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Rock is Authentic, Pop is Shallow

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LA told me, "You'll be a pop star.
All you have to change is everything you are."
Tired of being compared to damn Britney Spears
She's so pretty, that just ain't me
P!nk, "Don't Let Me Get Me"

Rock Is Authentic, Pop is Shallow is the tendency to place the two music genres against each other in the narrative in some way or form.

On the Rock side, you have the Ragtag Bunch of Misfits. They march to the beat of their own drum, they are the outcasts, they write their own music and play their own instruments. On the Pop side, you have the antagonists, singers that are clean cut, sparkly, and their image is tightly controlled. To add variety to the story, a third party would be added to the mix in the case of Hip-Hop, which could either go with the raw gangsta approach, or with the shallow glam approach.


As the two genres contrast with each other, it's an easy way for writers to show contrast between two characters/groups and a way to drive conflict. Common storytelling around this usually includes a Battle of the Bands, with the Rock side being the scrappy underdogs and the Pop side being the antagonists. Another common theme is inner conflict on whether or not be a Sell-Out and betray artistic vision in order to make money and make easily accessible music.

This trope has been around since The '50s, but peaked in The '90s after Teen Pop made a comeback in the middle of the decade and after Grunge's appeal starting to die off. In short, this is known as Rockism, the belief that rock music is more authentic/artistic than other popular music. It wasn't until the Turn of the Millennium that Rockism would receive its own backlash in the form of Poptimism, the idea of treating pop music and pop stars as serious and deserving of the same respect as other forms of music. As rock music went out of mainstream in The New '10s, Hip-Hop and other genres such as indie, electronic music, and even foreign music such as Latin and K-pop, tried to fill in the gap on the side of authenticity against pop music with varying results. Some even thought that hip-hop replaced rock music as a competitor to pop.


Rock Versus Pop is the most prominent way this trope is presented, but the core of the trope is pitting music seen as more organic and from the heart against manufactured by-the-numbers music made to entertain the biggest audience possible. The older variant would be the battle between Classical Music and Jazz, where classicists viewed their music as bombastic and passionate if one finds the right sheets and jazz as lowbrow entertainment at best and is so-called "devil's music" at worst, while jazz aficionados find jazz as an open season for improvisation and viewed classical music as stuffy. This lingered on until the advent of Rock & Roll.

Even older than that is the contest within Classical Music in the 19th century between the fields of Romanticism vs. Enlightenment with Team Romantic favoring the more passionate styles while Team Enlightenment favoring airy, sentimental sounds.


This can also apply to other music genres in the battle between authenticity and artifice. It can be a clash between Rock and Disco much like in The '70s with Rock winning and Disco losing and being a pariah for a good part of a decade, Hip-Hop versus Rhythm and Blues, Punk Rock versus Glam Metal, Punk Rock versus Progressive Rock, Gangsta Rap versus Glam Rap, Pop versus Indie music, or the clash between real instruments versus Electronic Music.

A Boy Band, a Girl Group or Idol Singer is usually involved on the Pop side. Music Is Politics is heavily involved in this trope as well.

Also see True Art Is Angsty and It's Popular, Now It Sucks!


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     Fan Fiction 
  • Exaggerated in My Immortal. The entire conflict boils down to a feud between heavy-metal-loving "goffs" and pop-music-loving "prepz", with the protagonists firmly on the goffik side. It runs the moral binary in this universe, with every evil character being a prep, and therefore, a fan of pop music.

    Film — Animation 
  • Sing: Buster tries to make punk rocker Ash into a pop princess, giving her the peppy "Call Me, Maybe" to sing. Ash resents this, so for the final performance she sings her own song instead, the personal, hard rocking "Set It All Free", and brings down the house.

     Film — Live Action 
  • A Star Is Born (2018) has country rock star Jackson Maine and his new protege/girlfriend Ally. The duo makes waves in the industry with their classic guitar strumming and raw vocals, embodied in Award-Bait Song "Shallow". When Ally goes solo, her music is more trashy-fun manufactured pop, which is embodied in her song "Why Did You Do That" (about cute boys' butts). Following Jackson's death, Ally makes a return to "authenticity" when she performs at his funeral. However, while Jackson Maine certainly seems to believe that rock is authentic and pop is shallow, Ally seems satisfied with her pop career, and the movie doesn't make a definitive statement about which one is better.
  • Disney Channel TV Movie Camp Rock 2: The Final Jam pits the titular Camp Rock, a summer music camp specializing with rock music versus Camp Star, a camp that churns out pop stars that sing and dance. Camp Star ends up winning, however.
  • The entire Josie and the Pussycats film was a Take That! towards the music industry and manufactured pop music (and it some cases, itself); the struggling Pussycats band gets the record deal of the lifetime but they have their music laden with subliminal messages and commercials. Ironic considering that the Josie and the Pussycats version everyone is familiar with is bubblegum pop through and through.
  • Played with in La La Land; Sebastian is a traditional jazz musician with dreams of starting a jazz bar, but as money becomes tight, his friend Keith invites him to be in his jazz/pop/R&B fusion band. It's obvious that Sebastian hates the type of music and he's giving up on his dreams, and it's exemplified in a musical sequence where Keith's band plays a sold-out show complete with dancers. But Keith isn't portrayed antagonistically, in fact he actually makes a great point about Sebastian self-sabotaging himself and how traditional jazz cannot be popular again until it evolves to be more like what people are listening to today.

