New pop is a loosely defined British-centric pop music movement consisting of ambitious, DIY-minded artists who achieved commercial success in the early 1980s through sources such as MTV. Rooted in the post-punk movement of the late 1970s, the movement spanned a wide variety of styles and artists, including acts such as Orange Juice, the Human League, and ABC. The term "rockist", a pejorative against people who shunned this type of music,[4][5] coincided with and was associated with new pop.[2]

"New music" is a roughly equivalent but slightly more expansive umbrella term[6] for a pop music and cultural phenomenon in the US associated with the Second British Invasion.[7][8] The term was used by the music industry and by American music journalists during the 1980s to characterize then-new movements like new pop and New Romanticism.[9]


Many new pop artists created music that sweetened less commercial and experimental aspects with a pop coating.[2] Entryism became a popular concept for groups at the time.[2] New Music acts were danceable, had an androgynous look, emphasized the synthesizer and drum machines, wrote about the darker side of romance, and were British. They rediscovered rockabilly, Motown, ska, reggae and merged it with African rhythms to produce what was described as a "fertile, stylistic cross-pollination".[7] Author Simon Reynolds noted that the new pop movement "involved a conscious and brave attempt to bridge the separation between 'progressive' pop and mass/chart pop – a divide which has existed since 1967, and is also, broadly, one between boys and girls, middle-class and working-class."[1]

The terms "new music" or "new pop" were used loosely to describe synth-pop groups such as the Human League, soul-disco acts such as ABC, new wave acts such as Elvis Costello and the Pretenders,[6] jangle pop bands such as Orange Juice,[2] and American MTV stars such as Michael Jackson.[8] Stephen Holden of the New York Times wrote at the time that New Music was more about its practitioners than their sound. Teenage girls and males that had grown tired of traditional "phallic" guitar driven rock embraced New Music.[10] New Music was a singles oriented (both 7 inch and the then new 12 inch) phenomenon, reverting the 1970s rock music album orientation.[11]


During the late 1970s, "New Musick" [sic] was one of the labels that was applied to certain post-punk groups.[12] The term "post-punk" was also deployed interchangeably with "new wave".[13] In the New Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock (2001), "new wave" is described as a "virtually meaningless" term.[14] By the early 1980s, British journalists had largely abandoned "new wave" in favor of other terms such as "synthpop",[15] and in 1983, the term of choice for the US music industry had become "new music".[16]


Producer and New Musical Express writer Paul Morley (left), a pivotal figure in new pop

In the wake of the punk rock explosion of the late 1970s, the new wave and post-punk genres emerged, informed by a desire for experimentation, creativity and forward movement. Music journalist Paul Morley, whose writing in British music magazine the NME championed the post-punk movement in late 1970s, has been credited as an influential voice in the development of new pop following the dissipation of post-punk, advocating "overground brightness" over underground sensibilities.[2] Around this time, the term "rockist" would gain popularity to disparagingly describe music that privileged traditionalist rock styles.[2] According to Pitchfork's Jess Harvel: "If new pop had an architect, it was [the writer] Paul Morley."[2]

As the 1980s began, a number of musicians desired to broaden these movements to reach a more mainstream audience. In 1980, the New Music Seminar made its debut. It was designed to help young new wave artists gain entrance into the American music industry. The event grew rapidly in popularity and encouraged the shift away from the use of "new wave" to "New Music" in the United States.[17] Unlike in Great Britain, attempts prior to 1982 to bring new wave and the music video to American audiences had brought mixed results. During 1982, New Music acts began to appear on the charts in the United States, and clubs there that played them were packed.[7]

"I hated the phrase 'new wave'. It sounded too trendy and could be gone in a year"

—Dennis McNamara, program director who oversaw Long Island, New York radio station WLIR's 1982 change to a New Music format.[18]

In reaction to New Music, album-oriented rock radio stations doubled the amount of new acts they played and the format "Hot Hits" emerged.[7] By 1983, in a year when half of the new artists came out of New Music,[19] acts such as Duran Duran, Culture Club and Men at Work were dominating the charts and creating an alternate music and cultural mainstream.[7] Annie Lennox[20] and Boy George were the two figures most associated with New Music.[8][21]

In an interview with CBS News discussing the Second British Invasion of New Pop acts in America in 1983, singer Martin Fry of ABC described it as "an explosion that came out after punk rock swung through Britain – a whole generation that was kind of interested in making music that was more polished. That obviously led to a golden age with Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet, the Human League, ABC, Depeche Mode, many bands like that. We were all a little bit flamboyant."[22]

