Synth Pop is what occurs when you take synthesizers and make pop music with them.
An important stylistic mark of Synth Pop is that the synthesizers deliberately sound like synthesizers, or in Purple Prose they exploit artificiality. Synth Pop does not use synthesizers to replicate acoustic sounds but rather as instruments in their own right.
Synth Pop can use acoustic instruments, however the majority of the work must be Electronic Music in order for a pop song to be classified as Synth Pop.
This genre was very influential during The '80s (although it's Older Than They Think; the very first synth albumnote , The In Sound From Way Out! by Jean-Jacques Perrey and Gershon Kingsley, was an example of Synth Pop in 1966, nearly 20 years before the genre became popularnote ). Two hits from the early 1960s, Del Shannon's "Runaway" and The Tornados' "Telstar", both prominently featured a prototypical analogue synth called the clavioline, and are also pointed to as an Ur Examples of the genre. However, the genre as most people today know it emerged around 1977 in the United Kingdom and Japan, pioneered by groups such as The Human League and Yellow Magic Orchestra, as well as by German electronic band Kraftwerk, whose New Sound Album Trans-Europe Express took the band's formerly progressive sound in a poppier, more commercially accessible direction.
Whilst many eighties pop bands were not predominantly electronic, they were usually significantly electronic and made generous use of of their synthesizers and drum machines. Much of this is attributable to the rise of the digital synthesizer in 1983, with FM synths of the time (most notably the Yamaha DX7) allowing for a heavy degree of versatility, spurned on in part by the multitude of presets meant to emulate various instruments (with questionable levels of accuracy). Because the menu-based interfaces of early digital synthesizers such as the DX7 made them much harder to program than the multitude of readily-available knobs on older analog synths, the vast majority of artists stuck with the presets, leading to them becoming ubiquitous in 80's music. Only a small number of artists were able to actually figure out how to program these digital synthesizers to their liking, most notably Brian Eno on his 1983 album Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks.
The distinction between synthpop (at least during The '80s) and New Wave is not easy to establish. One potential distinction is that Synth Pop must be predominantly electronic, and significantly electronic pop music can be classified as New Wave. Others argue that synthpop must be noticeably more commercial in sound and ethos than new wave, citing artsy New Romantic groups like Japan and the Midge Ure-fronted Ultravox as being examples of acts who were electronic New Wave but not synthpop. However, some people do tend to use "New Wave" and "Synth Pop" more or less interchangeably, and use either term to refer to any eighties pop song with a significant electronic component.
There's also been a significant influence of synth pop in the indie arena, taking its cues from early 80's new wave. (You know, keyboards and depression, together in perfect harmony. Leads to artists with names like Casiotone for the Painfully Alone.)
The Darker and Edgier, more aggressive and punk-like approach to this style of music results in Electronic Body Music or EBM, which is a subgenre of Industrial. Meanwhile, the darker, angstier, Wangst-ier and Goth-oriented version of this style of music is called Dark Wave. An even more stripped-down take on the style (coupled with a strong DIY aesthetic) is known as Minimal Synth or Minimal Wave.
The genre's arguable Spiritual Successor and direct Spin-Off is Alternative Dance, which originated when bands like New Order, Depeche Mode and Pet Shop Boys took Synth-Pop and combined it with the songwriting approach (and sometimes musical elements) of Alternative Rock, with New Order also incorporating stylistic elements from their previous Post-Punk incarnation, Joy Division.
Synthpop took a huge hit in popularity in 1991, thanks to the smash success of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" leading a new movement among mainstream music listeners that emphasized rawer, more "authentic" Alternative Rock music (particularly grunge) in favor of the perceived artificiality of electronically-driven 80's pop, owing itself in part to the fallout from dance pop group Milli Vanilli's lip syncing scandal nearly a year prior. As a result of this change in public opinion, synthpop's appeal was relegated to a cult following, with the only still-popular groups being those who either underwent a Genre Shift to a more grunge-influenced sound (such as Depeche Mode) or were already considered sufficiently alternative before Nirvana made it big (such as New Ordernote ).
