History of Pop Music: Facts & Timeline

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  • 0:00 Pop Music
  • 0:43 Origins
  • 1:35 King of Pop
  • 2:23 Characteristics
  • 3:10 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Dana Dance-Schissel

Dana teaches social sciences at the college level and English and psychology at the high school level. She has master's degrees in applied, clinical and community psychology.

What is pop music and what are its origins? This lesson is designed to summarize the history and significance of pop music using facts and a timeline to explain and explore some key points.

Pop Music

What are some of your favorite songs? What genre of music does each one belong to? Are any of the songs classical? Or maybe you like folk music, rock and roll, or even heavy metal. Classical, folk, and rock and roll are all examples of different genres, or types of music. For example, pop music is another example of a musical genre.

Pop music is an abbreviation of the word 'popular.' It's a contemporary form of music that appeals to a very wide audience. It often includes a danceable tempo, easy to remember lyrics, and simple notation. Pop music is commonly found on mainstream radio stations and across a range of countries and cultures.


The origins of pop music can be found in a variety of different musical styles, including the jazzy piano melodies of ragtime, a musical trend associated with the late 19th to early 20th centuries. Its roots can also be found in improvised rhythms of the jazz era of the 1920s and 1930s and the orchestras of the big band era, which ruled in the 1940s.

In the 1950s and 1960s, a new type of music emerged. This new genre of music was called rock and roll and was characterized by fast rhythms, strong beats, and soulful lyrics. Elvis Presley was the ''King of Rock and Roll'' and was one of the first artists to popularize this new genre. Presley's popularity was matched by another rock and roll act known as the Beatles, who were a part of the British music invasion, and the Beach Boys, who surfed into the mix with their musical representation of Southern California culture.

The King of Pop

Thirty years after Elvis Presley broke onto the musical scene, Michael Jackson, a gifted singer and dancer, was crowned the ''King of Pop'' in the 1980s,. He emerged on the scene in the 1970s during a time when disco, a type of dance music, created a cultural revolution led by artists like the Bee Gees and Diana Ross. Rhythm and blues (R&B) made its mark as well due to its ability to connect listeners with urban culture. In addition to Michael Jackson, other pop artists of the 1980s and 1990s included Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, and Madonna.

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