Saturday, October 06, 2012

What the pop papers say: Staggers launches attack on the NME front

I've been banging on about how the NME has got locked into a dependency on the sort of heritage act that it was supposed to have blown away back in 1977 for a while now. I doubt it bothers them much.

They might want to be a bit more concerned about a similar complaint from the New Statesman. Because if anyone is going to write from a sympathetic position, understanding the difficulties in shepherding a long-in-the-tooth magazine through hostile times, it's the New Statesman.

Writing on the paper's Cultural Capital blog, Rob Hastings asks why NME readers find themselves cast as Cole Sears, so often seeing dead people:

Personally, I can’t complain. After drunkenly bopping away to Franz Ferdinand and The Libertines during most of my drunken uni nights out – back when I would buy the NME week-in, week-out and blu-tacked the front covers to my bedroom door – the subsequent decline in the bubble of excitement around indie rock in favour of electro and hip-hop has left me cold, making me explore older artists’ back catalogues more often than discovering new bands. Save for Arcade Fire or the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the surest way for the NME to secure me as a reader these days would admittedly involve sticking Bob Dylan or Neil Young on the front.

But perhaps that sums up the sadness of the situation. The magazine’s frequent decision to promote features on “heritage” acts from the past rather than interviews with exciting new groups such as Mercury Prize contenders Alt-J or Django Django must be commercially driven – either because the current crop of up-and-coming acts just aren’t deemed good enough, or because people listening to the hottest acts don’t care what the NME has to say anymore, leaving the magazine groping for older readers to sustain itself.
In the comments section, Alex Lyall thinks he has a gotcha:
Hilarious because NME's new cover has Palma Violets on it. A band much younger than Cobain, Curtis or Lennon
This does miss the point a bit; Hastings doesn't say that they only do heritage covers.

But boy, they do do a lot of them. I think you have to go back to April/May to find a two week period where the cover was given over two weeks running to artists who hadn't already made enough to buy an island (Tyler The Creator followed by Friendly Fires) and probably back to 2008's Fucked Up-Glasvegas-Crystal Castles page ones for a three week run of new music covers.

And next week is a tenth anniversary of Up The Bracket special, so it's not as if the Palma Violets cover really is the start of a new era of looking forward.

What makes it worse, though, is that the Palma Violets cover is part of a New Music special. A special! It's like the New Statesman doing a left-leaning political narrative special.

And the coverlines don't exactly suggest the paper has much faith in new music interesting its readers:
Don't worry, people - the new noises have been filtered through the same acts we're always going on about.

Are you still nervous?
How DAMON, WELLER, BJORK & THOM embraced the future
What? Still feel that despite offering 'new' music from a bunch of acts with 113 years of experience between them, we might be getting too edgy?

Don't panic, dear reader:
Bonehead spills the beans
An interview with Bonehead about Oasis. Could anything be less relevant to a new music special?

To be fair, the Damon/Weller/Bjork/Thom piece is well meant, but misfires. Barry Nicolson starts out with a thesis that older musicians don't have to get stuck into just playing the hits. That's true, but an article that gathers up artists who share little beyond being a bit older might not want to use a pull quote which asserts:
Age is no more relevant than gender or sexuality
Ah, and if we could only say so confidently that gender isn't relevant.

But with Rolling Stone just about to publish a "special" about Women Who Rock, I'm not sure we can.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Gordon in the morning: Silent Psy

There's a couple of odd moments in Gordon's bit on Psy this morning:

Psy — who hit No1 in the UK after his Gangnam Style video spread like a virus online — said: “The agency heard my raps and were picturing a 6ft tall, sharp-looking, trendy guy.

“But the CEO opened our meeting with the statement, ‘What are we going to do with this?’ Staff said, ‘How about we make him wear a cool mask?’

“Everyone was coming up with solutions to my ‘looks’ problem. They said, ‘How about a bit of plastic surgery here and there?’

“The CEO’s response to that was, ‘Just a bit?’

“In the end they reached no conclusions and just walked out of the room.”

The SPICE GIRLS would never have seen the light of day if that was the case over here.
What does that last line mean, exactly? It's not clear what the "case" is which Smart is referring to - executives not making a decision? Executives forcing pop stars to have plastic surgery? Is he suggesting the Spice Girls were only a success because they had their faces fixed? It sounds like a throwaway line that, perhaps, should have remained thrown away.
He’s a strange fruit this Psy boy, even by Korean standards.
Yes, Gordon did use the words "strange fruit" in a vaguely racist aren't-foreigners-funny sentence.

