"Pop music? What pop music? I don't see any pop music!"


16 Mar 2008, 4:07

This is a response to the Anti-Happy Metal group, since a lot of their members honestly are sincere considering power metal and even a few MDM bands as pop music. First of all, let's digress why they aren't wrong...

Pop music is a short term for popular music and emerged during early 2000th century when music thanks to radio stations could be listened to en masse no matter where you were in the world. Let's look at Wikipedia to see what it says:
Pop music is an ample and imprecise category of modern music not defined by artistic considerations but by its potential audience or prospective market. Pop is music composed with deliberate intent to appeal to the majority of its contemporaries.

In opposition to music that requires education or formation to appreciate, a defining characteristic of pop music is that anyone is able to enjoy it. Artistic concepts such as musical form and aesthetics are not a concern in the writing of pop songs, the primary objectives being audience enjoyment and commercial success.

Although pop music is produced with a desire to sell records and do well in the charts, it does not necessitate wide acclaim or commercial success: there are bad or failed pop songs.

That's pretty spot on to describe pop music. In that sense, Wicked_Adidas is not wrong, however, his arguments are greatly flawed.

First of all, he presents us with the assumption that "happy" metal is the same as pop. To some extent it is, as power and heavy metal are the more accepted metal genres to be appreciated by the mainstream audience. Secondly, he presents us with a specific form or norm which qualifies pop music, such as lyrics with silly themes like fantasy and specific song structures that seldom if ever deviate and can be found in more or less all songs. However... if we look a bit closer, we can find these things everywhere, in all genres. Does this qualify most music as pop music? No, it doesn't. Pop music is as mentioned, music which can attract a mainstream audience and a lot of genres can use a typical verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge/solo-chorus structure without being pop music as such.

Wicked_Adidas for example mentioned that Apocalyptica counts as pop music although they in general do not follow previously mentioned song structure, making instrumental music. Therefore silly lyrical themes do not generally apply either as lyrics are more or less non-existent. What he then must base on that Apocalyptica is seen as pop might be because of their popularity: they got their breakthrough making Metallica covers performed on three cellos and got widely popular thanks to that connection to Metallica. Metallica indeed follow the mentioned song structure most of the time and they were also played on radio during the 80s and therefore counts as pop music. They still do today as well seeing their newer sound seems to attract a more general audience.

Wicked_Adidas also seem to think that since such bands like Apocalyptica is popular, it is not metal. There he forgot that pop is an umbrella term explained in the Wikipedia quote. But what is then metal, one may ask? Metal is a particular genre that emerged during late 80s that was heavily influenced by rock music. One can see metal as the next lead of rock music which it also indicates: metal being more slick and hard than rock (in a sort of literary sense. Rock music is more round and soft compared to metal). Therefore metal use a similar way to construct songs like rock does. For that we need guitarists, drummers, a bassist and a singer. More complex and advanced riffs were created than typical power chords or blues jargong. But people didn't only experiment with the guitar but in other areas as well, such as drumming techniques. We would see drumming techniques that were far more fast and aggressive than before, such as blast beats. In addition different singing types were discovered, such as screamo and growling.

However, what still makes a difference between metal and rock is the use of the guitar: compared to most rock the guitar is used to create a thick and dense wall of sound by the use of preferrebly two guitarists. To create this sound, heavy distortion is used along with two or more guitar layers. While arguebly the guitar is an important instrument in rock music, it is not leading instrument, but rather the singing is in most cases, or both instruments are on equal weight. The focus was moved away from making dance-friendly music to create more complex song constructions with the main use of guitars. To do this, we had to borrow heavily from other genres, particularily the most complex genre at that time, namely jazz. Therefore a lot of previously jazz-only elements were borrowed into metal such as double bass drumming and a more free song structure where focus was partly lying on improvisation rather than use a set formula each time.

However, to begin with, the border between metal and rock was thin, and sometimes heavy metal and hard rock are terms used interchangeably. While we still had the typical rock like The Beatles, metal bands started to focus more on speed and technicality and finally managed to break away from their blues roots. Therefore we suddenly got an outburst of metal genres during the mid-80s where the exact origin is almost impossible to trace back to. All in all, we could find death metal, power metal, speed metal, thrash meal, NWOBHM, progressive metal, black metal and of course, heavy metal. Of those more accessible metal-subgenres heavy metal and power metal managed to get most attention from the mainstream audience, more focusing on speed and catchy riffs and simple lyrical subjects such as love. This caused the term poodle rock or glam rock to be born; which was highly connected to the way how most of these bands looked like: they had long fluffy hair (like a poodle) and were often dressed in flashy clothing which was in fashion during the 80s. Bands such as Scorpions, Iron Maiden, Metallica, Mötley Crüe and Yngwie Malmsteen did all in one or another way contribute to the poodle scene while the music they performed differed greatly, to mention a few names of many, many bands and artists that were active during the 80s. One could say that for example Metallica, performing a more easily accessible thrash metal were not poodle rockers, but they were still part of the scene thanks for their more easy-to-listen-to thrash compared to their peers such as Slayer. This media attention on metal bands in particular would lay down the foundation of the current metal scene and definitely made metal, even for that time, pop music.

