When you hear the term “pop rock,” any number of bands might pop into your mind. But what is pop rock music?
Pop rock can be a confusing term because it combines two genres that, on their own, are quite different.
This guide will give you a working definition of pop rock music and a brief history with examples to explain how pop rock has developed over recent years.
Definition: What Is Pop Rock Music?
So, what is pop rock music? A good definition would describe it as a part of the rock music genre, emphasizing songwriting more than attitude. Pop rock music is best known as less authentic than rock music because it’s an alternative to the original rock and roll sound.
The term “pop” refers to all genres of popular music. This intersecting of mainstream pop music combined with rock music gives more commercially successful music.
Pop Rock Music Characteristics
Pop and rock music have always been similar in sound. However, whether it’s lyrical content or instrument involvement, there has been much overlap between the two.
1. The Use of Guitars and Drums
The normal setup for a band is electric guitar, electric bass, and drums. Rock music has been known for bands of four or more people all playing instruments. The three instruments listed above are most prominently featured in pop rock songs.
2. Lead Vocals
Pop rock music lets the lead vocalists outshine the other band members. Any band wants the world to hear its lyrics, but pop rock music solely focuses on the lyrics. You need a quality vocalist at the center to accomplish this.
Pop rock artists focus on song structure and hooks. They want people to be able to sing along to their music. As a result, they spend almost as much time songwriting as they do in the studio.
Other rock styles, including heavy metal and alternative rock music, will emphasize the quality of their instruments.
4. Audience Appeal
Pop rock artists want to appeal to a general audience. They aren’t submitted to the classic ideas of rock and roll. Most sub-genres create a sub-culture audience only appealing to that crowd. Pop rock artists appeal to everyone.
7 Examples of Pop Rock Music
Pop rock includes different sounds, styles, and even instruments. Bands define themselves by their style, so they can all sound different.
1. “Demons” by Imagine Dragons
“Demons” by Imagine Dragons is a slow-tempo song written in E-flat major.
This song is about looking into someone’s eyes and seeing their inner demons. The eyes are known to be the windows to the soul, so it’s about looking past the external facade and seeing a person for who they really are.
2. “Animals” by Maroon 5
Maroon 5 wrote an entire song based on the images of a predator hunting their prey. This song sexualizes the predator and prey dynamic in the wilderness. The narrator is the predator, and his desire for the woman, who is the prey.
Maroon 5 has dedicated itself to standing apart from most mainstream artists. They are a pop rock band because they commercialize the radio dynamic while keeping the rock ideologies involved in their music.
3. “Hall of Fame” by The Script
“Hall of Fame” is about dedicating yourself to achieving your goals. The message of the song is seen throughout the first verse. This first verse ensures the listener that anything is possible if you put your mind to it and never give up.
Don’t sit around waiting for your goals to be achieved. You need to get out there and do it for yourself. Give it everything you’ve got, and you’ll be amongst some of the greatest achieved people in the world.
4. “Just Like Fire” by P!nk
P!nk is a pop rock icon that has the ability to rule the world. She has changed her sound to fit into the new generation of music. However, she knows that she’s an original artist stating that no one can be like her.
“Just Like Fire” sets the scene for leading a revolt against the people in power. These people have been trying to hold the narrator down for years. She wants to light up the world with fire to watch the madness unfold around her.
5. “Jailhouse Rock” by Elvis Presley
The lyrics of “Jailhouse Rock” should be taken literally. Elvis created a party where the inmates in jail were dancing and singing. Everybody in the cell block was dancing when the warden decided to throw them a party.
Elvis Presley became a national icon when he brought rock music to mainstream America. His music features the rock idioms that began their popularity in the 1950s. “Jailhouse Rock” continues to be one of his greatest songs.
6. “Counting Stars” by OneRepublic
“Counting Stars” by OneRepublic incorporates folk-based sound with the rock idiom of including guitar-based instruments in their songs. This song is a pop rock song and has a distinguished disco beat.
This song is a play on the idea of counting sheep to go to sleep. Instead of counting sheep, you count the stars to fall asleep. When you’re stuck awake wondering about all your life’s questions, you might not be able to sleep.
When you’re stressed, you lay awake at night, thinking about everything. Everything seems heightened when you can’t stop thinking about your worries.
7. “We Are Young” by Fun
“We Are Young” follows the instruments of a classic band. This song includes drums, bass guitar, electric guitar, and synthetic bass. However, the lead singer stays firmly on vocals. Other instruments include piano, horns, and other brass instruments.
