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|Other names||Bubblegum pop|
|Cultural origins||Late 1960s, United States|
Bubblegum (also called bubblegum pop) is pop music with an upbeat sound that is considered to be disposable, contrived, or marketed for children and adolescents. The term also refers to a pop subgenre, originating in the United States in the late 1960s, that evolved from garage rock, novelty songs, and the Brill Building sound, and which was also defined by its target demographic of preteens and young teenagers. The Archies' 1969 hit "Sugar, Sugar" was a representative example that led to cartoon rock, a short-lived trend of Saturday-morning cartoon series that heavily featured pop rock songs in the bubblegum vein.
Producers Jerry Kasenetz and Jeffry Katz claimed credit for coining "bubblegum", saying that when they discussed their target audience, they decided it was "teenagers, the young kids. And at the time we used to be chewing bubblegum, and my partner and I used to look at it and laugh and say, 'Ah, this is like bubblegum music'." The term was then popularized by their boss, Buddah Records label executive Neil Bogart.
Most bubblegum acts were one hit wonders (notable exceptions included the Partridge Family and Tommy Roe) and the sound remained a significant commercial force until the early 1970s. Commentators often debate the scope of the genre and have variously argued for the exclusion or inclusion of dance-pop, disco, teen pop, boy bands, and especially the Monkees. During the 1970s, the original bubblegum sound was a formative influence on punk rock, new wave, and melodic metal.
Occasionally invoked as a pejorative, the "bubblegum" descriptor has several different applications. The 2001 book Bubblegum Music Is the Naked Truth rules out teen pop or boy bands as inherently bubblegum and defines the term as:
- "the classic bubblegum era from 1967-1972"
- "disposable pop music"
- "pop music contrived and marketed to appeal to pre-teens"
- "pop music produced in an assembly-line process, driven by producers and using faceless singers"
- "pop music with that intangible, upbeat 'bubblegum' sound."
The artists were typically singles acts, with songs commonly featuring singalong choruses, seemingly childlike themes and a contrived innocence, occasionally combined with an undercurrent of sexual double entendre. Comparing bubblegum to power pop, Mojo writer Dawn Eden said: "Power pop aims for your heart and your feet. Bubblegum aims for any part of your body it can get, as long as you buy the damn record." Music critic Lester Bangs described the style as "the basic sound of rock 'n' roll - minus the rage, fear, violence and anomie".
There is debate concerning which artists fit the genre, especially for cases such as the Monkees. In the opinion of music historian Bill Pitzonka: "The whole thing that really makes a record bubblegum is just an inherently contrived innocence that somehow transcends that. [...] It has to sound like they mean it." Music critic David Smay argued that disco is merely bubblegum by another name, and that since bubblegum is "dance music for pre-teen girls", the genre's scope must therefore include dance-pop and such associated figures as Stock Aitken Waterman and Kylie Minogue, however, "Not all dance-pop is aimed at kids and shouldn't be presumed to be disposable anymore than bubblegum."
According to music historian Carl Caferelli, "You could conceivably think of virtually every cute novelty hit, from pre-rock ditties like “How Much Is That Doggie In The Window” to transcendent rock-era staples like “Iko Iko,” as a legitimate precursor to bubblegum's avowedly ephemeral themes." He went on to list such "important antecedents" as "I'm Henry VIII, I Am" (Herman's Hermits, 1965), "Snoopy Vs. The Red Baron" (Royal Guardsmen, 1966), "Ding, Dong! The Witch is Dead" (Fifth Estate, 1967), and "Green Tambourine" (Lemon Pipers, 1967).
