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Bubblegum pop

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Bubblegum pop

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Bubblegum pop (bubblegum rock, bubblegum music) is a genre of popular music and rock and roll. Some of the defining characteristics of bubblegum pop include catchy melodies, simple three-chord structures, simple harmonies, and repetitive riffs or "hooks." Bubblegum pop is also characterized by its lightweight lyrics, often surrounding themes of romance and courtship.



Essentially, Bubblegum pop evolved from rock and roll and the other popular American musical forms that preceded and accompanied it, such as rhythm and blues and doo-wop. Bubblegum rock is also reminiscent of pre-rock novelty songs such as "Abba Dabba Honeymoon" and "The Hut Sut Song," which hit the charts in the late 1940s, and hipster foolishness like Slim Gaillard's "Cement Mixer (Puti Puti)".

Seminal rock and roll numbers, such as Little Richard's "Tutti Frutti" with its nonsense rhyming couplets (replacing the original vulgar lyrics), also influenced what would come later. This hybrid of R&B, garage rock, novelty songs, and nursery rhymes later surfaced in the post-Beatles era in songs like "Wooly Bully" (by Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs, 1965), which emphasized a hard-driving Tex-Mex beat and absurd lyrics.

Critics of bubblegum pop maintain that the music is void of artistic merit and that the performers are "groomed" by record labels to depend on physical appearance as opposed to musical or artistic talent. In these cases, terms such as cheesy pop or simply cheese are often used to refer to this music pejoratively. Some critics also maintain that bubblegum pop is not created out of a desire to be artistically creative, but simply to produce something that sells - a process that results in what has become termed manufactured pop, also used in the pejorative.

Nonetheless, it has proven a viable commercial enterprise, with record sales continuing to thrive and the consumers of the genre - primarily young, often pre-teen audiences - assuring a steady market for the evergrowing industry. Individual singles, however, often only remain on music charts for a brief period of time - thus is the transitional nature of Bubblegum pop.

1960s and 1970s

The first wave of "pure" bubblegum came with Jerry Kasenetz and Jeff Katz - music producers who formed Super K Productions and gave the world "A Little Bit of Soul" by The Music Explosion in 1966. However, the song was closer to R&B garage band music, and missing the element of nursery rhyme/nonsense lyrics that would be introduced by staff songwriters Joey Levine and Elliot Chiprut. About a year later, they released "Yummy Yummy Yummy" a #4 hit in June, 1968 for The Ohio Express. Although The Ohio Express was a real, touring garage band in the Midwest, under contract to Kasenetz and Katz, their hit singles were recorded by session musicians fronted by singer-songwriter Joey Levine. The band members were handicapped attempting to reproduce Levine's distinctive nasal whine for their live performances.

Other hits from Kasenetz and Katz followed, including "Indian Giver" and "Simon Says" by the 1910 Fruitgum Company, "Green Tambourine" by The Lemon Pipers and one-offs such as "Quick Joey Small" by The Kasenetz-Katz Singing Orchestral Circus, another front for the same batch of Levine-fronted studio players.

Others joined in, notably music publisher Don Kirshner and writer/producer Jeff Barry with the Archies, whose "Sugar Sugar" (written by Barry with Andy Kim), perhaps the purest distillation of bubblegum ever, was the best-selling single of 1969, and was voiced by Ron Dante and Toni Wine. Many critics describe The Monkees, with their light and cheerful rock and roll, as bubblegum, due to their producer-driven career and reliance on outside songwriters and session players. Others claim The Monkees were not pure bubblegum until 1970's "Half-Monkees" LP Changes, produced by Barry. Cartoon producers Hanna-Barbera created The Banana Splits, costumed actors miming to pre-recorded tracks for a Saturday morning cartoon show. Other animated acts included Josie and The Pussycats, The Hardy Boys (produced by Filmation), The Groovy Ghoulies and The Sugar Bears, and (in the UK) The Wombles.

The initial era of bubblegum carried on for a few more years, as LPs were released by David Cassidy, The Jackson 5, The Osmonds, Leif Garrett, The DeFranco Family and many others.

Many British acts of the first glam rock era (approximately 1971-1975) had bubblegum influences. These included Gary Glitter, Alvin Stardust, T. Rex, and such Nicky Chinn/Michael Chapman-produced acts as Sweet, Mud, and Suzi Quatro. These British acts had great success in the UK, Asia, and Europe, charting many singles. They were less successful in the US, however, due to the competition from other foreign acts such as ABBA and Olivia Newton-John, who provided a more "serious" approach to music. The last big act of the 1970s which featured obvious bubblegum elements was the Bay City Rollers, charting hits through the end of the decade.

