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Getting in the Groove with "A-Pop"

posted on: Aug 17, 2022

Libyan singer Bahjat has coined the term “a-pop” to describe his sub-genre of Arab music.

By: Riley Bryant / Arab America Contributing Writer

The Latin world has reggaeton. Almost everywhere has a “-pop,” from j-pop to afro-pop, to the more well-known k-pop. The international music industry has clearly defined genres for nearly every part of the world, each with its own regional flavor while incorporating the current global trends. Now, it is the Arab world’s turn to step into the spotlight: presenting, “a-pop.”

Trendsetting and Genre-Defining: Bahjat

Broadly speaking, Arab music obviously exists, but that is not the question. Rather, it is what Libyan singer-songwriter Bahjat calls “Mission A-Pop”: a specific sub-genre of Arab music that fuses English and Western trends with Arabic and Middle Eastern sounds. It pulls from the widely successful k-pop genre, which combines Western boy-band cliches with Korean pop music; in fact, Bahjat has been compared to k-pop phenomenon BTS for playing a similar role in his promotion of Arab music and a-pop. He launched his recent a-pop campaign last month with his new single I’M HERE, a smooth blend of English and Arabic lyrics and musical styles that clearly reflects the cultures of both the West and Middle East.

Meet Lynn Hayek

Of course, Bahjat is not alone in his journey to “Arab-ify” the global music industry. A current breakout artist on Arab charts is Lynn Hayek, the Lebanese teenager that won the first ever The Voice Kids: Ahla Sawt when she was 12-years old. Since her time on the show, Hayek has made several songs in English in her breakout to American charts. These songs have an iconic Arab sound despite being in English; in Hayek’s Party Language, she uses a classic Arab maqam, which is the particular melody that has become a staple of Middle Eastern music. In this way, American (and other global) audiences are exposed to the sounds of the Arab World in a form that is comfortable for them to understand.

The Soul Sounds of Elyanna

If Lynn Hayek’s approach to a-pop is English lyrics with Arab music, her fellow breakout star Elyanna is going the opposite direction. Palestinian-born Elyanna’s music has all the hallmarks of classic American R&B and Pop, except with fully Arabic lyrics. The now 20-year-old moved to Los Angeles with her mom and brother when she was 15, but it “never really felt like home” for her; with her music, she is able to pay homage to her homeland while incorporating the culture of the country that took her under their wing.

TikTok Star Issam Alnajjar

In order to have a full understanding of the emerging a-pop genre, it is critical to understand the influence of social media sites, like TikTok, on global music trends. That is where Jordanian Issam Alnajjar makes his mark on the genre. Alnajjar rose to prominence through his TikTok account, and later when his song Hadal Ahbek went viral on the platform worldwide. His large following alone has brought massive attention to modern Arab music in general, and his use of popular Western-inspired melodies has bolstered a-pop’s reputation as an international fusion.

The Power of the Youth

While all of these artists come from different backgrounds and sounds, there is one thing they all have in common: they are all under the age of 30. Bahjat, the oldest at 26, is undoubtedly the face of the official “a-pop” sub-genre. Yet, 19-year old Hayek and Alnajjar and 20-year-old Elyanna have each contributed to the global spread of Arab music in their own ways. The future of Arab music is distinctly different than that of the early 2000s: its electric, bilingual, and infused with the culture of a world that is more connected than ever before. It’s a movement driven by the youth, introducing a fresh spin on the music that can represent an entire region. They are putting the best foot of the Arab world forward in a way that is easily absorbed by global and Western audiences as a cohesive team (sometimes literally; check out this collaboration between Alnajjar and Elysanna!)

For more current Arab pop music, check out this playlist on Spotify. To find more artists like these or your favorite Arab artist, try this interactive map (it works for more than just Arab music too!)

Check out Arab America’s blog here!