British pop music

  • Learn about some of the key artists who shaped British pop music.
  • Identify some key UK musical styles and genres.
  • Learn about key events which affected the development of pop music.
Watch the band talk about the artists who have influenced their music from David Bowie to Blur to Dua Lipa.

British pop music emerged in the 1950s. It was a style of music which was seen as an alternative to American rock ‘n’ roll.

British pop music has changed a lot since the 1950s.

Over the years, more and more people have owned a radio or TV meaning that music has become more accessible for everyone.

With the introduction of music videos on MTV in the 1980s, pop music continued to be heard by more people and was an increasingly successful commercial opportunity.

Today, online platforms such as YouTube, SoundCloud and Spotify are making it even easier for artists to share their music and build an audience.


Skiffle emerged as a popular genre. It was a British take on American jazz, blues and folk music. One of the most famous skiffle artists was Lonnie Donegan. The Beatles also began as a skiffle group called The Quarrymen.


Two key styles emerged in this decade, which became part of the cultural phenomenon called the British invasion:

  • Beat music - guitar-dominated line-ups with vocal harmonies and catchy tunes. Key groups include The Beatles and The Kinks.
  • British blues - a new form of the American blues made using electric guitar. Key artists include The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton and Fleetwood Mac.
The Beatles


The 1970s saw the rise of new rock genres:

  • Folk rock - combined acoustic traditions with amplified sound.
  • Psychedelic rock - adding new experimental sounds to rock music.
  • Glam rock - make-up, costumes and extravagant sets. Artists include David Bowie and Queen.
  • Punk - had a rough and ready DIY ethos. Artists include The Undertones, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and The Clash.
  • Ska - influenced by Reggae music. Artists include The Specials and Madness.
Siouxsie and the Banshees


Pop music continued to change, with world music (especially Jamaican and Indian music) providing inspiration for new fusions like acid jazz:

  • Synth pop - the evolution of electronic music technology using keyboards and drum machines. Key British artists included Eurythmics and Duran Duran.
  • Hip-hop - originated in the USA but British artists such as Rodney P and the Cookie Crew start making their own unique styles.
  • House music - also began in the USA but British artists such as The Beatmasters and Yazz emerged.


  • Boy bands and girl groups such as Take That and The Spice Girls dominated the singles charts with a dance pop sound.
  • Soul music and world music revived an enthusiasm for folk.
  • Britpop - indie bands like Oasis, Blur and Pulp became popular in mainstream music, leading to the success of similar bands such as Coldplay and Snow Patrol.
The Spice Girls

21st century

  • Some of the most successful artists include singer-songwriters who cover a variety of pop styles such as Ed Sheeran, Adele, James Blunt and Amy Winehouse.
  • UK grime emerged as a leading form of British rap with artists such as Stormzy building on the success of garage MCs Dizzee Rascal and Wiley.

Listen to examples of British pop music

Listen to Waterloo Sunset by the Kinks. This British Beat band gained popularity with their melodic, catchy songs featuring relatable lyrics that observed the world around them.
Listen to Sweet Dreams by Eurythmics. The 1980s saw synth pop dominate the charts. This song features a repeated riff played on the synthesiser and dramatic vocals from lead singer Annie Lennox.
Listen to The Spice Girls' debut single, Wannabe. It addresses the value of female friendship in a dance pop style, with some rapping from Mel B and Geri Halliwell.

Time to listen

Make a timeline featuring the key artists and well-known songs of theirs, as well as highlighting the different styles of each decade.

Listen to as much as you can from the artists above so that you get a true flavour for how pop music has changed since the 1950s.


rock ‘n’ rollA musical style originating in blues, jazz and gospel, which became popular in the 1940s and 1950s.
genreA conventional broad category of music such as blues or opera.
MTVMusic TV, an entertainment channel which first became available in the UK in 1987.
British invasionThe cultural phenomenon in the 1960s when British music acts like The Kinks and The Beatles became popular in the USA.
fusion musicWhen contrasting musical styles or genres are combined together to make something new.
world musicMusic of cultures from around the world other than western, English speaking countries.

Next steps

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