Styles & Forms | Nineties Pop

If you ask a young music consumer what kind of acts represent pop music, they will undoubtedly reel off a list of teen-orientated, manufactured bands. Pop has come to represent a narrowly focused genre, as far away from the initial, revolutionary rock-meets-pop appeal of Elvis Presley and The Beatles as can be.

Since the 1950s, pop has been a catch-all term for almost all popular music made in the wake of rock’n’roll. But each generation has seen the development of more musical sub-genres, with the music business’s increasing success at identifying these sub-genres, and marketing narrowly and heavily towards their fans, effecting a gradual change in the way the public views pop.

Nevertheless, the 1990s still boasted some artists who, in different ways, transcended the limitations of genre-specific forms of music. Before we look at some of these definitive 1990s pop artists, it is worth noting that the 1990s saw various completely manufactured acts achieving a credibility, longevity and unit-shifting power in the pop marketplace unanticipated even by the giants of 1960s Tamla Motown. Britain’s The Spice Girls, Australia’s Kylie Minogue and America’s Britney Spears attained a kind of commercial and critical success – based less on their music than on their extraordinary level of celebrity – that no one would have predicted when they emerged. Another UK teen band who pioneered this level of manufactured pop profile, the north-west England quintet Take That, produced one of the key 1990s pop stars, Robbie Williams, a former dancer who successfully mixed the sound and promotional devices of manufactured pop with a more individual vision, based on self-referential lyrics and videos as well as a great deal of charisma.

Singing While He’s Winning

Stoke-On-Trent’s Robbie Williams was just 21 when he stage-managed one of the most public band splits in pop history, rebelling against the boy-band strictures of Take That with a drunken offstage display at the 1995 Glastonbury Festival in the company of Britrock bad boys Oasis. Within two years, he established himself as Britain’s biggest pop star with a heavily produced blend of Britpop and mature balladry on the Life Thru A Lens album. Since then, he has effectively rewritten the rules of pop, dance and rock crossover, jumping easily from the pseudo-rap and gory, banned video of the single ‘Rock DJ’ to the Sinatra-tributing, big-band standards of the Swing When You’re Winning album. Although his ability to command inter-generational appeal, utilizing everything from mawkish sentiment to sexually explicit self-reference, has had difficulty translating to an American audience, he remains, at the time of writing, Britain’s only truly transcendent pure pop star, overcoming musical limitations with his film-star good looks and boy-next-door cheek.

The Princesses Of Wails

Many of the biggest pop sales phenomena continue to derive from virtuoso vocalists who blend chart-oriented pop with mature MOR torch song. Two female singers who broke through in the early 1990s challenged the position of Whitney Houston as the FM radio, adult-pop queen of the divas.


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Source: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music, general editor Paul Du Noyer


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