This month marks the seven year anniversary of this blog, and it’s amazing to consider how much the musical landscape has changed in those years. In 2003, “pop” was a dirty word. Nowadays bands even pretend to be pop when they’re not! While in 2003 the worst musical crime was for the singer not to sing live, play instruments or write their own songs, in 2010 anyone with such a limited view of music would be mocked and derided. This, of course, is an ideal situation for me, and one which I don’t think pop fans in general appreciate quite enough. It was only a few years ago when we couldn’t admit to liking even the most talented pop acts without receiving a snobbish response from most people. Now the whole world is obsessed with Lady GaGa and Glee, and anyone who isn’t is expected to pretend. Times really have changed.
This change has been of great benefit to me, not just because I can now listen to the radio, read music reviews or watch music channels without falling into deep depression, but because my extreme knowledge of pop music has helped me find a path into the music industry. I’m now working with some of the biggest pop acts in the country only a year after leaving university, yet I have to wonder if these acts would even exist if the music industry was still in the same state as it was in 2003. I’m making the most of the current pop dominance, treasuring every great song that actually gets the success it deserves, every album that would never had existed if pop wasn’t at the top, because I’m sad to say that it probably won’t last.
It’s a historically-proven fact that just like every area of culture (such as fashion, art and even politics), trends never last. There is always a saturation point. In politics, public feeling slides from left to right and back again every decade or so, and in music we have a similar, although less clearly defined, pattern. Before the trend for music that identified itself as ‘alternative’ which was at its height in 2003, pop experienced one of its greatest eras in the late 90s to early 00s. This followed on from the dark days of the early 90s, which Take That and the Spice Girls led the escape from, enabling my generation to grow up in a time when children were perfectly allowed to like the music that was aimed at them. I was lucky enough not to even encounter negative attitudes towards pop music until I reached secondary school.
I believe it was the exposing of pop’s nuts and bolts in shows such as Popstars that led to a public disenchantment with pop music around the turn of the century, leaving more impressionable record buyers very open to the ideology of authenticity and sincerity. Before long the nightly dance music shows on Radio 1 had been replaced with Zane Lowe, and the most popular segment on daytime radio was the Live Lounge, where indie bands would make pop music a little more palatable for the less adventurous listeners.
However, this trend in itself inadvertently showed the public desire for catchy, lighthearted music was still alive – the Live Lounge was a way to access it indirectly, so neither Radio 1 nor the artist or the listener had to be contaminated with uncoolness. It was a sign of times changing when the artists appearing on the Live Lounge started to be pop acts, who performed popped-up versions of indie hits. The Sugababes covered Arctic Monkeys, Alesha Dixon took on the Kings of Leon, and Lady GaGa made Coldplay poptastic. A lot more palatable for the Radio 1 listener of today, who just doesn’t have the patience for songs that require perserverance and careful attention. The public, especially the youthful audience Radio 1 aims for, always desire instant gratification – all that’s changed is that it’s currently OK to admit it.
I’m pleased to say that I think we still have a few years left of pop ruling the world, especially as the UK charts are increasingly influenced by the US, where the pop resurgence is a more recent development. However, I can already see the seeds of change, the foundations of the next musical epoch being laid. The new boyband I am working for, The Wanted, have an album full of great pop music ready to release later this year, but it’s not the uninhibited, laugh-a-minute pop music I was brought up on. They aren’t quite *N Sync in the poptasticness levels, but neither are they Busted (they can play instruments but it’s not part of their act) or Westlife (they won’t be sitting on stools or wearing matching suits any time soon).
If I had to compare The Wanted to any previous boyband, I’d say a mixture of Five and Take That. They’re very British and they’re a very real, normal bunch of boys. There is an ideology of authenticity about them, but it’s different to what we saw in 2003. Authenticity 2010 is a boyband who represent how boys really are in the UK today, and they’re making music which appeals to both typically masculine and feminine tastes, meaning they can genuinely appreciate it as much as their (unavoidably mostly female) fans. Of course they are only one band and, although early signs are very positive, we’re yet to see how they’ll fare when their music is released. However, The Wanted are one of a number of acts currently preparing to release who have this ‘being themselves’ ethos.
Whether or not they are correct, this is clearly where music industry bosses see pop music heading in the next few years. I’ll be very surprised if it doesn’t work out this way, and as long as the music’s as good as The Wanted’s, I’m OK with it. A new stage of pop music is certainly preferable to anti-pop music (such as Busted) being presented as pop. At times my conscience flares up – by promoting The Wanted, am I helping to end the era of poptasticness I spent so many years waiting for? But as I said at the beginning of this post, change is inevitable, and I for one would rather be part of something new and exciting than trying to make a trend last once it’s had its day. The best we can do is make the most of this great time in music, and make sure that the next era brings music that is enjoyable, even if it’s in a different way.