From the 1980s forward: I rank every iconic era of pop music

Every era of pop since the 1980s has had its moments, but which reigns supreme?


Arizona Lee

The concept of “pop music” has changed and evolved throughout every historical era of pop.

Pop music, arguably, has remained one of the major popular music genres since some of the first pop songs were released. Today, there are countless well-known radio stations that play pop music 24/7. Generation X and Millennials have had a lot of conflicting opinions on modern pop music, but the general consensus within Generation Z seems to be that modern pop music is pretty enjoyable, as proven by the pop songs and music artists constantly being raved about by teenagers. Depending on one’s music taste, some believe that pop music from earlier generations is better than the top chart pop music songs and artists today. 

The most major eras of pop have ranged since the 1980s to the present. Which is the best? As a music appreciator and self-nominated music judge, I will be ranking the most well-known pop eras.

The Generation X and Generation Z fight regarding pop music will finally be put to rest.

Let’s talk about the 90s. Now that pop era was interesting, to say the least. The 90s had well-known icons such as Ricky Martin, Mariah Carey, and boy bands like *NSYNC and The Backstreet Boys. These artists, in my opinion, can be somewhat forgettable compared to the other eras of pop. Hits songs like “Livin’ La Vida Loca” appear to be recognized and appreciated more by current teenagers than the 90s artists and band themselves. For example, Mariah Carey is often known as the “All I Want For Christmas Is You” lady. *NSYNC is known for “Bye Bye Bye” (or sometimes solely because Justin Timberlake was originally in the band). The Backstreet Boys as a group are extremely iconic, yes, but the average consumer today doesn’t really see the individual members as much as they do just the name of the band. As much as I enjoy 90s pop music, I actually believe that it is the worst pop era. The individual artists can be pretty forgettable despite a few good songs still listened to today.

This current era, the 2020s, has a lot of artists that are different from all of the musical geniuses that have come before them. There are remaining music artists such as Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande, and Justin Bieber as well as new and upcoming music artists such as H.E.R., Billie Eilish, and Olivia Rodrigo. I know it’s a bold statement, but I believe that all of these people can be compared to the icons of the 80s. They’re paving a new path for the stylistic choices of pop, just as the artists of the 80s did. Taylor Swift, for example, has done one thing that no one else seems to have truly mastered: releasing three different genres of music and being a prominent artist in all of them. We also have artists that seem to be quickly losing their relevance, including Doja Cat and Dua Lipa. Who’s to say we’ll even remember all these people in five years? The artists of the 2020s have gotten fantastic starts to their careers. I believe this era of pop has a lot of potential, but it needs to go just a little bit farther in uniqueness and effort. I would put this era in fourth place.

Pop music back in the 1980s consisted of history’s only Queen of Pop, Madonna, and history’s only King of Pop, Micheal Jackson. There were various other music artists during this era as well, such as David Bowie, George Micheal, and Whitney Houston. The 80s also had Queen, a band that most people would consider a rock-and-roll group today. But they were extremely popular and made songs with pop artists like David Bowie. Though they may not be considered a pop group when compared to modern standards, it can be argued that they were popular (or “pop”) music at their prime. The 80s had iconic artists and many great hit pop songs. I would put the 80s in third place.

The 2010s pop releases are well-loved by many, but it’s very much a love-hate relationship for those who are not completely obsessed as 2010s pop music can be easily overplayed and overdone. A few artists that were truly in their prime in the 2010s include Adele, Rihanna, and Katy Perry. They all had amazing careers as their fame stemmed from the 2010s era. In my opinion, Rihanna alone could truly embody this era. She made one of the best albums of the 2010s (Anti) and also has a recognizable, impressive voice. Adele is known for her dynamic range and the deep, emotional sound of her voice. Katy Perry released songs like “Hot and Cold”, “Firework”, “Dark Horse”, and “Roar” during this era, all of which made it to some of the top pop charts. She is now a judge on American Idol alongside Luke Bryan, an iconic country artist, also originally gaining fame from the 2010s and still well-known today, and Lionel Richey, an RnB music artist in the 1970s and 1980s. I personally really enjoyed the 2010s era of pop. I may admittedly be biased; I feel very attached to this era due to its nostalgia from when I was growing up. Nevertheless, I would put it in second place.

This might be a controversial opinion, but I would argue that 2000s pop is actually the best era of pop music. The 2000s had music artists like Lady Gaga, who continues to be relevant today and is still releasing hit songs; Britney Spears, who will always be a pop icon and is sometimes referred to as the “Princess of Pop”; and Beyonce, who made her start in the 2000s and is now one of the most recognized pop artists of all time. These artists and their releases have made 2000s pop sensational. They also defined what is seen as “modern pop”. Hands down, the early 2000s are the best era of pop by far.

The 2000s are in first, the 2010s in second, the 1980s in third, the 2020s in fourth, and the 1990s in last.