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  1. #1
    The Gentleman Scamp's Avatar
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    Feb 2006
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    03-01-2017 @ 04:09 PM

    Pop music is almost dead

    Why TV Talent Shows Are Killing Pop Music

    Tom Townshend rages against the insidious effect of Simon Cowell's cash cows…

    At the time of writing there sits - at number one in the charts and at number one in our hearts - Leona Lewis, winner of last year's X Factor and set to be a very big international star over the coming year. And while there's normally no shortage of detractors decrying those whose fleeting fame was decided by phone ballot, no one seems to mind Leona.

    Despite coming from the critically frowned upon reality TV show format, people who'd cross the road to spit in Journey South's chiselled faces are wishing her well. Because, to quote the received wisdom, "she's got real talent."

    Even over at the Spice Girls fan forum, they're happy to concede that she deserves to be higher in the charts than their returning heroines, again because "she's got talent." The public have decided and they have decided this is her moment.

    And it's shows like X Factor, its predecessor Pop Idol and the not-on-anymore Fame Academy that have defined this very notion of talent so that almost all music we listen to, subconsciously or not, now passes through our own internal judging panel. There's a little Louis Walsh in all of us.

    This is a terrible state of affairs since it is essentially leading to the death of pop in all but name. Where once the class loner/show off/freak could take their aspirations and turn them into big shiny musical dreams, uninhibited by classical concepts of ability and therefore free to dazzle, challenge and shock.

    Now, one has to perform Olympian feats of vocal prowess, all the while being followed by cameras to capture your mad granny's every shriek of gum-bearing delight as you graduate to the next stage of the competition (thanks to the previous contestant being outed as a violent 47-year-old drug mule).

    And the result has been, for the most part, a bland, homogenised product with a heartlessly short shelf life (where art Danny from Hear'say now?)

    And while exception-that-proves-the-rule, Girls Aloud, are left to carry the flickering torch for what we remember as pop, the rest of the music industry, in reaction to the transparency of the reality TV process, delivers us a host of uninspired, identikit, but most definitely 'real' groups, playing in what's become paradoxically known as the 'indie' style, elevated to a status above and beyond anything their dismal output deserves, merely for what they represent.

    The concept of 'alternative' music is literally back with a vengeance. And the ugly carnage of the war is Fearne Cotton waxing lyrical on Radio One over 'new music' because, to her, a crappy band from MySpace is worth a million Michelle McManuses (that is unless she's presenting the ITV2 coverage, of course).

    Add to that the unstoppable proliferation of singer songwriters following in the drippy footsteps of James Blunt and Katie Melua who, when compared to Ray Quinn (and his junior swing) take on Dylanesque like importance in a musical world perceived, wrongly, by the general public to be dominated by talent show wannabes, manipulated by a sneering, comedy trouser-wearing svengali.

    And the mentors themselves aren't immune to the whiff of authenticity. Remember Sharon Osbourne fawning over the raw rock power of Tabby? Or that buffoon Peter Brame, flidding about the Fame Academy stage like Thom Yorke trying to scratch an unreachable itch? Vocal coach Carrie Grant could barely contain her joy at his bringing such tangible credibility to their television programme.

    These people will soil every musical concept you hold dear. It can only be a matter of time before an X Factor boy band performs an a cappella reading of 'Up The Bracket' and an entire generation of indie kids commit hara-kiri in despair.

    But even to the purest of musical souls, these shows are addictive. Perhaps we only tune in to howl with derision at the self-deluded, semi-autistic, tone-deaf auditionees. Maybe we only watch for the dry-as-dust Cowell put-downs and find ourselves inadvertently hooked by the soap opera of it all.

    But for whatever reason, the longer these shows go on, the longer and more irreversible the cultural harm. Unless you're a Westlife-buying idiot, none of your favourite singers, past or present, would have made it through to boot camp under the guidelines of these shows.

    Could John Lennon sing? He mostly shouted. Could Johnny Rotten sing? More a sneer set to music. Bob Dylan – blow your nose. Janis Joplin – clear your throat. And while we're at it, you ever heard Madonna sustain a note, or Kylie for that matter?

    And we all 'know' the Spice Girls can't sing because the tabloids remind us on a daily basis. But they're looking at a world tour and 17 sold out shows at the O2 Arena. Not bad for talentless.

    Because all of these people are great rock and pop stars precisely because they didn't sound or behave like anyone else; precisely because they used the perceived flaws in their voice to create unique and hugely successful records.

    Everyone capable of passing breath through their vocal folds (they're not chords – look at a picture) can sing. Whether anyone likes the resulting sound is purely subjective judgement and one we shouldn't allow to be influenced by the man who once announced that Girl Thing (remember them?) would be bigger than the Spice Girls, the man who brought you Boyzone (they're back), a woman who admits to sending her and her children's poo to people in envelopes, and the lovely Dannii Minogue who we'll leave out of this on account of being lovely.

    Because singing isn't about purity of tone. It isn't about melisma (the singing of several notes on one syllable that Leona, Mariah and Whitney do so revoltingly). It isn't about that breathy 'sincere' sound that Shayne Ward does so smugly.

    It's about the individual sound a person makes which stamps their identity on a song and has, since it began, made pop the thrilling, divisive, unpredictable, controversial, ecumenical entity that, at some point in our childhood, changed our lives.

    Musical reality TV shows attempt to deny all those variables and define pop by their own clueless, tasteless parameters and by doing so risk killing pop music forever and inadvertently creating all manner of ugly, reactive beasts, in the process.

    That's not to say that manufactured boy bands can't be fantastic or that girl groups can't be a political force. A great artist doesn't even have to write their own songs to be great. But a panel of old millionaires should not get to decide what's good and what's bad. Because there are no rules in music, except your own.
    "I'm an outsider by choice, but not truly. It's the unpleasantness of the system that keeps me out. I'd rather be in, in a good system. That's where my discontent comes from: being forced to choose to stay outside.
    My advice: Just keep movin' straight ahead. Every now and then you find yourself in a different place."

    George Carlin

  2. #2
    Cacoethes scribendi
    Loombucket's Avatar
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    Oct 2007
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    15-06-2015 @ 08:51 AM
    Lanchester and Nong Bua Deng
    Hear-Hear, bravo and well said that man. We are right behind you on this.

    I have never let anyone dictate to me what I should listen to, or what is really good or any of the, often, really good reasons behind it. This is probably why my music collection is as diverse as it is. Everything has a place. Some stuff, in this modern age, has a place that I never go to. To be honest, there is so much stuff that is available now on cd, that I missed last time around, I will be catching up on it for years.

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