In May, my younger sister graduated from college and found herself thrown head-first into the next stage of her life during the middle of global pandemic. She, like many others, is struggling - struggling with the reality of the world right now, and struggling to find her way as a brand-new adult.
Recently, I could tell she really needed some help. So, I did what all good big brothers should do for their struggling younger sibling - I recommended she listen to the new Ava Max album.
In my mind, there is no better music recommendation than a pop album that’s actually really fucking good. Although my sister and I don’t always share the same taste in music (she mostly prefers the sounds of Travis Scott and the late Mac Miller), I know she has a soft-spot for pop, specifically strong female artists (Lorde, Sia, etc.).
In the days that followed my recommendation - with Ms. Max blasting in her AirPods - my sister’s whole outlook and demeanor turned upward. She began a consistent exercise routine, and she started a new part-time job with a positive attitude. To quote Ava herself, “I got my thigh-heels on / I feel like Wonder Woman!”
Take that, adulthood!
Millennials who grew up during the 90s “teen pop boom” (Britney, Christina, Backstreet Boys, *NSYNC, etc.) may have thought the pop music we heard on TRL would be rendered useless to us once we grew to a certain age. I wondered back then, as I grew up and got a job, would all the music I listen to begin to sound like Dave Matthews Band? Would I really want to listen to music like “Bills, Bills, Bills” by Destiny’s Child once I had…actual bills to pay?
But the themes in pop music stay with us for life. Love, heartbreak and sex are eternal. We are constantly coming of age. We will always need an outlet for dancing, or crying. Moreover, the science is undeniable that our brains are wired to enjoy it.
Of course, the music has changed a lot since TRL. Pop has gotten smarter, less predictable, and it’s notably weaved itself into other genres of music. The genre has aged into adulthood right alongside those early viewers of TRL, and in fact, it’s the artists from that age group who are some of the best “adult pop stars” today.
Carly Rae Jepsen is my favorite example. Everyone knows her Kidz Bop-friendly breakout single, “Call Me Maybe,” but it was her 2015 album Emotion that served us the perfect slice of adult pop pie. It was sweet, pop bliss, from the shiny chorus hooks to the slick and layered production.
Though, she’s not the only artist making smart and mature pop music these days.
The multi-talented Lady Gaga has continually reinvented her genre of pop through becoming a true master of her craft and talent, making way for new voices, including Ava Max.
16 years after Beyoncé left pop-trio Destiny’s Child, she released Lemonade, arguably one of the greatest albums of all-time.
Songwriter, Taylor Swift, crossed over from country to pop, not to gain more mainstream success, but because it’s the music she wanted to write.
Mark Ronson, the artist behind 2015’s mega-pop-hit “Uptown Funk” (with Bruno Mars) helped make the music from the A Star Is Born remake. He also released a stellar solo album featuring top-shelf female talent.
Lizzo completely took over the world last year with her brand of loud, proud and brash pop-R&B.
Harry Styles went from being in the #1 boy band in the world, to defining a new age of young “retro” adult contemporary pop with his solo work.
Robyn charted on TRL with her 1997 hit, “Show Me Love,” and 13 years later released the greatest song from the 2010s, “Dancing On My Own.”
As listeners, we are living in a time of truly great pop music, with artists who consistently find new ways to play with the genre. And with and our lives being as complicated as they are these days, pop music is one thing we can always use to heal and to help make sense of the chaos…hopefully till the world ends.