Psy tells a tale - to someone else, obviously, Gordon's just copied it down - about how a drugs arrest meant he was unable to carry his grandfather's coffin. Clearly, this is upsetting and something important to the man:
He revealed: “The person who got hurt the most was my grandfather. He passed away only three days later.

“I got arrested while he was suffering from late-stage cancer. I was not there at the funeral to lift his coffin. I will regret this for the rest of my life.”
That's heartbreaking, isn't it? How does Gordon deal with this?
Never mind Gangnam Style — he popped his clogs Grandad style.
Really, Gordon? Your reaction to a man sharing his regret at missing his grandfather's funeral is to snicker?

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Primark to make HMV's life more miserable

A couple of weeks ago, I was in BHS - it's a handy cut-through to shops you might use - and noticed they've gone big for CD sales. Not just the sort they've done for a while, cheapo compilations, but actual chart CDs and to such an extent that you could probably expect to get what you were looking for, if you weren't too fussy and not after catalogue.

Now, Primark is getting in on the CD retailing business. Again, it's going to be better for you if you want Lady GaGa rather than Cate LeBon, but it's a surprising spasm of life from a declining product.

It's also a bit of bad news for HMV, who hadn't exactly been doing well as the only CD retailer on the high street. Now, the clothes shops are going to cherry-pick off customers who want the top-selling albums; the few people who don't shop online are already buying from supermarkets. Now the market will be further split by those adding an Ellie Goulding album to a quick couple of bras and some socks.

Why are Primark doing it, though?

Primark, which has 242 stores across the UK, decided to trial entering the music market as "fashion and music have always been synonymous", a spokesperson told BBC News.

"Primark has a strong relationship with licensed product and the CDs are a natural complement to Primark's merchandise," they added.
No, neither of those explanations seem that convincing.

The idea of music and fashion being synonymous is passable, but it does rather assume that fashion and Primark are synonymous, doesn't it?

Gordon in the morning: Ellie for leather

One-handed typing from Gordon this morning, as he gets excited about the Ellie Goulding comeback:

ANYONE who still thinks of ELLIE GOULDING as the “girl-next-door” type needs only to look at these boots for a reality check.

Racy ... Ellie Goulding poses for album cover Halcyon

Clean-cut singer ditches her wholesome image as she strips down for the sleeve of her latest album Halcyon.
It's true that Ellie does appear to have decided and/or been persuaded that her career needs an FHMication, which is disappointing, but... let's take a look at that album cover which is getting Gordon all excited, shall we?
Er... yeah, that's racy.

Linda McCartney used as Morrissey honeytrap

Or at least, sort of. Coachella was so desperate to score a Smiths reunion, they offered Morrissey an all-vegetarian festival to try and seal the deal.

And it wasn't only the meat that they were prepared to throw overboard:

"Fascinatingly they made it clear that they would 'not require' the Smiths' bass player or drummer," said Morrissey about his estranged bandmembers, "which I thought certainly said something."
Of course, all of this is "according to Morrissey" - and let's not forget the judgement of Judge Weeks that when dealing with those other band members Morrissey was "devious, truculent and unreliable."

I'm not entirely sure an entirely meat-free Coachella would even be feasible, would it? Would there be hot-dog pat-downs at the entry to the polo field campsites? What if another headliner insisted on putting bacon on their rider?

Monday, October 01, 2012

Gordon in the morning: Cheryl Cole and the risk register

Cheryl Cole is pulling together her first solo tour, and according to Gordon Smart, has hit a snag:

A source said: “Cheryl wants to put on a real Cirque du Soleil-style show and blow away her audience.

“She’s exchanged ideas with choregraphers and is keen to push herself to the limit."
One might wonder that if she really wants to push herself to the limit, she'd not be talking to vocal coaches rather than dance teachers. Anyway, circus tricks. Why is that a problem?
“Trouble is, that comes at a cost. The more dangerous the stunts, the more she will need to pay in insurance."
The figure Gordon quotes, and is in no way pulled out his ass, is two million pounds of underwriting. This money, once handed over, will mean Cole will be free to enter the arena on a zipwire - you know, like Anne Widdecombe on Strictly.

