Constable
  • Frith, S. Sound Effects: Youth, Leisure and the Politics of Rock'n'Roll - 1983 - Constable
  • Hamm, C. Yesterdays: Popular Song in America - 1979 - New York
  • Harker, D. One For the Money: Politics and Popular Song - 1980 - Hutchinson
  • Harron, M. "Pop as Commodity," cited in S Frith - Facing The Music: Essays on Pop, Rock and Culture 1988, Mandarin. pg 173-220
  • Hill, D. Designer Boys and Material Girls: Manufacturing the '80s Pop Dream. 1986 - Blandford Press
  • Middleton, R. Studying Popular Music. - 1990 - OUP
  • Moore, A.F. Rock: The Primary Text, - 1993 - OUP
  • Shuker, R. Understanding Popular Music - 1994 - Routledge AB


  1. ^ S. Jones, Pop music and the press (Temple University Press, 2002), p. 109.
  2. ^ L., Starr and C. Waterman, American Popular Music (Avale, 2nd edn): http://www.us.oup.com/us/companion.websites/019530053X/studentresources/chapter11/key_terms/ Accessed on March 11, 2008.
  3. ^ Music reviewer George Starostin. Available at: http://starling.rinet.ru/music/zstyles.htm
  4. ^ P. Auslander, Liveness: Performance in a Mediatized Culture, http://books.google.com/books?id=Zaaycuj7kbUC&pg=PA69&lpg=PA69&dq=pop+rock+definition&source=web&ots=DwY2QQJZap&sig=Qt88EFkWR4NpzWH0XwpkzJhNOm0
  5. ^ B. J. Moore-Gilbert, The Arts in the 1970s: Cultural Closure? (Routledge, 1994), p. 240, ISBN 0415099064.
  6. ^ the Bee Gees (British-Australian pop-rock group) - Britannica Online Encyclopedia
  7. ^ Untitled Document
  8. ^ V. Bogdanov, C. Woodstra and S. T. Erlewine, All Music Guide to Rock: the Definitive Guide to Rock, Pop, and Soul (Milwaukee, WI: Backbeat Books, 3rd edn., 2002), ISBN 0-87930-653-X, pp. 903–5.
  9. ^ The Year in Music - 1980
  10. ^ LaBrack, Jill (2005-02-10). "Magnapop: Mouthfeel". Pop Matters. http://www.popmatters.com/music/reviews/m/magnapop-mouthfeel.shtml. Retrieved 2009-06-17. 

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