Popjustice is a blog with ideas above its station. Popjustice gives pop precisely the amount of respect it deserves, which differs from song to song, popstar to popstar, week to week. Popjustice, like pop itself, is not as good as it used to be and precisely as good as it ever was depending on who you ask. Popjustice does not think pop = popular. Popjustice enjoys pop with a capital P; Popjustice is one word with a lower case ‘j’.
Popjustice was invented in May 2000 by so-called music journalist Peter Robinson, and took its first steps to becoming what you see today at the end of 2002 with the arrival of the front page blog – The Briefing.
The first Briefing post was very upset about the lack of success experienced by S Club Juniors’ cover of Puppy Love. Sixteen years later that S Club Juniors cover is rightly seen as a classic of our times, and Popjustice continues its mission to celebrate 21st Century Pop’s highs, lows and bits in between.
In the 18 years Popjustice has been online pop music has changed a lot.
Which is a) the whole point of pop, b) good news because nobody really wants pop to still sound like it did two decades ago, and c) not the entire story because as much as pop changes, pop also stays exactly the same: it still pulls in and does what the hell it wants with all the best bits of everything else.
And that’s why pop’s better than everything else, right? It is everything else, just without the shit bits.
21 factual statements about pop music, the people who make it, and the people who make the people who make it.
- Terrible popstars can make brilliant pop songs and brilliant popstars can make terrible pop songs.
- Popstars should be honest and popstars should make it all up, and when they make it up they should do it as they go along, but they should also have a plan.
- Pop is made great by popstars who say yes, but pop is made vital by popstars who say no.
- The best pop is all about the music and the best pop is all about everything except the music.
- A pop song doesn’t have to hit 100m streams to be brilliant, and a pop song doesn’t have to flop to be awful.
- Pop music can be at its most important when it’s being stupid and at its most stupid when it’s trying to be important.
- There is a lot to be said for an underground approach to mainstream music and there is a lot to be said for a mainstream approach to underground music.
- Popstars should make pop look easy; popstars should look like they're trying.
- Popjustice loves popstars who take pop too seriously and Popjustice loves popstars who treat the entire thing like a series of happy accidents.
- Just as pop is at its best when it’s both completely meaningful and utterly trivial, so Popjustice is about caring a lot and caring a little, sometimes both at the same time.
- It's possible to critique a popstar without hating them. It's also possible to praise the same popstar in the same article, paragraph or even sentence. You can say one thing one day and another thing the next, because popstars do different things on different days.
- The best pop music often sounds scary, different and like it doesn't quite fit in. It sounds right when it sounds a bit wrong.
- The concept of 'guilty pleasures' has no place on Popjustice. Popjustice is about loving pop and shouting it from the rooftops. If anyone tells you their favourite pop tune is a guilty pleasure ignore anything else they ever say. (Also: if you bill yourself as a shameless pop fan or similar you’re probably not a shameless pop fan.)
- When Popjustice started out in the year 2000, it was all about demanding that pop be given the same level of respect as indie music. In those days the old-fashioned distinction between 'real music' and pop music kept a lot of people very busy. Lots has changed in the last 18 years. Supposedly credible stuff has hurtled towards the mainstream (sonically, spiritually, in marketing terms and also in the sense that there's no such thing as a niche in the global streaming era), while pop has become incredibly sophisticated. Indie as we once knew it has disintegrated; pop has become more authentic. Pop is not a different genre to all those other ones – it's the lightning rod that grabs the best bits of other styles and makes them all sound better. But as the streaming era has emerged, brilliant, exciting, blow-your-arse-off pop music has a new foe: algorithm-influenced Spotpop and music specifically designed to sound like its nearest neighbour on any playlist. This might actually be the biggest challenge pop has ever faced. It's a big hole to climb out of. But exciting stuff is there on the fringes. And yes, when you look at it like that, it does now seem as if a certain type of pop has sort of become the new indie. Christ on a bike!
- There is nothing greater than great pop, and nothing more dismal than bad pop.
- Back in the year 2000 pop was often made for or marketed at children or teenage girls by labels and managers who, being idiots, expected children and teenage girls to accept any old shit. No wonder so many artists failed. Pop sounds more sophisticated these days but there remains a sense, in many quarters, that pop is not for serious music fans. The reality is that most of the worst pop is still made specifically for children, or for The Gays, or for housewives, or for students, or for straight thirtysomethings — for any demographic patronisingly targeted by songwriters, producers, managers and major label A&Rs. One of the biggest clichés in music interviewing is the artist who says: "We just do what we do, and if anyone likes it that's a bonus." We laugh at this for being disingenuous, don't we? But bashing out something amazing then seeing who bites has to be preferable to working backwards from a set of data, right?