Original commercial peak (1968–1972)
Bubblegum is generally traced to the success of the 1968 songs "Simon Says" by the 1910 Fruitgum Company and "Yummy Yummy Yummy" by the Ohio Express. Producers Jerry Kasenetz and Jeffry Katz have claimed credit for coining "bubblegum" for this music, saying that when they discussed their target audience, they decided it was "teenagers, the young kids. And at the time we used to be chewing bubblegum, and my partner and I used to look at it and laugh and say, 'Ah, this is like bubblegum music'." The term was seized upon by Buddah Records label executive Neil Bogart, as Pitzonka added: "Kasenetz and Katz really crystallized [the scene] when they came up with the term themselves and that nice little analogy. And Neil Bogart, being the marketing person he was, just crammed it down the throats of people. That's really the point at which bubblegum took off."
The Archies' "Sugar Sugar" became the best-selling hit of 1969 and inspired a wave of artists to adopt the bubblegum style. The song's success led to "cartoon rock", a short-lived trend of Saturday morning cartoon series that heavily featured pop-rock songs in the bubblegum vein. However, none of these songs had showings on the pop charts when released as singles, except for The Banana Splits theme song "The Tra La La Song (One Banana, Two Banana)", which managed a number 96 peak on the Billboard Top 100.
Later years and influence
Most bubblegum acts were one hit wonders (notable exceptions included the Partridge Family and Tommy Roe) and the genre remained a significant commercial force until the early 1970s. Bubblegum failed to maintain its chart presence after the early 1970s due in part to changing trends in the industry. Producers such as Kasenetz and Katz subsequently pursued different musical avenues. Writing in Bubblegum Music Is the Naked Truth, Chuck Eddy offered that bubblegum evolved to be "more an attitude than a genre" during the 1970s. In the UK, bubblegum caught on in the early 1970s and fell out of popular fervor by the end of the decade. In 2010, author and musician Bob Stanley summarized:
While some more confrontational music would become popular with kids – some of the more colourful rave anthems, for example – kids' music became synonymous with novelty tie-ins like Bob the Builder and Mr Blobby until the explosion in kids' music, fuelled by the cross-promotional opportunities offered by the multiplicity of kids' TV channels, led by the Wiggles and the Disney stable.
Many musicians who grew up with the genre later incorporated bubblegum influences in their work. Although it is rarely acknowledged by music critics, who typically dismissed the genre, bubblegum's simple song structures, upbeat tempos, and "catchy" hooks were carried into punk rock. The Ramones were the most prominent of the bubblegum-influenced punk bands, adopting cartoon personas and later covering two bubblegum standards "Little Bit O' Soul" and "Indian Giver". Pitzonka stated of bubblegum's legacy:
Bubblegum really did lay a deeper foundation than anybody's willing to give it credit for. Yes, it is responsible for Take That and New Kids On The Block, but it's also responsible for The Ramones. A lot of the melodic metal comes out of that too. Bubblegum was based in melody; it was all about the song. It was all about getting the message across in two and a half minutes. [...] And it was the perfect antidote to everything that was going on [in the late 1960s].
- Clarke, Donald (1990). The Penguin Encyclopedia of Popular Music. Penguin Books. p. 173. ISBN 978-0-14-051147-5.
- Perone, James E. (2018). Listen to Pop! Exploring a Musical Genre. ABC-CLIO. p. 56. ISBN 978-1-4408-6377-6.
- Cafarelli, Carl (April 25, 1997). "An Informal History of Bubblegum Music". Goldmine #437. pp. 16–76.
- Cooper & Smay 2001, p. 3.
- Cooper & Smay 2001, p. 271.
- "Glam Rock". AllMusic.
- Cooper & Smay 2001, p. 248.
- Cooper & Smay 2001, p. 246.
- "Twee Pop". AllMusic.
- Cooper & Smay 2001, p. 1.
- Stanley, Bob (December 2, 2010). "Bubblegum pop: all the young dudes". The Guardian.
- n.a. (n.d.). "Pop/Rock » Pop/Rock » Bubblegum". AllMusic. Retrieved May 27, 2020.
- Cooper & Smay 2001, p. 252.
- Cooper & Smay 2001, pp. 27, 165, 246.
- Cooper, Kim; Smay, David, eds. (2001). Bubblegum Music is the Naked Truth. Feral House. ISBN 978-0-922915-69-9.