     Live Action Television 
  • Played with on Big Time Rush. When Lucy calls their band pop, the boys take offense, and try to prove to her that they can rock as hard as she can. It takes stopping traffic with an impromptu concert for her to admit they do rock.
  • The Black Mirror episode "Rachel, Jack, and Ashley Too" depicts a teenpop star being appallingly exploited by her family/management, and when she breaks away from them she starts singing indie rock.
  • Johnny Atkins from The Goldbergs is a big fan of Rush and considers them superior to the mass-produced pop music the others listen to.
  • Instant Star:
    • The earnest punk rocker Jude ends up winning the Instant Star competition (an American Idol-type show) against her Eden, a typical pop princess complete with big hair and an affinity for the color pink. Eden then becomes a rival to Jude in the first season.
    • Later on after Eden gets Put on a Bus, Jude gets a proper rival in the form of Karma, another pop singer to leans into the Contractual Purity aspect of Teen Idol-dom.
  • Nashville — rivals Rayna and Juliette are both country musicians, but Juliette (who is trying to unseat Rayna as the 'queen of country') is younger and more country-pop, and she's looked down on for relying on auto-tune.

  • "Internet Killed the Video Star" by The Limousines has the band lamenting on kids being tired of rock music and are dancing on soulless Electronic Dance Music.
  • Mandy Moore famously trashed her first two Teen Pop albums and even offered to refund people who bought them, and since then went on to Alternative music. She seems to have softened on this, as she celebrated the 20th anniversary of "Candy" in 2019 warmly.
  • P!nk has mostly disavowed her first album, Can't Take Me Home, released during the Teen Pop boom in the year 2000. The album had a Pop/R&B sound, but Pink claimed that it was a "comprise" between her and the label. The second album Missundaztood is completely different, leaning more in a Pop/Rock direction with a few jabs at her old sound and persona, especially on the song Don't Let Me Get Me. It's telling that on tours, she only performs the three singles from the album and nothing else.
  • Pet Shop Boys' "Can You Forgive Her?":
    She made you some kind of laughing stock
    Because you dance to disco and you don't like rock
  • "Pop Culture" by the rock band Icon for Hire critiques American pop music and pop culture as a whole.

     Video Games 
  • Brütal Legend: The world is based on Heavy Metal visual art and has various factions of different aspects of Rock and Metal. The only appearance of Pop is a disappointing Bait-and-Switch boy band in the prologue that quickly dies.
  • Splatoon
    • The first European Splatfest for Splatoon was "Rock vs Pop". Callie's "Team Rock" won.
    • In Japan, the sequel had the same Splatfest. Pearl's team, "Team Rock", won.
  • NoStraightRoads uses EDM rather than Pop although one of their artists is a mermaid-themed Pop singer.

     Western Animation 
  • In the The Loud House episode 'Really Loud Music', rocker Luna wants to send her music to a contest but is afraid nobody would like her type of music and and tries to think of a type of music everyone would love. She then decides to create a generic pop music that does make her win the contest but isn't truly her.
  • Miraculous Ladybug pits eccentric, flamboyant rock star Jagged Stone against obnoxious, manufactured pop/EDM musician XY. In "Guitar Villain", Jagged's management tries to get him to change his sound to better stand against XY; Jagged later comes to the conclusion that it's all right that he lags behind XY in sales as long as he gets to make the music he loves. However, the show doesn't portray pop music as bad — the main issues with XY are his manufactured sound and jerkass attitude; when unrelated sweet pop star Clara Nightingale rolls into Paris in season 2, she is portrayed positively.
  • Subverted in Pelswick, in which Pelswick trashes N'Talented, a boy band his crush Julie is into. Julie rightfully calls Pelswick out on him judging the music without listening to it and challenges him to actually hear their album. And in a twist - he likes it. Later revealed that the boy band is actually musically backed by an old metal band Megadirt that Pelswick likes.
  • Inverted by Trolls World Tour; Poppy and Branch find out there's six different Troll tribes, each specializing in a music genre, and it's rock music that trying to take over the other tribes and making their rock reigns supreme, positioning the Rock tribe as the villains.
  • Jem toys around with this. The pop stars are the heroes and the New Wave "rock" stars are the villains (in that they're jerks and rivals, rather than truly evil). However, Jem and the Holograms use a carefully constructed image based upon holograms, with their lead singer using an alias and holographic imagery to camouflage her true self. In contrast, The Misfits are more natural and are more self-made, though they still use a lot of money from Pizzazz's father for help.
  • Perky Goth Sam from Danny Phantom is not fond of the punkish Ember McClain and her pop music. Sam considers it to be shallow and commercial.

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