- Popstars who say “pop just means popular” don’t really get it. Forget singing, writing, dancing or any of the other stuff — ‘getting it’ is one of the most important abilities of the modern popstar. It can’t be taught so it can’t be learned: you either get it, or you don’t. Harry gets it, Liam doesn't. Demi gets it, Selena doesn't. Calvin gets it, Jess Glynne doesn't. And so on. The most dangerous sort of popstar is one who thinks they get it when they don’t. In this category you will find Jessie J. If your favourite popstar doesn’t get it that doesn’t matter — they can still be amazing, they'll just never know why.
- In any case, "pop is short for popular" hasn't been true for a long time. Just as indie music stopped meaning 'independent' many years ago, so the word pop has become its own thing. Chart music ≠ pop music. Popular music feels like a term invented to separate pop from art. Bollocks to that.
- A genre or artist type’s popularity at one point in history does not automatically mean that a genre or way of presenting pop music is by rights relevant in every other era of pop. Boybands, for instance. Made sense in the 1990s, didn’t make sense in 2000s, made sense again in the 2010s; as we head towards the 2020s Brockhampton and BTS make sense but PRETTYMUCH and Why Don't We sort of don't.
- Every generation has its own idea about pop’s greatest era, but pop itself is mostly about the here and now, even when it draws directly from the there and then. (Context is an amazing thing!) It's important to care about the best music from past generations while also understanding that most of it should stay in the past. You don't need to see S Club 3 live. Also, of course, it's fine to be not too bothered about how pop in the here and now will sound in twenty years, and to celebrate it right here and right now without worrying about how it'll all pan out. (Sidebar: 2006 was amazing.) Also: anyone who approaches pop music with a sense of 'yes, well nobody will listen to this in ten years' is a) missing the point of pop and b) needs to get themselves to a wedding, where they will not hear a single song by Razorlight but will see it all totally kick off when Mis-Teeq's Scandalous comes on.
- Manufactured music and artists are fine! Authentic music and artists are also fine! Sometimes the former seem more relevant than the latter; sometimes they don't. Fear neither, but be wary of the former pretending to be the latter. Allow the former to become the latter; allow the latter to become the former.
Another 21 factual statements about pop music, the people who make it, and the people who make the people who make it.
- There's a lot of music out there. Too much, probably. The most inconvenient music in this regard is music that's fine. What are you supposed to do with that? Too good to dismiss forever, not good enough to add to your library. And it keeps coming, week after week. Anyway, generally speaking it's better to have a total grasp of some music, than a passing knowledge of the whole lot. 100% of 10%, rather than 10% of 100%. Your future self will thank you for this. Your future self won't get emotional about songs you once listened to six times.
- Much as 'the new punk' would by definition not look or sound anything like punk, because the entire thing was trampling over what came before, we know that in our quest for the next amazing popstar the whole point of the next Lady Gaga is that they won’t look or sound anything like Lady Gaga. (That said, the next Ed Sheeran will probably look and sound quite a lot like Ed Sheeran.)
- Most artists never make a better album than their greatest hits. Obviously, people have sort of stopped releasing greatest hits albums, but you get the point.
- A world without Beyoncé would seem bleak and terrifying but not every artist can be Beyoncé, not every artist should be Beyoncé, not every artist wants to be Beyoncé.
- Pop styles come and go. Pop itself comes and goes, but it always comes back again. How are these patterns established? Is it some extra-terrestrial power guiding the minds of songwriters, producers and singers? Do planets align? Does a sixth sense exist in the pop community, encouraging all parties to drift in similar directions? Perhaps it’s something to do with the tides. OF COURSE IT’S NOT. When pop changes – when things become pop that weren’t pop before, and when things that have been pop for a while cease to sound like pop at all – it’s often because people have deliberately sat down and gone: "Right, what happens next?" Do not fear this. It’s just some people changing pop music. Pop music has to change. Christ alive, imagine if it stayed the same forever. And when pop does change, it's fine to change how you respond to it. The economist John Maynard Keynes once responded to criticism that he'd shifted his stance on economic policy with this statement: “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?” Which was his way of saying, “oh do fuck off”. When pop changes, we change our minds. What do you do?
