Back in January, in The Guardian , veteran DJ and ‘professor of pop’ Paul Gambaccini argued – ho hum – that “rock n’ roll was dead.” Elsewhere in the same piece, Radio One head of music George Ergatoudis said “brilliant” rock songs are rare.
We all know Gambaccini and Ergatoudis both are utterly wrong, of course. There’s shit-loads of solid proof out there that attests to the continual emerging strength and rugged endurance of rock music – check out, for instance, new and old material by: The Joy Formidable, Planting Claymore, Deftones, The Black Keys, Pearl Jam and Mogwai, plus the thousands of other belting acts playing festivals all over the world this summer. Nonetheless, figures show that in the last year “the percentage of rock songs plummeted from a sickly 13% in 2009 to a terminal 3% – far behind hip-hop/R’n’B at 47%, pop at 40% and dance 10%.”
However dire (and, indeed, predictable) the forecast, their misgivings are somewhat telling and worth discussing. Pop music, especially of the production-line, X-Factor variety, is monopolising the landscape (no surprises there). The problem lays in part, as Gambaccini insists, “with short sighted record labels investing less in the talent of the future and more in instantly profitable acts such as former X Factor stars.” Admittedly, he is dead right there (it’s simple economics). Our society is in thrall to commodity fetishism, and, as long as pop’s mass production continues, millions will continue buying into it.
So, what does that mean for festivals? Well, festivals are an integral part of the cash-register-ringing beast that is the music industry, so of course they will rope in B, C and D list pop celebrities to make appearances. They’re prolific unit shifters. It has been suggested, then, that 2011 is the summer of pop, just as grime was the big ting in 2010. Artists already announced this year include Beyonce (Glastonbury), Rhianna (V-Festival), Clare Maguire (V-Festival), X-Factor odd-bod Wagner (Bearded Theory) and Olly Murs (V-Festivals). Potentially this isn’t such a bad thing. After all, pop stars have littered festival line ups for years. So why complain now?
First thing’s first – Beyonce‘s headlining Glastonbury slot is a scintillating prospect in itself. It was the next logical step for the Destiny Child’s best-booty-shaker to make, after her other half made a surprisingly well-received headline performance in 2008. Not only does she have an incredible voice (and booty!), she will be backed up by an awesome band of some of the best session musicians in the world, including outrageously funky bassist Divinity Roxx. And that can’t be a bad thing.
R n’ B vixen, Rhianna, has a voice worth checking out too. Granted, most of her songs are infectiously irritating, but if you’re knocking about at V with no other plans, then why not? When and where else will you get to feast your eyes on this ravishing glamour-puss in the flesh?
Regarding the sickeningly talentless pop acts – Olly Murs, Wagner – the cynic in me hopes that they will face the same comeuppance as Daphne and Celeste did at Reading back in 2000. The hideously vacuous duo were bottled off after just two songs, in one of the festival’s defining moments. Hilariously, the same thing happened to 50-Cent and The Rasmus in 2004 and Panic! At the Disco in 2006. Unfortunately, as Wagner and Murs aren’t playing at Reading, they almost certainly won’t be subject to the same treatment. We can live in hope, though.
At the end of the day, if you really hate pop music, you don’t have to go and watch the acts. It’s as simple as that. But at least make an effort to embrace genuine talented artists when and where you can…pop or otherwise.