Jessie Ware

The Modern, AltPop Perspective

Altpop should be defined as genre that experiments with popular categories of music of all eras and shows the vision and influences of the specific artist.

Now that the music industry has reached a modern era, it seems the right time to look to broader music genres and their relevance in music today. Alternative pop is the perfect place to start because it brings together two extensive genres that seem to hold such weight in the industry. The question is:  How can Altpop be defined and how is it different from the previous Alternative pop? Alternative pop or rock was a term coined to describe the post-punk bands from the mid-1980s and 1990s and these bands were separated because they were not considered mainstream, but still had a wide reaching fan base. Artists such as Radiohead, Bjork, Pearl Jam, Beck, No Doubt, The Verve, R.E.M were just a few alternative choices at this time and the rise of the independent label in the 1980s went hand in hand with this genre because artists started to have a lot more freedom in how they wanted to sound.

The genre, Alternative pop, always seemed to sit outside of the mainstream despite the relatability and emotional appeal of pop music. Despite the initial definition, the music industry has evolved, new categories have emerged and streaming has meant that people have more access and ways to listen to independent artists. In this sense, a genre like Alternative pop should start to be aligned with this concept, updated and re-evaluated; a post-modern Altpop rather than be restricted to the alternative of the mid 80s and 90s. Looking specifically at the alternative and popular forms of music and growth of independent labels, including artists who are doing everything for themselves, there seems to be more reason to label an artist alternative, not simply because it is a new genre of music in a set period of time. One definition that highlights the broadness of alternative music is as follows: “an umbrella term used to describe music that is not played on mainstream radio or consumed by the mainstream audience, or whose music does not fall into any other genre.”[1]

The alternative, therefore, can be anything that does not seek to target or fit the fashionable mold of music of the time. Altpop should be defined as genre that experiments with popular categories of music of all eras and shows the vision and influences of the specific artist.

The National Live in Concert  In the photo: The National’s lead singer, Matt Berninger, 2011

Steve Taylor as a DJ and author of The A to X of Alternative Music, a book based on bands that he believes answers the question of what is alternative and how we can differentiate between the mainstream, asks: “what makes something truly alternative despite its inevitable connections with the commercial world?” It is an interesting question because it refers to the idea that alternative can never truly last. To some extent the concept that “we can’t know what alternative is until we know what it is alternative to” is a valid point and it can be clearly associated with music of the past because we see the moments when music changed. However today, when somebody expresses that they listen to alternative music, we simply associate this with artists just outside the mainstream or signed to smaller indie labels or even doing it alone. The perception has changed. The most significant aspect surrounding the alternative is that is seeks to be honest and direct because is not confined by the mainstream to how things should be in order to sell records, and that is the simple difference. Alternative music fans realise that “manufactured pop is not intended for continued consumption, it is throwaway, designed to connect to a mass audience for a few weeks, maybe months”. Whereas the alternative is “targeted, the maker has a particular type of listener in mind” and, so therefore, it has more of a “lasting significance because it is based in reality not fantasy target types”.[2]

Kyla La Grange In the photo: Kyla La Grange’s second album tour, London, 2014

The music industry has changed, especially in the last 10 years, and so should the music genre; how artists created music and evolved their sound is different now to how it was in the past. Ignoring the motivation of royalties, many new artists understand the industry a lot quicker because they are no longer waiting for a deal with a major record label; they are doing everything for themselves and remaining true to their craft. Touring teams are starting to become popular among the alternative scene and this takes the place of the label. Social media platforms and blogs have become very important ways to keep their fans updated.

  In the photo: Lykke Li live in Dublin, 2011

Streaming music has helped renew the alternative, especially when we look to services like SoundCloud, which allow artists to upload their music in a much more controlled and professional way. Streaming means that more new music is discovered, including the work of producers and DJs and the variety of sites give artists choice to where their music is best suited. The way music is promoted and consumed, and with the move away from music labels, artists can be prevalent enough to be heard without having to be dictated by large record labels, and in this sense modern, alternative music has taken a turn.

That is not to say that these changes are without adversity, especially the most prominent and ongoing issue surrounding revenue. And yes, social media platforms and blogs can have a positive influence on emerging artists, but they still aim to serve the popularity war where alternative artists have to battle with the mainstream, fashion fad of the moment; a topic that demands attention in its own right. But, today, just like music in the past there are limits for artists who want to stay true to their own, personal creativity. Alternative pop could be just pop, but the lyrics, production or style of the artistry makes it complex and keeps it out of the mainstream. That is what makes pop music alternative.

Emerging Altpop artists:

[2] Taylor, S The A to X of Alternative Music, Continuum, London, 2004




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    • Jessica Brassington

      Thank you, Claude. I am glad you enjoyed the piece. So much great music talent out there, it’s good to share it.

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