Pop music of the Class of 2017

A retrospective look at genre's last four years


As undergraduates filled into their first-year dorms in the fall of 2013, a 16-year-old Lorde was in the midst of releasing her debut album, “Pure Heroine.”

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Bittersweet memories are in heavy order for the graduating Class of 2017, and little else reflects the graduating students’ nostalgia as accurately as the music they listened to for the last four years. The pop hits that surrounded their college years was replete with themes of growing up, letting go and partying the day away. Teenage stars such as Miley Cyrus, Selena Gomez and Ariana Grande did away with their squeaky clean, child-appropriate personas while established artists such as Beyoncé and Rihanna embraced the downsides of their fame. Now is the time for graduating students to reflect on a sampling of the pop artists’ albums and records that helped define the last four years of the Class of 2017.

As undergraduates filled into their first-year dorms in the fall of 2013, a 16-year-old Lorde was in the midst of releasing her debut album, “Pure Heroine.” The groundbreaking album contained fears of growing older and losing friends, paired with the pressures on young adults to succeed.

A week later, former Disney Channel princess Miley Cyrus released her album “Bangerz.” With references to drugs, sex toys and house parties with “red cups and sweaty bodies everywhere,” the album proved to be just what Cyrus needed to adopt a controversially carefree image. Though vastly different artists, Lorde and Cyrus both captured the dual spirit of a college student’s first semester — the promise of parties and newfound freedoms, coupled with the fear of starting anew and saying goodbye.

The end of 2013 was celebrated with Idina Menzel’s “Let It Go” — a powerful anthem of freedom that captivated an older crowd of Disney fans just as much as it did younger kids. 2013 also ended with a surprise self-titled Beyoncé album, filled with marital fears and reflections on the pressures of fame. The album defined Beyoncé as both a fiercely-perfectionist performer and socially-minded artist, and she would continue this newly discovered artistry three years later with “Lemonade” — her most unabashed political album to date.

The next four years saw Taylor Swift shedding her cowgirl boots for a poppier sound with the Grammy-winning “1989,” and artists like Adele returning to the scene and staying true to their traditional sound. Others artists, such as Rihanna, decided to push their career boundaries. Her eighth album “Anti” flitted between introspective balladry and confident club bangers — all underscored with themes of disappointment and breaking free from expectations.

New artists that dominated with debut albums during this time included Nickelodeon star Ariana Grande, Swedish singer Tove Lo, bass-dropping Meghan Trainor, balladeer Sam Smith and the R&B wallflower Alessia Cara, whose debut album “Know-It-All” mirrors the same introverted perspective that Lorde carefully captured in “Pure Heroine.”

Though self-reflection and self-change were abundant themes, party songs remained in hot supply throughout the last four years. “Bang Bang” by Jessie J, Nicki Minaj and Grande became the definitive “Lady Marmalade” diva mashup of the 2010s, while Justin Bieber silenced his naysayers with a string of hits, such as “Where Are Ü Now” and “Sorry.”

Bruno Mars proved to be a master of revamping ‘70s funk music for the college crowd, with “Uptown Funk” spending 13 weeks on top of the Billboard Hot 100 — the longest period for any song this decade — and his latest “24K Magic” and “That’s What I Like” hoping to mirror that success.

As the semester ends, a 20-year-old Lorde is preparing to release her second album in June. Her two singles, “Green Light” and “Liability,” embody two different spectrums of young adult life. The former is a high-octane kiss-off to a former flame — an appeal for the freedom to leave behind the past. The latter is a sullen ode to self-deprecation and the sense of loneliness that an uncertain future brings. Together, the two songs may be the perfect metaphor to post-grad life — a soundtrack to saying goodbye, but also an enthusiastic hello to an exciting yet frightening world of unknowns. 

related stories