However, when the 80s ended so did the metal pop era. The genres lived on though and some underwent notable changes which gave an outburst of even more subgenres of the subgenres. Most of them however, like power metal and heavy metal kept some of the basic song structures. At the end of the 90s metal started to come back with bands like Nightwish at the front. Since power metal were one of the few genres that still were using the typical verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge/solo-chorus song structure and deviated less from the accepted song time which is roughly somewhere around 3 minutes (the origin for that is because of the limitations of the first recordings where the space was scarce). While space is more or less unlimited today as for song lengths goes, it is not when it comes to radio stations. Therefore more popular radio stations will cut off songs longer than 3 minutes so they can play as many songs from as many artists as possible during their running time.

As I understand it, Wicked_Adidas does not seem to consider bands from the 80s as pop compared to power metal bands that emerged during late 90s while still very few of these bands actually ever became truly popular outside their own fanbase. Such examples can be Edguy that didn't reach any serious mainstream fame until their Hellfire Club release which was more rock-oriented. It can also be quite noticeable that bands such as Nightwish also had to release a more "electronized" song with their Wish I Had an Angel release to hit the radio stations. Therefore we can still draw the conclusion that metal in general still neither very accepted within mainstream media nor the mainstream audience. The only band I can mention like that atop of my head that underwent minor changes until their mainstream breakthrough was HammerFall with their Hearts on Fire release.

If we then compare to modern rock bands with groove elements such as Korn, it is clear they never had to change their music at all to become popular en masse. If we for instance compare to a band like In Flames where the change is so notable it is hardly remiscient of the old sound anymore, we get a sort of picture of what today is accepted as popular metal. True metal fans can whine that I don't mention "sell out" bands like Behemoth that managed to emerge as a quite generic black metal band to reach more fame through a change in sound which would later label then as death metal, the sort of extreme opposite genre.

We need to understand one thing: the key element to become a popular metal act today is the groove element originally laid out like bands such as Pantera and Sepultura. The groove elements are quite far from metal if used wrong. Groove riffs are often slow and simple and instead of being built on power chords single string picking. We basically speak simplfied and slow downed thrash metal.

During the 90s we could notice a specific genre fusion movement which maybe a bit wrongly was labeled as nu metal although it has got very little to do with metal at all except the fact of a few power chord elements and distorted guitars. Nu metal borrowed heavily from funk, groove, industrial and even the hip hop scene.

Wikipedia describes nu metal like this:
Nu metal, otherwise known as new metal or nü metal, is a musical genre that emerged in the mid 1990s which fuses influences from grunge and alternative metal with funk music, hip hop and various heavy metal genres, such as thrash metal and groove metal.

Nu metal music emphasizes mood, rhythm, and texture over melody and complex instrumentation. Often, nu metal songs use rhythmic, syncopated riffs played on distorted electric guitars with strings detuned to lower pitches to create a darker and thicker sound than other mainstream music.

If we notice the lined I bold out, I'd say they just removed the very thing which makes it metal, namely song complexity. Metal emerged as a faster and more complex variant of rock, to remove those complex elements would take it back to a rock level. Therefore it is fair to say nu metal is rather a form of modern rock rather than modern or alternative metal.

So where does power metal for example stand in comparison to modern rock music? Wikipedia says:
Power metal is a style of heavy metal music combining characteristics of traditional metal with thrash metal or speed metal, often within symphonic context. The term refers to two different but related styles: the first pioneered and largely practiced in North America with a harder sound similar to speed metal, and a later more widespread and popular style based in Europe (Especially Germany, Italy and Scandinavia) with a lighter, more melodic sound and making frequent use of keyboards.

We can frankly see that the likeliness of inspiration and origin is very small, the only ones being an influence from thrash metal where power metal is far more metal oriented than modern rock music as we can clearly hear thrash oriented riffs if we listen closely to any power metal band in comparison to modern rock bands styling towards groove and funk.

However, both genres are pop because they are more or less widely accepted genres into the mainstream music albeit modern rock has an upper grip here, since there are more famous and well-known modern rock bands than power metal ones.