The song centers around remembering a night during your youth. Remember a time in your life when you were young and wanted to have fun with your friends? Think of that time, and let it shine through.
This song has become a teen movie soundtrack favorite because the lyrics take you back to your teenage years. The times when you wanted to break the rules.
5 Top Pop Rock Musicians
Pop rock musicians have been around since the existence of rock music. They’ve changed their styles over the years to keep up with mainstream trends.
1. The Beatles
The Beatles are known as the most influential band of all time. They formed in Liverpool in 1960. The band consisted of Paul McCartney and John Lennon. They were the two main songwriters. The other two members were George Harrison and Ringo Starr.
The Beatles were the first international act to dominate the pop rock music scene, bringing their sound to the United States. In the 1950s, their sound was rotted in the rock and roll sound. However, they incorporated classical music and traditional pop into their sound.
Their intense frenzy was declared Beatlemania due to their influence, revolutionary songwriting, and artistic presentation on stage.
2. The Beach Boys
The Beach Boys started their band with classic rock and roll styles. Then, the band started using harmonic twists over their melodies to create their own unique sound. This style of harmonizing isn’t seen in traditional rock styles.
They symbolize the key characteristics of the pop rock genre. They recorded concise songs with dominating vocals. The Beach Boys created top-notch hooks that are still sung today.
3. Fleetwood Mac
The members of Fleetwood Mac are soft-rock pioneers, though their sounds stem from mainstream pop music mixed with class rock.
The original band featured many blues influences, but after several members dropped out of the band, they searched for a new sound. Adding Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks gave the band the pop rock sound during the 1970s.
Fleetwood Mac features rock guitar sounds to give them that rock and roll edge. The 70s were home to the classic rock generation. Fleetwood Mac set themselves apart from that genre with their sock rock sound.
4. Maroon 5
The pop rock genre has decreased in the 21st century due to new genres of music gaining more popularity.
Maroon 5 is a prime example of a pop music group that includes rock music sounds in their music. The band has stated that The Beatles and Billy Joel have greatly influenced the band. Of course, being in the pop rock genre sets you apart from others, but the influences hold them together.
5. Billie Eilish
Billie Eilish has pioneered the pop rock genre for a new generation. She’s the most recent example of a pop rock artist since her career started in the 2010s.
Eilish has combined the alternative rock and roll sound with synthesizers. However, her elegant-sounding voice is not a classic rock sound, which gives her the mainstream pop audience.
The History of Pop Rock Music
Pop rock music is as historic as rock music. Subgenres of pop rock music are Power Pop. There are also fusion genres, including pop punk and pop metal.
Pop music started with the popularity of gospel and folk music. Once rock and roll came around in the 1950s, artists began commercializing music on the radio by adding a pop sound.
The 1960s and 1970s are the key decades for classic rock music. Mainstream labels wanted to merge the classic rock sound with pop music on the radio. As a result, rock artists defined an entire generation by creating the classic pop rock sound.
The pop rock generation had competition during the 1970s, once the disco fever started. Rock and roll was pushed off the charts to make room for the competition. For rock genres to stay on top new styles started popping up, including alternative, punk rock, and heavy metal.
The 1990s centered around the hip-hop and R&B genres. Pop rock music was again on the back burner. Still, new groups like Nirvana and Pearl Jam were forming to reach mainstream audiences again.
The ‘90s also was the birth of pop punk music. Despite the competition in the 90s, many mainstream pop punk artists topped the charts, keeping the genre alive.
Rock idioms are a well-known tool for artists in the 21st century. You won’t find many artists that have classic rock ideations, but they still use rock and roll systems in their music. Artists like Adele and Lana del Rey have used the same pop rock characteristics over the years to keep the genre alive.
Pop rock audiences have remained dedicated to their former favorite bands while finding new bands with similar influences. Of course, there will never be another band like The Beatles, but new bands are trying to make the rock legends proud.
What Is Pop Rock Music? Final Thoughts
So, what is pop rock music? Pop rock music has been drifting in and out of mainstream culture due to new musical preferences gaining popularity. As a result, this genre may never reach the popularity that it had back in the 70s and 80s.
No matter the level of popularity, people will always keep this style of music close to their hearts. Dozens of artists today still use the rock idioms from previous generations to keep the sentiment alive.