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For other uses, see Pop rock (disambiguation).

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. The detractors of pop rock often deride it as a slick, commercial product, less authentic than rock music.[1]


Much pop and rock music has been very similar in sound, instrumentation and even lyrical content. The terms "pop-rock" and "power pop" have been used to describe more commercially successful music that uses elements from, or the form of, rock music.[2] Pop-rock has been defined 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."[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]


The term pop has been used since the early twentieth century to refer to popular music in general, but from the mid-1950s it began to be used for a distinct genre, aimed at a youth market, often characterized as a softer alternative to rock and roll.[6][7] In the aftermath of the British Invasion, from about 1967, it was increasingly used in opposition to the term rock music, to describe a form that was more commercial, ephemeral and accessible.[8]

In contrast to pop, rock music was seen as focusing on extended works, particularly albums, was often associated with particular sub-cultures (like the counterculture of the 1960s), placed an emphasis on artistic values and "authenticity", stressed live performance and instrumental or vocal virtuosity and was often seen as encapsulating progressive developments rather than simply reflecting existing trends.[6][7][8][9]

The term power pop was coined by Pete Townshend of The Who in 1966, but not much used until it was applied to bands like Badfinger in the 1970s, who proved some of the most commercially successful of the period.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ S. Jones, Pop music and the press (Temple University Press, 2002), p. 109.
  2. ^ R. Shuker, Popular Music: the Key Concepts (Abingdon: Routledge, 2nd edn., 2005), ISBN 0-415-34770-X, p. 207.
  3. ^ L. Starr and C. Waterman, American Popular Music (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2nd edn, 2007), ISBN 0-19-530053-X, archived from the original on 17 February 2011.
  4. ^ P. Auslander, Liveness: Performance in a Mediatized Culture (London: Taylor & Francis, 1999), ISBN 0415196892.
  5. ^ B. J. Moore-Gilbert, The Arts in the 1970s: Cultural Closure? (London: Routledge, 1994), ISBN 0-415-09906-4, p. 240.
  6. ^ a b S. Frith, "Pop music" in S. Frith, W. Stray and J. Street, eds, The Cambridge Companion to Pop and Rock (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), ISBN 0-521-55660-0, pp. 93–108.
  7. ^ a b "Early Pop/Rock", Allmusic, archived from the original on 11 February 2011 .
  8. ^ a b T. Warner, Pop Music: Technology and Creativity: Trevor Horn and the Digital Revolution (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2003), ISBN 0-7546-3132-X, p. 3.
  9. ^ R. Shuker, Understanding Popular Music (Abingdon: Routledge, 2nd edn., 2001), ISBN 0-415-23509-X, pp. 8–10.
  10. ^ J. M. Borack, Shake Some Action: the Ultimate Power Pop Guide (Shake Some Action – PowerPop, 2007), ISBN 0-9797714-0-4, p. 18.

Further reading[edit]

  • 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

External links[edit]

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