If we also compare a band such as Linkin Park to a band like Kamelot, the differences are so many we can clearly say we speak about two completely different genres not even related to each other. A few similiarites would be:
- Use of keyboards to create melodies
- Clean vocals
- Similar instruments in the line up (guitar, drums, bass)

If we look on the differences:
- Slow and simple riffs vs fast picking and complex riffs
- Keyboard used to lay simple and emotional elements compared to melodic and symphonic elements
- One band is having a rapper, the other doesn't
- The clean singer is singing in a lower range in modern rock, sometimes fusing it with screamo/growl compared to a higher melodic range
- DJ methods are used to create additional sound effects vs none
- Lyrical themes where modern rock is more oriented towards emotions and teenage angst compared to more fantasy/story based themes
- Drumming more akin to groove compared to typical speed metal drumming

And I could go on and on.

Conclusion: popular music is popular music regardless of genre and song structure. Metal must contain groove elements to become popular music with examples statuated with In Flames and newer Metallica.

Easy-to-listen-to music should not get mixed up with pop: there is mainstream metal and there is pop whereas pop has a larger range of listerners and is generally accepted by media. Mainstream metal is such metal that has a large fanbase within the metal-scene but is still more or less unknown compared to conventional music found within the pop scene. Such mainstream acts would be those often labeled as sell out because of their generally high popularity within the metal world, like Behemoth, Nile, At the Gates and Opeth.

As such, some avid followers of the true formula consider any band that is becoming fairly well known even within the metal scene as sell out. It is however very sell out if the band becomes famous within general mainstream media and thus will be labeled as pop.

Since only a few bands even at this date are well known outside the metal scene like DragonForce, previously mentioned Nightwish, HammerFall, In Flames, Metallica and Edguy, it is pretty fair to say that power metal as a genre in general is as such not considered as a generally accepted pop genre. While we have another genre on the rise in metalcore; metalcore as a genre is on the borderline of being classified as metal although it is definitely more eligible compared to modern rock bands as Linkin Park and Korn. I am however quite unsure how popular metalcore is outside the general metal world and metalcore deserves another journal entry some other time.


  • Citizen1

    I didn't read the whole thing, but you write really well, nice article. I enjoyed reading what I read, it read well and was nicely worded.

    16 Mar 2008, 4:20
  • LeaTelamon

    Thanks. I noticed that I made a few spelling/grammar errors on the way as usual... Will modify this post at a more humane time on the day when I can think a bit more clearly.

    16 Mar 2008, 4:25
  • Quispiam

    No, not many errors, except 2000th century, I guess you mean 20th. I found your article very nicely done, and I totally agree with your opinions. I hate it when people call easy-listened pop, as well as when they call pop a genre.

    16 Mar 2008, 11:45
  • Octember

    Nu metal >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> power metal any day of the week

    16 Mar 2008, 12:32
  • Justd1e

    Too...much...sense! AAAGH!!!

    16 Mar 2008, 13:09
  • LeaTelamon

    Good it enlightened you LouIsImmortal :) to Octember, that's an opinion. I was merely suggesting why modern rock bands sometimes labeled as nu metal have very little to do with metal music. Which music you prefer listening to I couldn't care less about. The key element is that contemporary metal and rock today must have a groove element to be generally accepted into the mainstream.

    16 Mar 2008, 14:26
  • Audio_Proteus

    Great article. Fits my opinion perfectly.

    16 Mar 2008, 16:45
  • diaaaaabo

    *clapclap* greatly done indeed (:

    16 Mar 2008, 19:32
  • LeaTelamon

    to Misantropy, I just took a few bands that were seen as sell out among the true metal listeners. Of course there are more popular and well known bands but the idea was to give a few examples of bands that really aren't that poopular but still are seen popular if you understand what I mean.

    16 Mar 2008, 22:00
  • Richaod

    I agree with most of your points buuuuut... You might want to correct this: [quote]Metal is a particular genre that emerged during late 80s[/quote] Sabbath.

    16 Mar 2008, 22:06
  • LeaTelamon

    Well, the whole point in my argumentation is that you can't classify a genre solely on the lyrical theme. to Richaod, well, while I know Sabbath and such emerged during the 70s and people think it is a typo (it is, sort of), in Sweden we have a slightly different definition of heavy metal where Sabbath and such rather plays hard rock and that is why I also mentioned why both terms can be used underchangeably on the same band. For me the definite metal as genre did not emerge until the 80s when the style can clearly be discerned away from rock, but that's just my opinion. To be factual correct however, I will update this post later. I have also noticed a few other sentences that are half complete or doesn't make sense because I forgot to add conjunctions and such(I wrote this like 4 AM :) ).

    17 Mar 2008, 0:28
  • mitrado

    I think the problem with most people is a slight case of dyslexia: They usually read poop instead of pop ... Then they get all pissed off just because they've failed how to read that very short and simple word! Iiihihihii!

    17 Mar 2008, 2:03
  • OmegaDragon

    Nice article. Sure, most power metal tends to be more accesable, but calling it pop (and not metal) is pretty stupid. I also dislike the whole mindset that if a band is accessable/popular, it is therefore a sell-out band, that has no soul, can't write 'good' music etc. Also, that anti-happy metal group is stupid. As are most anti groups.

