Pop music is a force to be reckoned with. A rotation of artists like Ed Sheeran, Taylor Swift, Adele, Ariana Grande and Bruno Mars are constantly topping the Top 40 charts, selling out arena tours, and stacking bills.
Pop stars accounted for nearly half of Forbes’ 2017 list of highest-paid musicians in the world, with Justin Bieber, Adele, and Beyonce all landing in the Top 10. If you look at the top-earning women in music last year, it’s virtually all pop acts. And that is not unusual. The pop landscape is just that — it’s popular music. The general public gobbles it up, radio overplays the hits, and people are willing to pay sometimes egregious amounts see a pop concert, because they know it will be a spectacle, and they want to hear that one song they just can’t get out of their head.
As a result, pop artists are always in the big print, headlining spots of the world’s best music festivals. Beyonce absolutely changed the game at this year’s Coachella; Bruno Mars is set to play Lollapalooza, among others; Janet Jackson’s making a comeback at Outside Lands, Panorama, and FYF Fest; Halsey’s proving her stardom at Governors Ball — the list goes on and on. However, though pop may seemingly dominate most festival lineups these days, there aren’t any pop-specific fests out there. Not a one.
Some may argue that there aren’t any festivals that are dedicated to one specific genre anymore, as the landscape continues to become overly saturated and exceedingly underwhelming with every passing year, but that’s not the case. Hip-hop’s got fests like Summer Jam, the Roots Picnic and the inaugural Smoker’s Club Festival; country has the coveted Stagecoach; EDM has too many genre-specific festivals to name, and even the music festival’s dying breed — rock — has Shaky Knees and Arroyo Seco. Beyond that, there are a multitude of new fests coming into production every year, from small-scale events to grandiose spectacles trying to be the next big thing. With music festivals becoming a dime a dozen, and pop music’s, well, popularity, how has no one conjured up a pop-specific fest yet?
The answer may be simple: the definition of pop is a hazy one. Yes, by true definition, it is “popular music,” but what does that really mean in today’s landscape? We still have the artists that obviously fit the bill, your Lady Gagas and Katy Perrys, Shawn Mendeses and Ed Sheerans, but pop has trickled its way into other genres of music, too, and that’s where the lines get blurred.
When I mentioned Beyonce earlier, you may have been shaking your head, thinking, She’s not a pop artist. But in terms of popularity, she’s hard to beat, and I’ll be damned if you don’t think her songs are catchy. Hip-hop and EDM are in their heydays right now, but would you consider Cardi B or Calvin Harris pop? Some would say yes, and some would say no. What about Portugal. The Man? Their single “Feel It Still” won them a Grammy for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance, but at their core, they’re a rock band. Therein lies the problem. If a pop-specific music festival were to be produced and billed acts like Beyonce, Cardi B, Calvin Harris, and Portugal. The Man as headliners, would it really be a true pop festival? No, it wouldn’t.
iHeartRadio is one such festival that tried to do this. Although the lineup is always filled with Top 40 acts, its big names span genres. Last year, country hero Chris Stapleton headlined, as did The Weeknd, 30 Seconds to Mars, DJ Khaled, Coldplay, Kings of Leon and Big Sean. While all of those acts are certainly popular and incorporate elements of the infectious, bubbly, upbeat sound we consider pop music today, it’d be hard-pressed to find someone who truly considers all of those artists pure “pop.” But there are plenty of artists who are considered pure pop, so why don’t we celebrate them?
Perhaps it’s because those who enjoy Top 40 music are typically considered “casual fans” — they listen to singles rather than albums and like what they hear on the radio without digging deeper. Sure, someone might be a diehard Miley Cyrus fan but does that mean they’re a diehard pop music fan? Do those even exist? Of course they do, and there are people who would kill to go to a festival that Harry Styles, P!nk and Lorde headlined, with Bebe Rexha, Dua Lipa and Billie Eilish under the fold.
For now, household pop names have the luxury of infiltrating virtually all internationally acclaimed fests, but festivals are also a means of helping new artists break out. Like any genre of music, there is a whole world of underground pop that is waiting to be discovered, and don’t those artists deserve to be showcased at a festival dedicated to their specific sound?