Punk rock trailblazers The Ramones did not produce bubblegum music, but their punk rock songs were highly influenced by bubblegum pop's upbeat tempos, simple chord structures and nonsense lyrics. Joey Ramone named himself after bubblegum kingpin Joey Levine. Ramone once described his group as a "noveau bubblegum band with teeth," and they recorded the 1910 Fruitgum Company's "Indian Giver.


The 1980s saw few bubblegum-esque acts in the US and UK. In late 1980's Britain, the charts were dominated by Stock Aitken Waterman produced acts such as Kylie Minogue. These were somewhere between synthesized dance music and bubblegum pop. In the U.S., the birth of the boy band came about with the successes of New Edition and New Kids on the Block. The two reigning teen queens of the decade were undoubtedly Tiffany and Debbie Gibson who saw their popularity skyrocket after touring malls, a prime outlet for their teenaged audience. In Latin America, bubblegum acts such as Menudo, Los Chicos, Las Cheris, and Los Chamos were hugely popular. In 1985, Magneto, a group that would later gain fame in the 1990s, was formed in Mexico.


In the early 1990s, bubblegum remained scarce, as first grunge music and then gangsta rap dominated the pop charts. In the late 1990s, bubblegum was forced back into the spotlight through the sensationalism and mass hysteria brought about by the popularity of British girl group, The Spice Girls, who revolutionized the popular music industry by operating as more than just a girl band. The Spice Girls hit the world in the form of chocolate bars, dolls, magazines, a feature length movie and even personal deodorising spray. This mass fusion of consumerism and popular music transformed the ideology of bubblegum pop as a business, rather than simply selling records. Following the Spice Girls, a series of boy bands such as the Backstreet Boys, N'SYNC, 98 Degrees, Boyzone, Westlife, Take That, and O-Town made their way onto the walls of teenagers around the world. Soon after the boy bands came the era of the pop princess, including Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Mandy Moore, and Jessica Simpson. The Scandinavian group Aqua also had massive "bubblegum" hits in Europe, but today are mostly remembered in the U.S. as a one-hit wonder for their controversial song "Barbie Girl". In addition to this, several of the Latin American bubblegum groups attempted comebacks in the late 1990s, with Menudo's El Reencuentro being the most successful among them.


Bubblegum pop then appeared to be declining at the turn of the millennium, as audiences tired of the many boy bands and pop princesses but suddenly started a new rebirth as network executives at Disney molded their female stars such as Hilary Duff, Raven-Symone, Hayden Panettiere, and Lindsay Lohan into pop princesses. Pop punkers then entered the scene, with the hardcore punk sound softened for the benefit of the teenage crowd. Acts such as Simple Plan and Good Charlotte became heartthrobs to teenage girls, but they faced stiff competition from singers such as Ryan Cabrera, Aaron Carter, and Jesse McCartney. Along with pop-punk scene, urban music started to have a bubblegum pop feel to it. In late 2004, 2005, and some parts of 2006 artists such as Frankie J, Usher, Pretty Ricky, Omarion, Chris Brown, T-Pain, and Ne-Yo started to become increasingly popular, matching even the popularity of the "Disney" artists who were prominent at that time.

When American Idol debuted in 2002, a slew of bubble-gum stars were created by the viewing (and voting) public. Kelly Clarkson, Clay Aiken, and Carrie Underwood are among the pop-influenced Idol contestants who have hit it big with their target audience.

Current bubblegum artists such as the dance-troupe-turned-girl-group The Pussycat Dolls, Ashlee Simpson, and Rihanna have topped the charts in 2005 and in 2006, many new bubblegum pop artists such as Aly & AJ and The Veronicas had started to appear on the charts as well. Hope Partlow, on the other hand, had decided to go on to the more singer-songwriter genre, but she is still hanging in the teen pop continuum.

In 2005, Pop and R&B artist Mariah Carey re-emerged with her ninth album The Emancipation of Mimi which combined her old R&B style with bubblegum pop and soul.

Further reading

  • Kim Cooper and David Smay (eds), Bubblegum Music is the Naked Truth: The Dark History of Prepubesent Pop from the Banana Splits to Britney Spears, Feral House 2001 ISBN 0922915695

External links

  • October 2005 is International Bubblegum Month, with bubblegum music themed events scheduled for sites in the US, Canada, UK, France, Germany, Spain and Australia. Visit the International Bubblegum Month website to see photos of the Bubblegum Achievement Awards, honoring Steve Barri (Lancelot Link), Ron Dante (Archies), Joey Levine (Ohio Express) and DJ Dr. Demento.
  • The Classic Bubblegum Music Page
Styles of pop music
Bubblegum pop - Futurepop - Indie pop - Pop punk - Pop-rap - Power pop - Synthpop/Electropop - Teen pop - Traditional pop
Other topics
Boy band - Girl group - Popular music - Pop culture

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