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Hear'Say - Pure & Simple
GPS Offices. Sunday Night, 18 March 2001, 7.09pm.
This single has just gone straight in at #1 with the third highest weekly sale in chart history . The band didn't exist six weeks ago. The song is trite. The performances weak. Not for the first time the question goes up: what the hell's going on?
TV. That's what's going on. ITV have been running a programme, Popstars, documenting the formation of an S Club 7 style pop group. Through a series of auditions, thousands of applicants were systematically whittled down to a final line-up of five. Each stage was meticulously documented by the TV cameras and served up for coach potatoes in bi-weekly chunks with the ubiquitous Davina McCall as your host. A sure fire TV hit, then, which had already been successful in Australia and contained enough elements from Big Brother to guarantee success. But the Australian Popstars band have bombed. And no-one from Big Brother is doing anything remotely successful. We're still no closer to identifying the reasons for Pure & Simple's success. Could it be the song?
Errr, no. Pure & Simple starts with a truly uninspired verse - melodically thin, lyrically weak (bloke is unhappy that his bird isn't paying enough attention - bird professes loyalty: "pure'n'simple I'll be there for you"), and then limps along to a sub-S Club 7 chorus. The production fails to sprinkle fairy dust on the turkey in the way that, say, William Orbit does with All Saints. In fact it's surprising that given the top priority allocated to Hear'Say by the record company that they weren't able to come up with better - Pure & Simple isn't a patch on the recent Atomic Kitten single and that wasn't a patch on All Saints' sublime Black Coffee. Not that a semi-respectable song and production are necessary to secure a number 1 single anymore - ref: Westlife - but the weak music should have been enough of a deterrent to prevent the huge sales figures we're seeing. Could it be the band?
Errr, no. This is perhaps the most curious aspect of the whole gig. I've seen better lookers strutting their stuff on the dance floor of Aldershot clubs. The blokes especially are spotty herberts who should by rights be serving at Burger King. None of the band appear to be able to sing well enough to carry a song in the way that Mel C carries the Spice Girls or the blonde one does in S Club 7. They look uncomfortable on stage. One thing that puzzles me is the way in which the entire Popstars process demystifies the star system. Surely the point of celebrity is that the celebs themselves should be unattainable and have some magic about them? Eldritch knows this (though these days he avoids it assiduously). Bowie in his heyday was so different he could have been an alien. Film stars like Brando or Adjani seem so remote that it's difficult to believe we live on the same planet. But Popstars has shown that talentless nobodies can be plucked almost at random from a crowd, given a makeover and expensive clothes, put on a stage and the TV screen, and celebrity ensues. The Popstars deconstruction of the process by which celebrity is attained was savagely cynical. So it's not the band. Is it the marketing?
Err, maybe. The single's all over the radio. The band's first public appearances were items on the evening news programmes. The Popstars programme continues. All of which suggests that the marketing is working. This takes some time to sink in. I suspect it's not only myself that loathes what Popstars has done to the music industry, and is bitter and twisted about the single as a result. But enough people - this week 600,000 of them - have been conned. What do these people get from the record and Hear'Say as a band? Whatever it is has to be totally divorced from what we as Sisters fans take from The Sisters of Mercy. I guess it's largely a bandwagon thing - Hear'Say are presumably popular in Junior school playgrounds, but I have a strong suspicion that people old enough to know better are buying the single.
Hear'Say's success remains a mystery. I'm reminded of a scene from The Young Ones when Rick Mayall reverses the usual apology for pop during a rant at a pensioner: "The only reason you don't understand our music is that you don't like it."
I switched off the radio and the TV and considered phoning Eldritch for advice, but the man was abroad on tour. Instead I poured myself a Cointreau and put the adagio from Brahms' violin concerto on the CD player. From next door, the sounds of Pure & Simple's bassline came through the wall. Pass the headphones...
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