The music genre title “pop” is short for “popular,” which explains quite simply why songs in this genre tend to make more money than those in other genres, such as rap or hiphop; that is, they are popular commercially, in media and, most importantly, among the common population. Of course, it is too simple to say that songs in this genre are popular without exploring why these songs are so appealing and, thus, lucrative.
Pop music makes more money because music is a science, and for stylistic reasons rap music does not carry as much potential for vocal or instrumental contour. Studies have shown that this contour, also called melodic motion, is one of the main influences that draw people to pop music besides the messages being conveyed. Many of the most popular hiphop songs cross over into the pop genre because they use vocal harmony, such as a “hook” sung by someone with a more melodic voice, in contrast to the often gritty vocals of the rap track. Nonetheless, hiphop musicians need to balance this harmonic transition in their work in order to achieve the proper effect on their audiences. Too much transition can be overwhelming while too little can be anticlimactic for listeners or alienate their traditional fanbase.
Pop music seems to have the easiest time achieving the balance of harmony and contrast necessary to attract fans from the mainstream, making people want to listen to it again and again. Frequent radio listeners will often complain of hearing the same songs played over and over on the air waves. This excessive replay occurs because people are more likely to call in to radio stations based on impulses, and the most successful pop artists know how to play on those impulses.
In truth, most successful pop artists have studied the science and psychology of music in some sort of formal setting. There are exceptional pop musicians who produce music that intrigues without first undergoing in-depth study of the genre, but the artists who produce hit after hit are commonly those who have spent significant time in study. For instance, recent pop sensations Adele and Jessie J both graduated from the same music school, BRIT School in the United Kingdom.
Considering the relationship between pop music and impulse, it comes as no surprise that pop is the most common genre used in TV advertisements. Ads rely on viewers acting on impulse in order to produce profits for their companies, and pop music encourages that sort of behavior. A well-designed pop song excites the production of endorphins, the pleasure response in the human brain, and a good advertising agent can pick out the most effective moment in the song for producing the strongest reaction. Viewers associate that reaction with the product so the next time they see that product they have good feelings and are more likely to purchase it.
Pop music is engineered to engage listeners’ emotions, so it is able to work as the psychological equivalent to magic in the most pivotal moments. For example, TV shows often introduce pop music to trigger the climax in a story whereas they may only use hiphop or rap in order to build toward that climax. While rap and hiphop may carry good messages, they often do not engage the impulses that produce the greatest dividends when played to casual or mainstream listeners especially those that are getting older and are more used to traditional, melodic tunes.
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