What It’s Called
Adult Pop Music, which is also referred to as Adult Top 40 or Hot AC (Adult Contemporary), fits into the gap between the current and younger-skewing Top 40 radio stations, and the older and less recent Adult Contemporary (which we will look at next time). Depending on the source, you may hear any of the three terms utilized. For example, Billboard publishes a weekly chart called Adult Pop Songs, while the radio industry refers to the same format as Hot AC. They are the exact same format; just like soda can also be called coke or pop.
What It Sounds Like
It would be easy to say that Adult Pop is more adult than Top 40, but that’s an over-simplification of the format. Since the music played on an Adult Pop station is geared toward people older than teenagers, you won’t hear a lot of younger artists like Selena Gomez or Justin Bieber. In fact, you may see older artists who haven’t been played on Top 40 stations in a while, such as the Goo Goo Dolls or Bon Jovi. Train’s ubiquitous "Hey Soul Sister" started out at Adult Pop stations in 2009 before crossing over to Top 40, where they hadn’t had a hit played since 2003.
As a rule, Adult Pop is more guitar-based, although some electric-sounding tracks are not out of the ordinary. Having said that, dance tracks are pretty rare in Adult Pop. Lady GaGa has become the exception to this rule, as most of her songs from her first two albums have also received significant airplay at Adult Pop stations.
Adult Pop stations also tend to stay away from R&B and hip-hop songs, although there is some room to play very popular tracks. Eminem’s duet with Rihanna "Love the Way You Lie" got as high as #28 on the Adult Pop chart based on airplay from a small portion of the qualifying radio stations, while the same song reached #1 on the Top 40 charts. As a general rule, hip-hop songs that get airplay at Adult Pop stations are mellower and more melodic than a typical rap/hip-hop song.
Another difference between Top 40 and Adult Pop is that country music will often cross over to Adult Pop stations before it moves to Top 40. One of the best examples of this is Lady Antebellum, who blew up at Adult Pop stations a good month before they received any Top 40 airplay. Another country artist who charts at Adult Pop radio stations is Carrie Underwood, whose 2010 hit “Undo It” made it to #27 on Adult Pop stations, while it isn’t getting much of any attention at all on Top 40.
Who Are the Stars of Adult Pop?
Artists who really shine in Adult Pop tend to be a little older than your typical pop stars, but they still have a current sound. It is safe to say that a core Adult Pop act will receive airplay if they release a song to radio. The previously mentioned Bon Jovi and Goo Goo Dolls do very well Adult Pop, as do more current acts like American Idols Daughtry and Kelly Clarkson. In fact, American Idol artists seem to do better at Adult Pop stations than at Top 40, with Kris Allen’s "Live Like We’re Dying" being another example of that. Rob Thomas has been a mainstay at Adult Pop since he went solo, and he holds the record (along with Santana) for the longest-running Number One at 26 weeks with their collaboration “Smooth.” Groups like Nickelback, The Fray, Lifehouse and Maroon 5 seem to have a lifetime membership to the chart, along with solo acts including Sara Bareilles, Colbie Callat and Taylor Swift.