The name of M's album comes from a line in this song's chorus, "New York, London, Paris, Munich, everybody's talkin' 'bout pop music." That line reflects his world travels, as he worked in England, America and France before coming up with this song.
This song brought together a variety of influences, including a disco sound that was a hybrid of the European style popularized by producer Georgio Moroder, and the American disco from acts like Earth, Wind & Fire. The song is often categorized as New Wave, and considered one of the first singles in that genre to top the Hot 100. It was also one of the first synthesizer-driven tracks to top the chart.
M is the British musician Robin Scott, who wrote, produced and sang lead on this track. He attended Croydon College Of Art, where he became good friends with Malcolm McLaren, the man who brought us the Sex Pistols. In 1969, he got a record deal and released a folk album called Woman From The Warm Grass. He walked away from this record deal and turned to electronic music.
After moving to New York and then back to London, he wrote a musical called Heartaches And Teardrops, and started producing other acts, including the band Roogalator. In 1977, he moved to Paris and worked with the female punk band The Slits. In 1978, he became "M" when he released the song "Moderne Man" on his own label: Do It Records. The song dealt with identity, so he decided to create the alter-ego M, which he called "a cynical reflection of contemporary politics." He also felt it had a strong curiosity factor, and he thought that symbols were trendy at the time. He explained that "M" could also mean "Mirror," which was reflecting the present.
This song is sung from the perspective of a disc jockey spinning records at a dance club. This being 1979, the Pop Music of the time was the finest disco in all the land. While on the surface, the song is about enjoying the sound and losing your inhibitions on the dance floor, M (Robin Scott) sees a far deeper meaning in the track. In disco music, he saw people coming together from all over the world, and the DJ was their voice of authority giving them direction. He explained to Melody Maker: "At the end of the track, I say 'Do you read me Loud And Clear.' It's very pushy. I'm not sure that I like to be spoken to like that, but I get the feeling that people want to know that someone is in control. I see everybody in the disco like being in an enormous army which is waiting to be told what to do. They've all rallied under this call, and now they're sweating out their hang-ups there."
M's backing musicians were known as "The Factor." He said they were more of an "organization" than a band.
M is very much a one-hit wonder in America, where this was his only chart single. He hit #33 in the UK with a follow-up song called "Moonlight and Muzak," and a 1989 remix of "Pop Muzik" made it to #15 there. M went on to collaborate with Oscar-winner Ryuichi Sakamoto on some lesser-known pop music.
The video for this song gave it a big push in the UK, where it aired on a popular program called The Kenny Everett Video Show. There weren't many video directors out there, so MCA Records hired a British TV producer named Brian Grant to make the clip. With the £2000 budget, he combined performance footage with some fancy (for the time) switcher effects to create one of the few early high-concept videos of the sort that David Bowie and Queen were making. Grant quickly got a lot more work as a video director, making promos for The Human League, The Fixx, Duran Duran and many others. When MTV launched in 1981, "Pop Muzik" was one of their most popular videos, as the song had already topped the charts and was much more familiar to Americans than most of the other songs they had to choose from.