If I was to write this post and retain some credibility, it would involve airbrushing over what actually inspired the idea in the first place. After several attempts at beginning with vague allusions and substitutions, I figured it best to just bite the bullet and get on with it. Basically, I have been listening to my Christmas albums (not actual festive music – surely a bit sad after the event – but the CDs I received as presents) while walking the dog each day. Yesterday, I got round to the Little Mix album. There, that was my stumbling block. I own – nay, bought with a voucher, so truly chose to own – the latest offering by the X Factor girl band winners.
I will not justify the choice here, and merely move quickly onto my point. As I was playing this album, with its exciting 90s-influenced upbeat numbers and less exciting ballad-y type offerings, I was listening out for the songs I knew certain people had written; other writers or singers that I like, who had contributed to the Mix-tape (ha, ha). And then I started to think about how no-one really seems to mind that Little Mix don’t write their own music, as long as it’s got a good chorus and an interesting dance routine. In fact, rather than criticised, they get kudos if they’ve managed to work with some well-respected industry names, responsible for other big hits.
This then led me on to thinking about that other rather successful X Factor group, One Direction. Have you heard of them? They sell quite a lot of albums. They also have to put up with being told they’re not a ‘real band’ for not playing instruments or writing their own material. Why is it that females get a (mostly) free pass in the music industry as long as they can create a spectacle, while men – particularly the young ones – get a hard time over ‘authenticity’?
Consider the likes of Rihanna and Britney: this is the first year since 2007 that Rihanna has not released a new album. She churns them out. How is it possible in between the world tours, the clothing line, and the excessive Instagram posts? Quite easily, really, when your record company is paying other people millions to do it for you. Npr ran an interesting story a few years ago that broke down the cost of creating one of Rihanna’s multi-million selling hit singles. It is no secret that, on the whole, Rihanna just lends her voice and image to the outcome of one of these writing bootcamps rather than getting involved. But that doesn’t stop the likes of Eminem and Jay Z from wanting to work with her, and hasn’t affected the mammoth sales she enjoys.
As for good old Britney, she’s been plugging away for nearly a decade and a half now, but has contributed to barely a fraction of her musical output. According to those who have worked with her, she’s very involved in making the albums; though not, it would seem, when it comes to putting pen to paper. I suppose Britney, since she appeared as an all-dancing, midriff-baring school girl, has always been about image as much as, if not more than, the music itself. Reviews from her new Vegas show have been favourable, despite the fact that Britney rarely sings live. In fact, USA Today excused her miming by describing her routines as comparable to an American football player having to run and sing at the same time. These girls/women/not-girls-not-yet-women are let off for not really participating in their own music as long as they project the right (also likely manufactured) image, put on a good show, and competently sing, or mime along to, the songs they have been given.
Meanwhile, any article about One Direction that appears anywhere on the internet with a comment section, I would bet my life savings (pitiful as they may be) that there is at least one comment that says, “Yeah, but they don’t play their own instruments, do they?” ‘Beatlemania’ is the media’s obvious comparison for One Direction’s global appeal. Yet – unfortunately for the boys – apart from being British, the comparisons end there. The Beatles will forever be acceptable, even to those who aren’t fans, for writing and playing their own stuff. One Direction have to put up with the manufactured label, particularly given that they come from Simon Cowell’s conveyor belt of ready-made popstars. I am not a crazy One Direction fan in disguise trying to make people see the light with regards to these five dashing, walking haircuts, but they should be given some slack. They’re no different to the likes of Rihanna, Britney, and countless others who are just as micro-managed. And it doesn’t make any of them less of an ‘artist’ – there’s nothing wrong with a bit of manufactured pop. What would the music purists have to moan about otherwise?