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Dip your toes into pop with these iconic artists

Dua Lipa is just one of many queens trailblazing the pop genre of today's music. – Photo by Dua Lipa / Twitter

For the uncultured, pop music may be viewed as “mainstream” or “radio music,” and people are quick to dismiss it. But we can't afford to think this way — modern pop continues to explore new ideas and impress listeners with a rich sound.

From the mainstream to the slightly abstract and all those in between, here are my picks for the most essential artists in the genre of pop. (As a straight white male, I feel no shame in writing about these five queens).

Before I discuss lesser-known artists, I think it is important to acknowledge one of the most popular and talented musicians today: Dua Lipa.

Lipa continues to dominate charts across the globe and for good reason. Her music slaps — like, really hard. If you disagree, then you've likely only heard her radio hits like “Levitating” and “One Kiss.” While these songs are certified bops, I would argue that there are a handful of other songs that are significantly better.

You can find these on her album “Future Nostalgia.” This album is fun, sexy and groovy. It surprises me how some of the songs on this project didn’t reach the levels of popularity that her most successful tracks did. The album opens with the title track “Future Nostalgia” where Lipa expresses her desires to change the game of pop music — which she does.

The 80s throwback trend in pop is immensely popular due to artists like her because she does it so well. The synth groove on this title track is so infectious and will be in your head for days. This trend continues throughout the album, with some of my favorite tracks being “Break My Heart,” “Hallucinate” and the sexy banger “Physical.” God, I love that song — let's get physical!

It would be impossible to write an article about pop music without mentioning Charli XCX. Honestly, I would call it a crime to be a fan of pop and be unfamiliar with this queen. For more than half a decade, Charli XCX has pushed this genre to new heights. This can be traced back to her 2016 EP “Vroom Vroom.”

On this project, Charli XCX and SOPHIE orchestrated the most inventive pop project in years. The marriage of SOPHIE’s futuristic production and Charli XCX’s infectious voice could not be more perfect.

The title track “Vroom Vroom” is so in your face and catchy it just makes you wanna bounce. I felt this to an unbelievable degree when I saw her perform back in 2019 — an unforgettable show.

After the release of this EP, Charli continued with her new sound and has dropped nonstop heat for years: “I Got It,” “Backseat,” “Boys,” “Lipgloss” and “Girls Night Out” just to name a few.

It wasn’t until the release of her 2019 LP “Charli” that her sound reached a level beyond comprehension. This album is not only her best but also arguably one of the greatest pop albums of all time. I can’t put into words what exactly makes this album so special: just listen to it yourself. Once “Next Level Charli” starts, you'll understand.

Charli XCX continued her hot streak with the 2020 LP “how i’m feeling now,” her most personal album yet. “Forever” might be my favorite song by her.

Her fans, who call themselves angels, now find themselves marinating her new LP “CRASH” which was recently released on March 18.

Reviews for this album have been overwhelmingly positive — I'm not going to write too much about this album since it is so new, but I will say I very much enjoyed listening to it. She throws it back to the 80s with some of my favorites being “Lightning,” “Constant Repeat” and “Baby.” Stream Crash, angels.

Carly Rae Jepsen is not a one-hit wonder. She is not a one-hit wonder. She is not a one-hit wonder. I just wanted to establish that before I move to my next pick: Jepsen. Many of you know her as the “Call Me Maybe” singer. But to me, she's so much more than that.

Jepsen has put together some of the catchiest pop albums in the past decade. With her 2016 EP “EMOTION SIDE B,” I would argue that queen Jepsen is somewhat responsible for the revitalization of 80s synth-pop.

The project explodes immediately with the song “First Time,” which is akin to Madonna at her peak. The synths are just so colorful and make me wanna jump up and down and yell “C'mon guys!”

A few years later, Jepsen would continue these sounds onto the full-length 2019 LP “Dedicated.” Songs like “No Drug Like Me,” “Julien” and “Too Much” continue to show her talent in crafting bops. I very much look forward to what Jepsen has in store for her next album.

Since the drop of "Dedicated Side B" (stop what you're doing and listen to “Felt This Way”), it's been nearly two years since Jepsen's last album. Whatever she is cooking up, I’m sure it will be a malignant earworm.

Are you familiar with Jessie Ware? If not, then familiarize yourself! I'm specifically talking about her 2020 album, “What's Your Pleasure?” where Ware puts her own spin on the 80s throwback in a way that is truly unique to her.

You'll find many of the songs on this LP to be low-key — not as in your face as some of the other tracks I've mentioned. But Ware's voice is just so incredible. Everything about this album is silky and sexy — it's the kind of album that you play late in the night when you just want to groove by yourself. Don’t believe me? Put the damn album on, and you'll immediately be infatuated.

The first track on the album “Spotlight” perfectly captures the atmosphere of this project. This track is perfection. When it comes on, I'm obligated to thrust my hips to the beat. And this is only the beginning — the album continues to provide banger after banger.

I can't stress enough how wonderfully crafted songs like “In Your Eyes,” “Step Into My Life” and the title track “What’s Your Pleasure?” are. Please listen to this album if you have not. And when you finish it, listen to the deluxe version.

Ware is truly a delight, and in my opinion, she is the strongest artist to capture the 80s sound.

The last thing I want to recommend is not an artist, but rather a group. Kero Kero Bonito is everything I love about pop music. You might know the group for the viral song “Flamingo” where the question “How many shrimps do you have to eat/Before you make your skin turn pink?” is posed.

Sunshine and rainbows is how I would describe this group, comprised of lead singer Sarah Midori Perry and producers Gus Lobban and Jamie Bulled. If I'm ever in a sad mood, putting on “Bonito Generation” is the cure.

I love this album and how adorable it is. “Trampoline” accomplishes the message it conveys (to bounce up and down). On “Lipslap,” Kero Kero Bonito tells you in the cutest and catchiest way to shut up.

This group’s music is most certainly unlike any of the music I have previously mentioned. I struggle to get people on the Kero Kero Bonito wave, and I understand why. It may come across as cutesy or childish, but I don’t care, and neither does the group's strong fanbase.

Either way, if you find “Bonito Generation” to be too cutesy, try Kero Kero Bonito's 2018 album “Time ‘n’ Place” or 2021's “Civilisation”. On songs like “Only Acting,” “When the Fires Come” and “The Princess and the Clock,” Kero Kero Bonito push sounds into very abstract territories — a far cry from the group's older work. Unsurprisingly, it's really freaking good, and you should definitely give them a shot.

As far as honorable mentions go, Caroline Polachek, Dorian Electra, Poppy, Janelle Monáe, Slayyyter, 100 Gecs and FKA Twigs are all great artists, so check them out — my taste is unparalleled, and I've never been wrong about anything. If you don't enjoy any of these artists, I encourage you to stop lying to yourself and accept that you do.


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