This is actually a question I’ve been asking, as I’ve noticed recently that Popjustice has taken seriously against the British indie-mush band Scouting For Girls. I will tell you what I think of the band in a moment, but first I must explain the concept of indie-mush. It’s my new term for indie that appeals to the people who would have liked Boyzone if they were this age a decade ago. And that for me exemplifies what I, and many others, see happening to music as a whole. The mostly male opinion-leaders of the music business, jealous of the attention sweet young boybands got from girls (perhaps rooting back to their schooldays, when Take That reigned), have used their spiteful brainwashing techniques to replace dance routines and cheesy grins with guitars and scruffy hairstyles.
I actually don’t mind Scouting For Girls that much. Sure, their music is pretty cheesy, but that’s the same criticism that can be levelled at most of the music I love (especially that of male artists), so I can hardly use it myself to dismiss them. My opinion is the same towards the other similar acts, like The Holloways, One Night Only and that lot that sing about toothpaste, and Palladium and the Hoosiers and Air Traffic… I could go on and on. I wouldn’t leap up to turn off the radio if they came on, but try and think of how a song by each of them goes. Can you do it? And how about songs by 5ive, A1, Boyzone, Westlife, and so on? Much easier!
My issue is not even that these bands are uninspiring and interchangeable. It’s always the case when a band (in this case The Feeling or Keane seem most to blame) becomes popular that a zillion clones come out, but this group are so large and reproducing so fast that they’ve become a species all of their own. What I take issue with is the trend that they exemplify, as I referred to in my first paragraph: the replacing of dance routines and cheesy grins with guitars and scruffy hairstyles. I fit into the target market of these bands, and I definitely did not ask for this. I’m pretty sure none of my friends did either, and they’re very wide-ranging in tastes. We female music fans are not even having ‘proper’ rock or indie music forced upon us, but a watered down version, presumably the heaviest we poor feeble things could cope with.
Of course it’s nothing new that the music business imposes on us the music that we need to like, and as long as they’re clever enough with their marketing techniques they can be successful. It has become not a choice between whether we fall for the marketing tricks or not, but which tricks we choose to fall for. Even those who are 16, deciding which music genre to make their own, and they decide to ignore new releases and go for something from the past, are often doing so because new bands are usually either promoted as a return to the superior sounds of the past, or criticised for not sounding “as good as” (i.e. similar enough to) those past styles.
I can only speak from my own experience – perhaps this has always been the case and I just wasn’t aware, but I feel more and more that the manipulation of music fans has changed over the past few years. No longer are we manipulated simply to like the acts that they think we’ll like, so much as the acts that they personally want us to like. I can’t think of any other way to analyse the manipulation of female music fans by a male-dominated industry, to like a style of music which has traditionally been associated almost exclusively with men. I’m sure I just sound like I’m getting on my feminist high horse here, but I do find the way that girls are so strongly targeted by marketing about music, in contrast to boys who are pretty much left to like what they like (as long as it’s masculine, of course), quite depressing. Girls just can’t be trusted to choose their own tastes, it seems.
But actually I think being a girl is a pretty good thing to be in terms of musical choices. That these media people see the need to control what we like supports my theory that women actually have a lot more freedom to choose musically than men do, and it is probably jealousy that drives this controlling impulse. There is so much music women are socially allowed to like that men aren’t, and even if that music is portrayed as inferior, it’s clear to me that we are definitely getting the best deal here. We get Girls Aloud and they get Radiohead! In fact, it’s young boys that I feel sorry for.
I have of course made some huge generalisations in this post, and I’m plentifully biased, but unfortunately I do think there is a very strong patriarchal influence on music and its marketing. As the control that these businessmen had is slipping, they must work even harder to get it back, and while that can have depressing effects when it succeeds (such as with Scouting For Girls and their ilk), the fact that it’s increasingly necessary is quite a good sign. There’s also the brilliant recent trend of Scandinavian acts being accepted in the UK, and not just ones with guitars. Even September has reached the top 5, but I’ll be interested to see if Radio 1 continue to support her when they realise she isn’t a dance act but a proper pop star. I haven’t heard Infernal or even Cascada on there for a while. There’s also no way brilliant acts like BWO, Amy Diamond or Darin could break through, but that’s a problem for another post, perhaps…