Although strongly associated with The '80s, since the 2000's or so it has had a revival in the form of modern acts such as Ladytron and The Knife that use a deliberately Retraux sound to emulate the style of classic synth pop as a Genre Throwback to this era. A term used for similar-sounding modern artists is electropop; the difference between the two is subtle but electropop is entirely electronic music (synths, drum machines etc.) with a poppy bent while synth pop is pop which happens to use electronics, and may have guitar and acoustic drums (which electropop as a rule doesn't). A term used during The '90s was electroclash for a subgenre that combined synth pop with Techno. "Tumblr pop" is another colloquialism used to refer to a specific 2010s variant of it that mixes in heavy dream pop, trap, witch house, and (sometimes) vaporwave elements, with the name coming from its association with Tumblr; Charli XCX, Lorde, Halsey, Billie Eilish, Grimes, and Purity Ring all helped establish and popularize the style.
Significant artists include:
- Bastille (A modern group)
- The Birthday Massacre (with some Industrial and Alternative Rock added in)
- Wendy Carlos
- Charli XCX
- Covenant (on their later albums, they're this combined with Future-Pop; earlier works are straight EBM / Future-Pop)
- Dark City
- Dead or Alive
- Depeche Mode (Genre Popularizer with The Human League and Pet Shop Boys)
- Devo (When they weren't just straight New Wave Music)
- Thomas Dolby
- Duran Duran (With more Rock influence than most, though)
- Duran Duran (1993) also known as The Wedding Album to distinguish it from the group's 1981 self-titled album
- Dua Lipa
- Fad Gadget (A Trope Maker)
- Fiction Factory
- Foxes (Though more through her collaborations than her solo efforts.)
- Frankie Goes to Hollywood
- John Frusciante (Former Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist)
- Ellie Goulding
- Halcyon (2012)
- Grimes (a modern example)
- The Human League (One of the Trope Codifiers, and perhaps the Trope Makers of the British scene)
- Dick Hyman
- Moog: The Electric Eclectics of Dick Hyman (1969)
- Icona Pop
- Images In Vogue (Most well-known for being where cEvin Key, of Skinny Puppy fame, got his start)
- Information Society
- Jean-Michel Jarre
- Oxygène (1976)
- Howard Jones
- Hype Williams
- The Jetzons
- Joy Electric
- Julien K ( Also Industrial Metal and Alternative Rock)
- The Knife (at least until the release of 'Shaking the Habitual')
- Kraftwerk (the Trope Maker, or perhaps the main Ur-Example)
- Men Without Hats
- Ministry (yes, THAT Ministry. Their first record was completely synthpop. Their second changed to a dark EBM style while their third completely changed to Industrial Metal, in which case everything got heavier and heavier)
- Naked Eyes
- New Order (a rather dark example, formed from the ashes of Joy Division)
- Klaus Nomi
- The Normal (Only released one single, "Warm Leatherette," which is an early example and influential of the genre)
- Gary Numan (though he shifted later on to industrial metal and Dark Wave)
- Owl City
- Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark
- Jean Jacques Perrey (Another Ur-Example)
- The In Sound From Way Out! (1966, with Gershon Kingsley)
- Kaleidoscopic Vibrations (1967, with Gershon Kingsley)
- The Amazing New Electronic Pop Sound of Jean Jacques Perrey (1968)
- Moog Indigo (1970)
- Pet Shop Boys
- PVRIS (a newer band)
- Red Flag
- Silicon Teens (Notable for being an early virtual band and the first project worked on by Mute Records label founder Daniel Miller, whose label is the home of Depeche Mode, Erasure and Yazoo, and thus important in the genre's history)
- Soft Cell
- Sparks (From the late 70s to the early 2000s)
- No. 1 in Heaven (1979)
- Talk Talk (on The Party's Over and It's My Life before becoming Post-Rock pioneers)
- Tears for Fears (also New Wave and Progressive Pop)
- Thompson Twins
- Trans X
- VNV Nation (Much like Covenant above, they started as a Future-Pop / EBM band before transitioning into this)
- Wolfsheim (Also Dark Wave)
- Yello (Best known for the oddball hit "Oh Yeah" from Ferris Bueller's Day Off)
- Yellow Magic Orchestra (Trope Codifier and Trope Maker)
- Frank Zappa: During the 1980s he started using the Synclavier computer for composing and released a few albums with such music. Zappa liked the Synclavier, because it allowed him to give exact performances of his work humans couldn't possibly master.