Switched on Pop: How Popular Music Works, and Why It Matters

Nate Sloan (Author) Charlie Harding (Author)


Pop music surrounds us - in our cars, over supermarket speakers, even when we are laid out at the dentist - but how often do we really hear what's playing? Switched on Pop is the book based on the eponymous podcast that has been hailed by NPR, Rolling Stone, The Guardian, and Entertainment Weekly for its witty and accessible analysis of Top 40 hits. Through close studies of sixteen modern classics, musicologist Nate Sloan and songwriter Charlie Harding shift pop from the background to the foreground, illuminating the essential musical concepts behind two decades of chart-topping songs.

In 1939, Aaron Copland published What to Listen for in Music, the bestseller that made classical music approachable for generations of listeners. Eighty years later, Nate and Charlie update Copland's idea for a new audience and repertoire: 21st century pop, from Britney to Beyonc�, Outkast to Kendrick Lamar. Despite the importance of pop music in contemporary culture, most discourse only revolves around lyrics and celebrity. Switched on Pop gives readers the tools they need to interpret our modern soundtrack. Each chapter investigates a different song and artist, revealing musical insights such as how a single melodic motif follows Taylor Swift through every genre that she samples, Andr� 3000 uses metric manipulation to get listeners to "shake it like a Polaroid picture," or Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee create harmonic ambiguity in "Despacito" that mirrors the patterns of global migration.

Replete with engaging discussions and eye-catching illustrations, Switched on Pop brings to life the musical qualities that catapult songs into the pop pantheon. Readers will find themselves listening to familiar tracks in new waysand not just those from the Top 40. The timeless concepts that Nate and Charlie define can be applied to any musical style. From fanatics to skeptics, teenagers to octogenarians, non-musicians to professional composers, every music lover will discover something ear-opening in Switched on Pop.

Product Details

$24.95  $22.95
Oxford University Press, USA
Publish Date
December 13, 2019
5.7 X 0.8 X 8.3 inches | 0.8 pounds
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About the Author

Nate Sloan and Charlie Harding are the co-hosts of Switched on Pop and longtime musical collaborators. Nate is Assistant Professor of Musicology at the University of Southern California. Charlie is Executive Producer of the show and a multi-instrumentalist and songwriter.


"Switched on Pop: How Popular Music Works, and Why it Matters is an important text in the growing cosmos of pop-culture-oriented criticism." -- Max McKenna, Pop Matters

"Switched On Pop is an essential text for anyone who imagines the song to be a curious machine, burrowing its way into our hearts and minds." -- Hanif Abdurraqib, author of Go Ahead in the Rain: Notes on a Tribe Called Quest

"As smart and playful as the podcast that preceded it, Switched On Pop finds inventive ways to put sound on paper." -- Linda Holmes, host of NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour and author of Evvie Drake Starts Over

"Switched On Pop is a unicorn of a book: a work of public scholarship that neither ignores the public nor skimps on the scholarship. It is musicology that thinks about feelings and feels about thinkings. A rare feat!" -- Phil Ford, Associate Professor, Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, and co-host of the Weird Studies podcast

"Through rigorous but accessible dissection...the pair don't just make the case for pop's relevance-they also illuminate the discrete layers that make it so fun." -- The Atlantic