In an issue devoted to things that are impossible (some of them tongue-in-cheek), Esquire Magazine wrote this month that “It is impossible that popular music hasn’t significantly progressed or even evolved in the last 20 years.”
Throwing the word “significantly” in there complicates the answer, but I think we all have some idea what would constitute a significant evolution in pop music. Motley Crue to Guns N Roses to Nirvana, for example, was a significant evolution that occurred within a 10-year period. The rise and fall of disco was significant, as was the invention of hip hop.
So what say ye?
If you want to be real precise, Nirvana released “Nevermind” in 1991, and I think any reasonable person would agree that Nirvana a) was popular, and b) represented a significant evolution from the way rock music had been played in the 1980s. But that still leaves 19 of the last 20 years and, I’m no rock critic, but I’m not sure rock has significantly changed since then. And we’re not even talking about bubblegum pop yet, although I’m not sure we really should be. That stuff never changes.
I would argue hip hop has changed a great deal, but whether it has evolved or progressed, I’m not sure. The method of music making (sampling and beat writing) hasn’t changed, the lyrical content (primarily about money or life in ghettos) hasn’t changed and the general posture (aggressive, mean, thug-like) hasn’t changed, either. There are exceptions (rap has gotten more cerebral), but Kanye West is basically doing the same thing Puff Daddy was doing in 1993.
So I guess my answer is that pop music has evolved in the last 20 years, but barely. Just barely, and probably not in the last 15.