    17 Mar 2008, 11:56
  • Centurion-Ryan

    Damn straight. Power Metal has its heavy bands too. Like Bodom, Blind Guardian, RAGE etc. Nu Metal does not.

    17 Mar 2008, 21:21
  • OmegaDragon

    I wish, I would like to hear metal (not just some Metallica, Sabbath etc) on the radio

    17 Mar 2008, 23:19
  • LeaTelamon

    And I'd just sincerely agree with what OmegaDragon said. Generic pop music makes me sick and tired. Wish there was some originality to hear for a change.

    18 Mar 2008, 0:33
  • LeaTelamon

    Eh another wall of post by you :) Well tbh, I don't give a shit either. My point is just that certain music can attract a general audience and is as such labeled pop no matter what the original genre is like. People use the term pop as if it was it's own genre when it is in reality just an umbrella term. As for generic pop, I saw Melodifestivalen, the lack of originality and even copying old pop songs... I like old pop music, like 80s pop. It has some soul for me, modern pop music today generally doesn't. I don't detest all pop music but it just fails to sound unique for me or having any kind of interesting sound in it that would make me want to listen to it. I mean look, I listen to Marilyn Manson, Dragonforce, Ayumi Hamasaki etc etc, do you really think I care that much about what is pop or not? :) It's just that when I listen to a radio station playing pop music, I feel a oh noes, I don't like it. I find it generic and sounding all the same, I cannot tell individual songs and artists from each other. In the end, this is merely my opinion and it doesn't need to be right or be wrong. As for the Anti Happy Metal group, it entertained me for some time. Their leader really gave me a few laughs since he obviously doesn't seem to know much about music at all. As for Robbie Williams, naa, I don't like him in general. He does get some credit from me doing his own music though.

    18 Mar 2008, 15:06
  • LeaTelamon

    As for not saying about anything about the music, what does? If you label an artist like the best band/artist in the whole world it doesn't say much for the other person not knowing how that artist or band sounds like either. They are just empty words. However, a genre can if used correctly give us a hint how a band sounds like and that it's easier to have labels when discussing. If I talk about the best band in the world and you talk about the best band in the world, does it mean we talk about the same band or same type of music? Not necessarily. Blame lack of understand in communication if you want to bash labeling :) You can go on and on on this in eternity. Why do we need to label a certain sex as male and the other as female? etc. Because our brain and languages are structured this way. I agree that I don't want labels, in the end it is just music and how people can manage to enjoy it or not. But due to lack of communication we need such defining things so we understand we talk about the same thing or seriously misunderstandings can and will occur.

    18 Mar 2008, 15:11
  • ohnedich1313

    Great post. It is very true. It reminds me of every time I make the mistake of buying metal off of iTunes. I download Arch Enemy and they label it metal, but then I download, say, Kataklysm and they put it as alternative. I realize that the people it iTunes are probably not listening to everything they put up, hut it would be nice if they got things straight.

    19 Mar 2008, 23:47
  • nospr

    nu metal should be called nu rock POWER METAL RULES

    21 Mar 2008, 13:45
  • DWarsong

    You´re thinking about things too much Lea:-) Good thinking but still I really don´t see the point in this discussion. If someone wants to call Skinless pop, I have nothing against him/her to do so. The fact I don´t consider brutal death metal as pop does not change anything. Genres are here to help people easier identify the band they have before them (and that they might like more than other) but I think some people decided to devote their lives to tag and genre anything.. And call shit everything they don´t like. No point in that. Listen to pop, silly fantasy power metal if you want, no one should dictate you anything. People should stop thinking about music in this way and just enjoy what they like. This is, I hope the main reason why music was created from arché:-) Gl in next journal thou:-).. P.S.:who the fuck cares about some Wicked_Adihash anyways

    23 Mar 2008, 9:44
  • DWarsong

    Lea:return to 80´s for a good pop.. there will never be a better pop anyways (all was said in this genre already)

    23 Mar 2008, 9:49
  • db0

    Heya, your article has been linked from the ACP. Cheers! :)

    31 Mar 2008, 9:48
  • LeaTelamon

    Yep DWarsong, I think damn too much in general sometimes. But since music and correct labeling with no analism is important to me, hey, I had to get it out. Just to prove to the audience I am right and he is so fucking wrong he can be :P Death metal can prob very well be pop... just not atm though ;) I guess the cloest thing you would get is either Nile or Behemoth. And yeah, I truly think pop music reached its height during the 80s... I can't say why though.

    8 Abr 2008, 22:37
  • LeaTelamon

    To faki, I have nothing else to add or say... I agree with you 100%. I just wanted to clear up the term between pop music and actual genre.

    8 Abr 2008, 22:38
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