The Boys II Men Effect
When Country Goes Pop
What Can a Song Do?
The Brill Building in 4 Song
This Is Pop is an enjoyable documentary series charting the ever-evolving field of pop music. From Sweden’s impact on the scene to the infection of auto-tune in hip hop, This Is Pop charts almost every genre of music in its mission to showcase how pop has changed over time. I say almost.
There’s absolutely no mention of dance music beyond Cher’s ‘Believe’, despite its rich origins with pop. This feels like a real missed opportunity and gives the series a somewhat hollow feel overall – especially during the later episodes when the series takes a dive in quality.
Before we get to that though, the chapters that are here cover R&B, hip-hop, boy bands, country-pop and even the evolving scene for rock bands breaking into the mainstream. Each of the episodes tend to hone in on two or three artists or topics, with various talking head interviews throughout.
There’s archival footage ranging from music videos and audio samples right the way through to pictures of studios and on-tour artists. Aesthetically, this is one good looking documentary.
The first half feels much more intimate and driven by genre too, before the show takes a more wide-sweeping look at the music scene (minus streaming) and branches out to song-writing, festivals and protest songs. It’s all pretty interesting stuff but most of the buzz for this will undoubtedly be drawn toward the episode on ‘Auto Tune’.
Not only is this topical for our culture right now, it also does a great job shining a spotlight on Youtubers using this tool for satirical purposes. This is also one of the few episodes to dabble a little in the darker side of pop music. As one interviewer tells us through an off-handed remark: “Artists just need to look good now, they don’t necessarily need to sing.”
On the other side of the spectrum, This Is Pop never mentions the impact of dance music on the scene. Not even in the ‘Festivals’ episode. It’s actually incredibly insulting that this genre isn’t covered, outside of a few pictures of clubs in Sweden with Ace Of Base’s smash hit, ‘All That She Wants’.
For those unaware (and reading this far and interested to know more), the origins stem back to the disco era. By 1978, disco was actually outselling rock music which shocked many labels in the US that were backing rock at the time. This genre also boasts the origins of the remix too. The same remixes that are prevalent right the way through pop music.
A little group called The Bee Gees eventually paved way for Donna Summer’s “I feel Love” which is the first example of electronic dance music.
The early 80’s saw house, which evolved into techno, acid house and a whole slew of different sub-genres from there.
The 90’s saw a huge wave of Eurodance numbers hit the charts – with some actually hitting the top spot. While you could argue this was just a fleeting fad, the early 2000’s then saw house music move into mainstream pop.
‘Hung Up’ by Madonna started a cultural movement, seeing large pop acts getting in on the action. This flowed into electro-pop and the rise of artists like David Guetta, before Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” in 2013 – the biggest dance-pop song of the year.
As you can see, there is a rich, rich history that symbiotically links the rise of dance music to pop’s changing and evolving sound – but it’s never mentioned once which undermines the whole purpose of this docu-series.
This moves us along nicely to the festival episode. This is arguably one of the more disappointing chapters in the collection and feels far too surface-level for the topic at hand.
There’s mention of Woodstock of course, along with Coachella and Glastonbury, but the show never once tackles some of the largest festivals in the world. Donauinselfest is the world’s largest, for those interested to know, attracting millions and playing (among other genres) pop music! But you’ll have to Google that one because ‘This Is Pop’ only focuses on the UK and America.
The other omission here comes from streaming services and the business of songwriting. Sure, there’s an episode covering Brill Building but there’s never any discourse here discussing lyrics as a whole and the business side of making hit records.
Bohemian Rhapsody was written by one man – Freddie Mercury. Rihanna’s “Birthday Cake”, with the very imaginative chorus of “Cake” repeated 15 times in quick succession, was written by four different people.
Has this meticulous and mechanical method of creating songs sucked creativity out the industry? Is this why Ed Sheeran has sky-rocketed to fame? Who knows, this documentary certainly won’t tell you.
Despite its shortfalls though, This Is Pop is a decent enough docu-series that sets out to pay homage to the evolving face of pop. It’s an 8 chapter celebratory look at some of the more fascinating aspects of the genre, without ever diving deeply into the subject material. While it’s okay as an introduction to pop, it’s far from the excellent documentary it so easily could have been.