Criticism and decline

Criticism of new pop emerged from both supporters of traditional rock and newer experimental rock. These critics looked at new pop as pro corporate at expense of rock music's anti-authoritarian tradition. Critics believed new pop's embrace of synths and videos were ways of covering in many cases lack of talent. The heavy metal magazine Hit Parader regularly used the homophobic slur "faggot" to describe New Music musicians. The 1985 Dire Straits song "Money for Nothing", which hit number 1 in the United States, contained the line "The little faggot with the earring and the make-up" and used the term "faggot" several other times.[23] The lyrics were taken verbatim from the language of a New York appliance store worker whom lead singer Mark Knopfler had observed watching MTV. Assistant professor/author/musician Theo Cateforis stated these are examples of homophobia used in the defense of "real rock" against new music.[24][25]

An American reaction against European synthpop and "haircut bands" has been seen as beginning in the mid-1980s with the rise of heartland rock and roots rock.[26] Richard Blade, a disc jockey at Los Angeles radio station KROQ-FM, speaking of the late 1980s said, "You felt there was a winding-down of music. Thomas Dolby's album had bombed, Duran Duran had gone through a series of breakups, the Smiths had broken up, Spandau Ballet had gone away, and people were just shaking their heads going, 'What happened to all this new music?' "[27] Theo Cateforis contends that the New Music evolved into modern rock that while different, retained New Music's uptempo feel and still came from the rock disco/club scene.[28] In the UK, indie bands adopted "the kind of jangling guitar work that had typified New Wave music",[29] with the arrival of the Smiths characterised by the music press as a "reaction against the opulence/corpulence of nouveau rich New Pop" and a "return to a different vision of 'new pop', the Postcard ideal."[30]


  1. ^ a b c Reynolds 2006, p. 398.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Harvel, Jess. "Now That's What I Call New Pop!". Pitchfork Media. 12 September 2005.
  3. ^ Christgau, Robert (1990). "Postpunk-Postdisco Fusion". Christgau's Record Guide: The '80s. Pantheon Books. ISBN 0-679-73015-X.
  4. ^ "Embarrassment Rock". 20 February 2012. Retrieved 3 September 2020.
  5. ^ "Rockism - it's the new rockism". The Guardian. 25 May 2006. Retrieved 3 September 2020.
  6. ^ a b Reynolds 2005, p. 338.
  7. ^ a b c d e "The Michigan Daily - Google News Archive Search". Retrieved 3 September 2020.
  8. ^ a b c Denisoff, R. Serge (1 January 1986). Tarnished Gold: The Record Industry Revisted [i.e. Revisited]. Transaction Publishers. ISBN 9781412835565. Retrieved 3 September 2020 – via Google Books.
  9. ^ Cateforis 2011, pp. 12, 56.
  10. ^ Reynolds 2005, p. 308.
  11. ^ Cateforis 2011, pp. 56–57.
  12. ^ Cateforis 2011, p. 26.
  13. ^ Jackson, Josh (8 September 2016). "The 50 Best New Wave Albums". Paste.
  14. ^ Cateforis 2011, p. 11.
  15. ^ Cateforis 2011, p. 254.
  16. ^ Cateforis 2011, p. 56
  17. ^ Cateforis pp. 43-44
  18. ^ WLIR, Denis McNamara ushered a wave of new music, Newsday, November 13, 2010
  19. ^ Cateforis p. 57
  20. ^ Reynolds 2005, p. 342.
  21. ^ Reynolds 2005, p. 258.
  22. ^ Chiu, David. "A look back at 1983: The year of the second British Invasion". CBS News. CBS Interactive Inc. Retrieved 19 March 2022.
  23. ^ Dire Straits - Money for Nothing (Official Audio) - RHINO on YouTube
  24. ^ "CANADIAN BROADCAST STANDARDS COUNCIL,ad hoc NATIONAL PANEL,Review of the Atlantic Regional Panel decision in CHOZ-FM re the song "Money for Nothing" by Dire Straits". Archived from the original on 10 August 2014. Retrieved 3 September 2020.
  25. ^ Cateforis p. 233 reference number 28
  26. ^ Reynolds, p. 535
  27. ^ "KROQ: an oral history by Kate Sullivan - Los Angeles Magazine November 2001". Retrieved 3 September 2020.
  28. ^ Cateforis pp. 65-67
  29. ^ Nickson, Chris (25 September 2012). "Indie and the New Musical Express". Retrieved 13 February 2024.
  30. ^ Reynolds, Simon (26 September 1987). "The Smiths: A Eulogy". Bring the Noise: 20 Years of Writing About Hip Rock and Hip Hop. Catapult. ISBN 978-1-59376-460-9.


Further reading