I was having a conversation with a friend the other day about what constituted pop music or, rather, where the confines of the genre began and where they ended. More than ever before the boundaries are blurred, aren't they? Can you say with certainty what is so-called pure pop?

If we're talking about a specific sub-genre like, say - Italo disco, J-pop or scandipop then you know you're on safe pop territory. But what elements of grime or EDM or hip-hop, for example, fit within or without the category?

My suggestion was that pop was, essentially, whatever pop meant to you. For me, you need a hook. A hook that could potentially elevate a tune into popular appreciation. A good chorus and a pleasing middle-8 are also important obviously but, on the whole, it's all about your individual feeling and sensibilities.

With all of the foregoing ramble in mind, The 405 is hoping to chuck this pop centred missive-of-sorts online on a regular basis, whereby we highlight some of the pop music that is making us prick up our ears at the moment.

2016 has already started with some incredible pop albums - Rihanna's Anti, Chairlift's Moth, and St Lucia's Matter being instances in point - so it is safe to hope the trend continues as the year unfolds.

One of this column's focal points is American manband, MOTHXR, fronted by actor Penn Badgley, who is best described as doubly-easy: easy on the eye and easy on the ear. Below you'll find a brief interview with Badgley, alongside a taster from MOTHXR's debut album, which is out in a few weeks.

Before that, however, here be our other January/February pop jewels.

Synne Sanden

25-year-old Sanden has just released her second album, , and it really reminds me of Sandra Kolstad's most recent long-player, Zero Gravity State Of Mind, which fellow 405 contributor, Andrew Darley, and I loved last year.

Sanden's latest effort strikes a good balance between catchiness and quirk and the title track single (see video below) is a short and snappy little pop song. I particularly like the bit before the second chorus, where things go a bit mental. You know, mental in a good clean fun sort of way.

Previous single, 'The Pilot', is a little more layered and left of middle and provides a good contrast to 'In Between Sparks' - definitely worth checking out, as is the album opener, 'Erase The Gaps'. It's all on Spotify.


The South-London duo started 2016 by uploading a new song called 'Don't Wait Too Long' onto their SoundCloud account and, whilst it's a nice sonic nod to Kings of Convenience, I've decided to post an earlier track, 'Run From The Lights', which really highlights their potential. Take the kind-of-chorus, in particular - it's very simple but there is something about it which just hooks you in, instantly.

'Run From The Lights' came out towards the end of last year and has a dark, moody and chilling quality which, combined with Patrick Elliott's vocals and the trembling beats, calls to mind the finer cuts on The Acid's 2014 debut, Liminal.

Margaret Berger

Will Margaret Berger ever better her Eurovision corker, 'I Feed You My Love', or the splendour of her last album, Pretty Scary Silver Fairy, which is - worryingly - ten years old? Hell, will she actually ever release a follow-up to that album? These are valid questions. I have no answers. It is, however, something of a relief to see that: (i) she is still working on new material; and (ii) judging by her current single, 'Apologize' , the wait may be worthwhile.

A mesmerising mid-tempo, 'Apologize' breaks away from the post-Eurovision dance tracks Berger released ('Human Race' and 'Scream') and the lyrics don't beat about the bush. She sings: "I'm drunk, bruised, I'm not ok and I haven't been." This is not a happy Margaret Berger. But I'm happy she's back.

Work Drugs

The Philly twosome have a new record soon and 'American Fool', the first taster from it, is sumptuous and ridiculously catchy, with its chorus hook of "They hate us 'cause they ain't us."

Over on their official Facebook page, Thomas Crystal and Benjamin Louisiana describe their own pop genre as 'Sedative Wave, Smooth-fi' and, re-listening to their back catalogue, yep, that kind of fits perfectly.

The video looks a bit like a bikini advert but, by all means, don't let that put you off, will you. The track's parent record is going to be called False Highs and Actual Lows and there's going to be at least another single ahead of its release later on in the year.


Barbelle is the nom-de-plume of Swedish producer, Claes Björklund, who is best known for being the silent partner in iamamiwhoami. His and Jonna Lee's home-grown label, To whom it may concern., is finally ready to expand its roster with Björklund's solo project, hints of which were made audible in some of the promotional films for To whom it may concern.'s necessities range of clothing at the end of last year (Exhibit A). The first Barbelle single is coming later on this spring and will be premiering exclusively on The 405 in due course (!).

That eerie, taut electro tingle one has come to expect from Björklund's production is present in this longer teaser for the Barbelle output, which is slick and smoothly encourages a rhythmic tapping of the feet.

Adam French

The Congletonese singer-songwriter is not new news but, nevertheless, deserves a further tip of the hat. We're in the guitar-pop arena here, where a sweeping chorus is a proper sweeping chorus. He's just finished a short UK tour and is preparing to release a new EP later on this year.

I've chosen to post a live video of French performing a new track called 'Euthanasia', which is a good showcase of his voice and talent.


Part of the reason for my going on about what is or isn't pop earlier is that, to me, MOTHXR's music falls within the sphere of what I would define as pop music. But for Penn Badgley and his bandmates the genre is tagged as indie. Well, obviously, 'indie' doesn't mean that it's not 'pop' and vice-versa but note Badgley's answer to The 405's first question in our interview below.

Hello Penn. On a scale of 1 to 10 (with 1 denoting Metallica and 10 denoting One Direction), where would you place MOTHXR on the pop measure-graph?

Negative pi. Celsius.

What music did you grow up listening to?

A lot of jazz and R&B and hip-hop. Black music influenced me heavily, as it does us all. Somehow I sought it out intuitively at a very young age and it always moved me more than anything else. The Fugees, Blackstreet and Dru Hill were my earliest favourites.

How did MOTHXR come to life?

I was desperate to make a record and the moment the four of us got in a room we worked seamlessly, immediately.

Was it difficult balancing your acting work with writing and recording the band's first album?

No, this was during a break in film work, after Gossip Girl had ended, so the whole point was that I finally had the time and space, mind and place.

The record is coming out at the end of February. How would you describe the mood of it?

It's one thing on the surface and another at its core. It's darkly sexual upon first listen, but the truth is it's all about seeking transcendence of one kind or another.

"Lyrics, lyrics constant controversy sponsors working round the clock to try to stop my concerts early surely hip hop was never in problem in Harlem only in Boston after it bothered the fathers of daughters starting to blossom." Some of Eminem's most self-aware and socially conscious lines. I can't support his whole act now, but as a teenager I was blown away specifically by his ability to rhyme syllable for syllable. In that particular respect he might be unmatched. I haven't been able to get that line out of my head for almost 15 years.

Finally, can you describe a typical MOTHXR live show in five words?

Probably better than you'd expect.

MOTHXR's debut album is called Centrefold and comes out on 26 February on Kitsuné