- You can be a fan of Little Mix without liking everything they’ve done. In fact, we’d say you’re not a true fan of any act if you’re so blinkered that you praise their unimpressive work. Doing so is enabling shit. Nobody will thank you in the long run. And the point, really, is that if you're truly on board with a popstar — if you know you're going to be with them for the long haul — you can afford to Sit This One Out when they make an album you're not keen on.
- Any popstar naming their fanbase before that fanbase hits triple figures is having an elaborate wank. Fanbases should find, define and describe their own identities. We'll let Marina & The Diamonds off on this occasion.
- Pop's 1% don't always make pop's best songs. Weird isn't it? The people who generate the most noise don't actually come up with the goods as often as you think. Coming to terms with this topic is actually one of the main routes to enlightenment as a pop music fan.
- The ideal marketing plan for any pop album: cheap wigs in expensive videos.
- It doesn't make any sense to see the general public as ‘right’ when they like a song you consider good, if you're also going to see them as ‘wrong’ when they like something you hate. So in a way it makes no sense to feel vindicated when a great song gets to Number One, if – as is usually the case – 80% of its streams are to people who we all know also enjoy awful music. It's understandable to feel a thrill when one of our favourite songs hits Number One and a wave of sadness when another favourite song gets about 36K streams in its first week out, but it's good to ignore, as best one can, chart position-based distraction when thinking about pop. Life is a lot easier — and whole new vistas open up — when you've learned to stop worrying about Rita Ora's latest chart position.
- It's fine to love a Lady Gaga or a Matty Healy for being closely involved with their careers to a degree that would send peers round the bend, but it's also fine to love a Demi Lovato or a Britney for being, well, a Demi Lovato or Britney type of pop proposition. Nobody criticises Lorde for not performing like Camila Cabello, and Britney shouldn't be criticised for not performing like Ed Sheeran. The trick with pop is for an artist to define their own terms and for success or failure to be judged according to how well that vision has been executed, not for their worth to be measured against contemporaries.
- Pop music is not a bloodsport. It is best, one can't help but feel, to step back from fan-on-fan hysteria built on the unnecessary pitting of one (usually female) artist against another.
- It's interesting to think about the value of an album. In 2013, Popjustice's About page said this: "We reckon £7 is a fair price for an album. £10 used to seem fair. Now it’s £7. It will probably be about a fiver in 2015." At the time of writing it is 2018 and the idea of buying an album for any money seems quite strange, unless you're going for special formats or special packaging, and if you're doing that you're basically buying an ornament. If all streaming services disappeared tomorrow five quid would sound about right, though.
- Good pop can seem lifechangingly important or totally disposable depending on your mood. Bad pop often happens when people try to make it either lifechangingly important or totally disposable. Neither is easy to get right. In fact pop music as a whole is not easy to get right. That’s why we should get excited by the triumphs and find ourselves amazed by successes, and remember that in even the biggest pop disasters there's at least one person who's trying their best.
- Songs built for single song repeat: very nice.
- Radio edits: amazing.
- Acoustic versions that exist for no reason other than to try and game Spotify's algorithms: no thanks.
- You probably hear a lot from certain quarters about how an artist ‘fucks with’ or ‘subverts’ pop. If you only love pop music that breaks the rules you don’t really love pop music. Popstars do a pretty good job of defining their own agendas – a Dua Lipa single sets out to do something quite different from a Grimes track, for instance, and the two acts co-exist brilliantly. Rina Sawayama hopes to be a different sort of artist to Shawn Mendes. Not all pop has the same ambitions. But it is all pop.
- Here's one thing it's important to state: pop music is never good simply because it is pop music. There's no pop shortage that necessitates the lowering of standards to hit some sort of listening quota. There’s so much good pop around that it's unnecessary to fetishise woeful acts of pop’s past, present or future.
- 'So bad it's good', 'alright for a pop song', 'screaming fans love it': these are all phrases people have traditionally used to distance themselves from pop. Popjustice believes you shouldn’t grow out of pop music the moment you hit puberty, and you shouldn’t grow back into pop music the moment you discover irony.
- Pop music is not a matter of life or death. It’s much more serious than that. 1
And it's better than football.↩