Don’t Drag us through the pop mud

When men leave pop bands, they go se­ri­ous. When women leave pop bands, they re­lease Crazy in Love

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - NEWS - Louise Bru­ton

When for­mer One Direc­tioner Niall Ho­ran re­leased his de­but solo sin­gle last week, he joined the ranks of the dull, real and au­then­tic guys (Drags for short) dom­i­nat­ing the charts who are pin­ing to be taken se­ri­ously as real artists. On This Town, Ho­ran sings about heart­break in Mullingar and it sounds like was fu­elled by a mug of milky, luke­warm tea and a plate of stale Rich Tea bis­cuits. Or, to put it sim­ply, it sounds like it was writ­ten by Ed Sheeran, the ring­leader of the Safe Bri­gade.

The song goes against ev­ery­thing that be­ing in a glob­ally suc­cess­ful boy­band rep­re­sents, not un­like Brian “with an i” McFad­den’s state­ment song from 2004 Real to Me, where he ditches “show­biz din­ners and the free cham­pagne” (that’s Westlife, FYI) so he can “in­vite the fam­ily ‘round and drink some English tea” in­stead. Authen­tic­ity to Ar­tane’s son means a scrag­gly beard and a parka jacket. Authen­tic­ity to Mullingar’s son is an acous­tic guitar. When men leave pop bands, they go se­ri­ous. When women leave pop bands, they re­lease Crazy in Love. It’s un­usual to call for more male rep­re­sen­ta­tion in any in­dus­try but, to para­phrase Paula Cole, where have all the fun boys gone?

With boy­bands, the kind that stick to the 1990s for­mula of two good singers and three back­ing dancers, there’s an el­e­ment of safety in num­bers. Back­street Boys, Westlife and 5ive all suc­ceeded as a unit but in­di­vid­u­ally, they didn’t stand a chance. For a brief mo­ment in time, the only ex­cep­tions to this the­ory were N*Sync’s Justin Tim­ber­lake and Take That’s Rob­bie Wil­liams.

Tim­ber­lake’s 2002 sin­gle Like I Love You is a tes­ta­ment to great pop mu­sic but his re­cent sin­gle, Can’t Stop the Feel­ing, is a soul­less song from a movie about trolls and it feels like the man we once called Trouser­snake is trolling us all. The two ex-boy-ban­ders were on The Gra­ham Nor­ton Show to­gether last week, and as Wil­liams per­formed his lat­est sin­gle, the un­for­tu­nately ti­tled Party like a Rus­sian, and told sto­ries about get­ting wanked off by fans, his brand of lad pop felt very dated. If Tim­ber­lake has gone too safe with his mu­sic, Wil­liams has sprinted, jocks down, in the op­po­site di­rec­tion.

While most main­stream fe­male acts to­day hold royal and even divine ti­tles in the pop game – Bey­oncé is Queen B; Brit­ney Spears is the Princess of Pop; while Kylie Minogue is its God­dess – few men in re­cent years have been wor­thy enough to wear the crown that Michael Jack­son moulded with his bare hands. Bey­oncé, Ri­hanna and Tay­lor Swift are get­ting stronger by the minute, pos­si­bly feed­ing on the young to main­tain and strengthen their prow­ess. But the con­veyor belt of Ho­ran, Sheeran, Shawn Men­des and Pas­sen­ger are keep­ing it dull and low-key, us­ing their pop ca­reers as a stepping stone to be­come a wa­tered-down Bon Iver. There are not enough se­cluded log cab­ins in the world for this lot.

So who will save us from the Drags? Prob­lem­atic bae Justin Bieber was a hope­ful con­tender with his rein­ven­tion last year, tak­ing many peo­ple by sur­prise as they sud­denly be­came Beliebers. But even with bangers such as Sorry and What Do You Mean?, he doesn’t seem to be hav­ing fun in his role. Like Zayn Ma­lik, he makes be­ing a su­per­star look like an un­der­paid, thank­less chore.

One bea­con of light in this age of male doom and gloom is the ever-joy­ful Bruno Mars. His new sin­gle 24k Magic, which he de­scribes as an “in­vi­ta­tion to the party”, is out this Fri­day and he might be the only one who can res­cue us from this damp squalor.

Niall Ho­ran: heart­bro­ken in Mullingar the poor, dull lamb

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