What is surprising, though, is that Gordon makes a joke about that time Cheryl Cole beat the crap out of the toilet attendant:
The GIRLS ALOUD star wants to fly through the air on zipwires and also perform some fight scenes.

That will bring back memories of that evening in a certain Guildford nightclub.
Given the usual pro-Cole line toed meekly by the paper, that's a bit like hearing Ed Balls say "actually, you know what, George Osborne really knows what he's doing."

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Half a million quid buys you Alicia Keys

We hear from timemtomtime of Russian oligarchs and potentates of all stripes paying large sums of money to get singers to do a special gig; to the list we can now add, erm, Manchester City Council who MTV somehow managed to persuade to underwrite an Alicia Keys gig. Manchester Confidential has the story:

For one gig in Manchester Cathedral, the ‘City Council contributed £425,000’. 
Why would they do that?
Sara Tomkins, Assistant Chief Executive (Communications Customer and ICT) at Manchester City Council, said: "This event will showcase Manchester around the world. As well as showing the concert itself, MTV are also broadcasting a programme about Manchester's musical heritage and music scene. Taking part in such world-class events strengthens Manchester's position on the world stage as a premier destination for music, entertainment and culture, boosts the local economy and increases the global profile of Manchester as an exciting destination for young adults to visit, work, study and live.   

"Manchester's ability to attract such events is testament to the ambition of the city and we hope to realise further activities in partnership with MTV in the coming years. The show has generated massive coverage across national and international media, including the Washington Post, with an expected media value in excess of £6.6m.”
Let's work backwards, shall we?

The Washington Post website (not the paper) did carry a story about the event, albeit one it just took directly from the AP? Here it is, all four short paragraphs of it.
It does mention Manchester, albeit only twice: once in the byline and once in the name of the MTV programme.

You can't put a price on that sort of coverage.

Really, you can't. It's too slight to measure; it'd come in at the sort of money you get if one of your songs is played on Spotify.

It'd be a struggle to build that sort of coverage up into a package worth £6.6million. You'd be struggling to justify spending the half million for that.

But obviously, there's more. MTV making a show about "Manchester's musical heritage". A thirty minute clip show of Smiths, Joy Division and Oasis. You might wonder if you have such a rich musical heritage, why you need to bribe a music channel to make a programme about it.

But that's where we get to the big problem. I think Manchester might have paid for this gig thinking MTV is synonymous with musical cool. That having a live gig on MTV is a bit like playing football at Wembley, or golf at The Belfrey. It's the centre of the music universe, right?

Not really.

MTV audiences have been declining for years, and even the grand feather in its cap, the VMAs, saw almost a six million drop in audience between 2011 and 2012.

But even when people do find their way to MTV, they're not watching music - remember, a short while ago they officially dropped "music" from their brand to reflect that the channel is now about pregnant teenagers, Snooki, and spoiled children being spoiled further on their sixteenth birthdays.

You know the cartoon in the Guardian Guide this weekend where people turn up at a house converted from a pub asking if they could have a drink there for old time's sake? That's exactly the same as creating music programming for MTV.

Manchester paid for the gig from a ring-fenced cultural budget, so it's not quite turning social work positions into an unwatchable TV show, but you wonder if a city which has had to close the homework clubs at the libraries it hasn't shut couldn't think of a better use for the money.

And even if it did have to burn the cash on getting an event which got a brief mention on the AP newswires, why this gig for this network? The suspicion is that Manchester have bought a very expensive lemon.

[thanks to Morag]

This week just gone

The most-read stories during September:

1. Gordon Smart busily promotes the Tulisa sex tape
2. Tatu? Gay? Why would you think that?
3. AC/DC remain resolutely off iTunes
4. The last Mark and Lard show ever
5. Nirvana baby turns up again - how has he changed since his last 'what is like now' appearance a few weeks ago?
6. Video: My Bloody Valentine cover Hal David
7. Nick Carter investigated over sexual battery claims
8. Wendy James is back, back, back
9. Usher buys watch with his own face on it
10. Paris Hilton slags off gays, suddenly realises might not be wise career move

These were the interesting new things this week:

Efterklang - Piramida

Download Piramida

Neil Halstead - Palindrome Hunches

Download Palindrome Hunches

Lucy Rose - Like I Used To

Download Like I Used To

Frightened Rabbit - State Hospital

Download State Hospital

Dragonette - Body Parts

Download Body Parts