The mid-2010s found the musical world beginning to shift from pop for the first time in years. Hip-hop and Electronic Dance Music (EDM) took control of the charts.
To get listeners back on their side, many pop stars found themselves reinventing their sound, deviating from genre traditions and separating from the pack.
Lady Gaga long ruled as pop’s most forward-thinking star. Whether it be fashion or music, no one beats Gaga’s ability to see the big picture.
Initial Gaga albums are predictive of what pop was and would become, as electronic music and synth use increased in the genre. Her latest album “Chromatica” is one of her strongest and a perfect time capsule of the state of pop and Gaga’s view of its future.
2010’s hitmaker Charli XCX is consistently among the best at predicting the direction of pop. Known for “Boom Clap” and Iggy Azalea collaboration “Fancy,” the English songwriter did not simply see one era coming — she trailblazed the next wave.
After 2016’s “Vroom Vroom EP” restarted her career, Charli XCX picked up the torch left by influential and often imitated, noise-pop duo Sleigh Bells. Charli’s work with the production label PC Music led to a growing crop of electronic style hyperpop musicians.
Bruno Mars needs no help winning awards or selling albums. However, his collaboration with indie rap staple Anderson .Paak made Mars the frontman of Silk Sonic, an exciting new pop duo that pulled four Grammy nominations off a single song.
Mars fuses his personal influences and pop stardom to perfectly create his half of Silk Sonic and along with .Paak, adapts both their sounds into an excellent 70’s R&B throwback that is music’s next best pair.
For stars looking to reinvent their sound quickly, Jack Antonoff’s blend of Indie and Alt-Pop provides a one-stop shop. With a successful solo career under his Bleachers stage name, Antonoff has become one of the most important producers in pop.
A-listers such as Taylor Swift, Lana Del Rey, Lorde and Clairo all had career high points after infusing their style with Antonoff’s indie rock knowhow.
Other pop stars pulled deeper from their influences. Halsey’s “If I Can’t Have Love I Want Power” is produced solely by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross of Nine Inch Nails acclaim. The album is a heavy departure from Halsey’s previous pop roots and Reznor and Ross’ industrial production is excellent.
Dua Lipa’s “Future Nostalgia” reintroduced disco to music charts for the first time in years. Hayley Williams and Avril Lavigne will live forever as the representation of younger pop stars like Olivia Rodrigo and Billie Eilish’s punk rock, emo phase.
Though some artists take bold chances with their sound, those who don’t are equally noticeable. Ed Sheeran continues to make background music for coffee shops with no sign of stopping. Artists like Katy Perry and Drake, to varying degrees, have become stuck and have little going for them beyond good branding.
Pop’s ability to infuse boundaryless influences is and should be, part of its appeal. As traditional metrics of charting become increasingly outdated and more unpredictable, artists who separate themselves through the reinvention of new sounds, such as hyperpop and the re-emergence of pop punk, are more likely to find success and further propel the genre forward.