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  Pop (from popular, Latin popularis, ‘of the people’), as a cultural label, came into use in the 1950s, and has much the same connotations as ‘junk’ in ‘junk food’: that is, those who are not in sympathy with it say that it is manufactured pap for mass consumption, with none of the qualities of taste and variety possesed by their own preferred nourishment; those who enjoy it, however, are entirely satisfied by it and untroubled by critical disparagement. The term is widely applied—there are ‘pop’ films, ‘pop’ newspapers, even ‘pop’ psychologists and holiday resorts—but its main use is in the arts and design.

The aesthetic of Pop Design had its roots in the activities of the British Independent Group (IG) during the 1960s. The IG challenged the traditions of modernism and argued that design need not necessarily be functional and universal, but should reflect the desires of the consumer. They explored areas of popular culture such as comics, sf and fairgrounds, and this turnaround of establishment design values came to a head with the youth revolution of the next decade. In the early years of the 1960s, Pop Design reflected these new values with a series of products that explored the throwaway aesthetic in paper furniture and clothes, and brightly coloured surface pattern that drew its inspiration from the imagery of Pop Art and popular culture.

Pop Art, described by the American critic Harold Rosenberg as ‘advertising art advertising itself as art that hates advertising’, flourished from the 1950s to the 1970s, primarily in the UK and US. It found its imagery and many of its techniques in the realms of advertising and consumer packaging, and in such popular culture as comic books, film stars and pop stars. In the US in particular, Pop Art both fed on and ridiculed the hold consumerism and popular culture had on people\'s minds. Roy Lichtenstein imitated on a vast scale the subject matter and reproduction techniques of the comic strip in works such as Whaam!, while Claes Oldenberg emphasized a Dadaist element always implicit in Pop by making giant ‘soft’ sculptures from vinyl and fabric of such everyday items as hamburgers and telephones. As well as questioning many of the accepted norms of fine art, such works also explored the nature of representation. Their ‘minimal art content’ relates them to minimalism, and questions fundamental notions of the aims of art, of the contextualization of the work, and not least of the role of imitation in the art-making process.

Pop Literature covers a huge range of reading material, from ‘family’ and ‘special-interest’ magazines and tabloid newspapers to blockbuster novels, from comics to ‘pop poetry’ (a kind of poetry devised in the 1950s, like pop-song lyrics without the music). It feeds off more ‘serious’ (and perhaps more snobbish) literary forms, but has little in common with them, though critics sometimes tie themselves into knots trying to show relationships. Its chief appeal, in all its forms, is immediacy: it snags the interest from the first few words, and moves on fast. This is, however, only a trick of style, and brevity and brightness of expression are no barrier (whatever highbrow critics might imply) to profundity or seriousness. Pop newspapers, for example, are often far more on the nerve of events than their stylistic garishness suggests to some, and pop novels often have a depth and urgency of appeal which has nothing to do with ‘high’ literary pretension.

Pop Music consists almost entirely of songs. If instrumental solos become pop hits, they are usually novelty numbers. Its style varies round the world. In Arabia and India, pop music tends to be lush and romantic, with a yearning quality quite lacking in Western pop. In Africa and the Middle East pop music is often bouncy and joky, similar in style to the more energetic folk songs and dances. In the pop music of the West—which, nowadays, means the pop music which is gradually colonizing the rest of the world—simple lyrics, usually about teenage love-crises, are sung to plainly-harmonized, catchy tunes over a steady beat suitable for dancing. The Western pop industry is closely tied up with marketing, of everything from the artists themselves to clothes, films, food, games, magazines and videos. Pop borrows extensively from such other musical forms as classical, reggae, jazz, rap and rock music. As a social phenomenon, it is unique in the arts: a style which hardly existed until the mid-1950s, which spread worldwide in a few months and has never since slackened its appeal. Pop music has reached everywhere. Even remote peoples in Amazonia, the Himalayas and Papua New Guinea, for example, respond to it instantly, as if it is not a created art form at all, but a kind of music somehow natural and instinctive to the human species—something which can be said of none of the kinds of music enjoyed by those who are immune to its appeal. PD MG CMcD KMcL



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