Having lived in the UK for 20 months now, it’s hard to escape pop music. Growing up in New Zealand, I was surrounded by pop from both the US and UK. Combined with a healthy sprinkling of kiwi and Australian pop (actually rock from Aussie), I had much to draw on. More recently down-under, the focus and tastes changed from what I grew up with. NZ grew more toward rock of the indie, university-band, style or hip hop which was driven by a large Polynesian population who connected with the US sounds and hip hop culture. Australia is a strong rock market, although that is slowly changing.
So, when I arrived in the UK, it seemed evident that the pop scene was alive and well. When I say pop, I music that is very commercial, intended to sell many units and vocal songs mostly by women artists. This music dominates charts, radio, advertising, TV, reality shows and people’s playlists. I had intended to write about how much of that pop I didn’t like and how formulaic it is. But what I have realised is that much pop is driven by the media culture in the UK. It’s a culture obsessed with celebrity, scandal, news and fashion and pop stars are perfectly placed to deliver readers to publishers.
I don’t know all The Saturday’s hits, the lyrics of a Pixie Lott song or the names of each of the Girls Aloud girls. That’s because those pop acts who are royalty (?) here, never even registered on the NZ psyche, let alone the charts. The latest pop news is the apparent success of two boy bands One Direction (X Factor 3rd placegetters ) and The Wanted – a #1 album for 1D and top 5 single for The Wanted The PR machine rolls on and more pop and increasingly what is being labelled as dance is churned out for (tongue in cheek now) 12 year old girls and 40 year old gay men. Meeeouw. It’s fine actually because my taste is different, and it doesn’t mean people shouldn’t like what is marketed at them.
Which brings me around the three pop events of the few months which have caused a twitter-storm or two.
- The Steps reunion. They were a global success and a few Kiwi friends could sing along to all their hits from the 90s – so the reunion and upcoming concert was a massive media thing. All good I guess.
- S Club 7 reunion. Groan. They trended for a day.
- Hit Factory Live. Squeal! This is the 25th anniversary concert for the Stock Aitken Waterman (SAW) pop machine of the 80s and 90s. It’s in Hyde Park in July and adds to the list of big events for 2012 London. Once ridiculed, with the current pop sensibility, Steps-mania, X Factor-madness in the UK, their, now influential, music seems worth celebrating. Who could resist a line up of b-grade, minor-hit artists all on one stage at one gig? Plus I never thought I would hear Rick Astley sing, or perhaps he will rickroll?. The success of the SAW /PWL product is undeniable. Some of their artists are household names (like them or not) who provided some decade defining songs.
In other SAW (Hit Factory) related information, I recently bought (it’s nowhere to be found digitally) the 1985 O’Chi Brown album Deluxe edition remastered CD with 19 bonus tracks. Definitely a geeky nostalgia collectors item. I discovered O’Chi from a mix tape a friend gave me in the late 80s and when he moved away and left all his vinyl, there was her debut album “O’Chi”. She had very minor success on the charts – hardly bothering the top 100. One notable song is her duet with 20 year-old Rick Astley “Learning To Live Without Your Love” – one of his earliest recordings and before he hit the big time..
In reading the liner notes in the booklet (I LOVE good liner notes), I learned that the PWL studios were in Borough, London in a small street I walk through every day. It’s the site where 250 million single sales began, so I believe it needs a nod to pop culture, perhaps a blue plaque.
Here’s O’Chi Brown and the (mislabelled) 100% Pure Pain (US Remix)