8 Must-Listen to Classics of Pop

Pop is a loose way to characterize an accessible style of music that emerged in the late ‘50s. Initially entwined with rock and roll, it tends to be centered on the same traditional song structures of that genre. But as time has gone on, pop has become more distinct. Cutting-edge instrumentation, pristine production, and memorable vocal hooks are trademark trappings of the pop sound.

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Pop hits are generally measured by their success on Billboard charts, and it’s impossible to round up all of the unignorable hits that have been released over the course of the last seven decades. However, from Rhianna to Daft Punk, here are eight pop classics that are not to be ignored.

1. “Beat It” by Michael Jackson

This 1982 single from The King Of Pop initially baffled audiences, before it came to be regarded as one of the greatest songs of all time. It features feisty fretwork from hair metal shredder Eddie Van Halen, which led to heated debate over whether the song was hard rock or pop. At the end of the day, genre classification didn’t matter—“Beat It” won a Grammy for Record of the Year, and went on to sell over 11 million copies. It’s accompanied by a timeless video, in which Jackson uses dance to put an end to crime.

2. “I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston

Whitney Houston’s 1992 single, “I Will Always Love You,” is the quintessential slow jam. It was written and originally recorded by Dolly Parton—she released it when she decided to end her professional relationship with Porter Wagoner, as she launched her solo career. But Houston’s soulful reimagination allowed the song to soar to new heights, breaking records as it peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 14 weeks. It eventually became the best-selling single of all time by a female solo artist.

3. “Get Lucky” by Daft Punk

Teaming up with musician/designer Pharrell and Chic guitarist Nile Rodgers, “Get Lucky” found influential French touch duo Daft Punk branching into overtly radio-friendly terrain. The 2013 single appeared on the album Random Access Memories, and is carried by mildly salacious lyrics about a late night out on the town. It won Record of the Year at the Grammys and has lived on as one of the most recognizable disco-influenced songs ever.

4. “When Doves Cry” by Prince

“When Doves Cry” is the quintessential ‘80s pop hit. The Purple Rain single—which uniquely features a full band lineup, sans bass—blurs the lines between R&B and glam. It features vulnerable lyrics about the end of a romance and Prince’s fear of becoming too much like his parents. Prince passed away in 2016, but songs like “When Doves Cry” allow him to be remembered as one of the most fearless and eclectic pop singers of all time.

5. “Halo” by Beyoncé

It wouldn’t be a roundup of influential pop songs without the inclusion of a Beyoncé hit. The Houston, Texas-born artist released her beautiful single “Halo” in 2009. It features a blissful instrumental, which supports empowering lyrics about natural human beauty. Written in tandem with Ryan Tedder and Evan Bogart, this defining hit from Beyoncé’s career helped her become one of the most successfully-charting singers of the 2000s.

6. “Umbrella” by Rihanna

Rihanna’s “Umbrella” is an absolute banger. The 2007 hit from the Barbadian singer features a guest verse from Jay-Z and the way the duo trade swaggering verses infuses the song with a cathartic quality. Now that it’s raining more than ever / Know that we’ll still have each other / You can stand under my umbrella, Rihanna sings in the soaring chorus. Press play and it immediately becomes apparent why the song lingered at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 for seven consecutive weeks.

7. “Sorry” by Justin Bieber

When producer Scooter Braun signed Canadian singer Justin Bieber—transforming him into a teen idol overnight—he became the brunt of countless cruel jokes about his high voice and bowl cut. As his career went on, Bieber went off the rails a bit, at one point even having his pet monkey taken away. Eventually, he converted to Christianity and now seems to be a well-adjusted adult. Bieber’s turbulent story often overshadows his music, but he’s released some legitimately good songs as he’s entered adulthood. “Sorry,” in 2015, appeared on Bieber’s fourth album, Purpose. It features a dembow-influenced dance groove and lyrics in which Bieber pleads for the forgiveness of ex-lover Selena Gomez.

8. “Material Girl” by Madonna

Madonna is the pinnacle of an ‘80s star. The 1985 Like A Virgin single, “Material Girl,” is one of her biggest hits. It puts a commercial spin on the tropes of dance and New Wave and was produced by Nile Rodgers. It became Madonna’s third top-five single on the Billboard Hot 100 after it peaked at number two.

Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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