Reggae Has Come To Top 40 Pop Music… Sort Of

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A review by Hugh McIntyre for Forbes.

Last month, Katy Perry dropped her new single “Chained To The Rhythm,” officially kicking off the campaign surrounding her highly-anticipated upcoming new album. The pop star has been promoting the song intensely since it dropped, taking to the main stage at both the Grammys and the BRIT Awards with her companion Skip Marley, who is featured on the track. The song debuted at No. 4 on the Hot 100, giving Perry yet another smash hit to her credit, and Marley his first. In fact, the immediate success of the single gave the Marley family their first top 10-charter in history, including the up-and-coming artist’s grandfather, who is widely considered to be the man who brought the style to the world stage.

Nothing else has been heard from Perry’s upcoming fourth full-length, but it is possible that Marley’s verse on “Rhythm” isn’t the only taste of reggae on the release, and if that’s the case, this one hit could help usher in a wave of stars incorporating the genre into their new releases, for better or worse. Perry is not just a successful singer and songwriter, she’s an influencer, and whatever she does on her albums typically trends and bits and pieces of what she and her producers put together in a studio (which they typically also borrow from others who have come before) become staples in pop music for a little while. That was the case with the big beat electro-pop heard in “Firework,” and the same can be said for the trap-pop she pushed with “Dark Horse.”

In the past few years, a handful of reggae-tinged tunes have been released by high-profile acts, so it isn’t shocking that Perry decided to infuse her new disco-pop bop with a hint of the genre. Canadian reggae-rock act MAGIC! scored a No. 1 hit with “Rude” a few years back, and it will likely go down as their only charting single. A remix of Jamaican artist OMI’s “Cheerleader,” which was originally a reggae-pop semi-hit in the singer’s home country of Jamaica, eventually rose all the way to the top of the Hot 100 as well.

All things Caribbean have been influencing top 40 dance and pop for the past year or so in a very noticeable way. They may not be reggae-leaning, but singles like Sia’s “Cheap Thrills,” (the remix of which featured Sean Paul, one of the most successful musicians to ever come out of Jamaica), Justin Bieber’s “Sorry,” Rihanna and Drake’s “Work,” the upbeat dance remix of Mike Posner’s “I Took A Pill In Ibiza” and Drake’s “One Dance” all incorporate the sounds and the vibe created in the islands. These artists and the teams behind them have brought dancehall, tropical house, and all manner of Caribbean sounds and styles to ears that might not have heard them otherwise. Plenty of acts in the underground pop and electronic scenes have warmly embraced the trend, and tropical styles have become difficult to escape in the dance world.

It is important for those not familiar with reggae to note that while songs like “Chained To The Rhythm” and “Rude” may have been inspired by the genre, they shouldn’t be considered true representations of it. Hopefully, fans of these songs will venture online and discover the true talents keeping the music alive, such as the entire Marley family, Gyptian, Jah Cure, Tarrus Riley, Steel Pulse, Jimmy Cliff and many more. If Caribbean-styled singles continue to break into the top 40, it would be wonderful to see more stars work with real reggae artists, giving them the spotlight, the songwriting revenues and the platform many of them deserve.

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