It was the BRITs this week, which meant, as ever, for the two hours the show was on ITV1, my Twitter feed was full of people watching and complaining about it. Not that I have anything against that. I may even have had a little moan myself.
But the complaints (even mine) are generally as predictable as the awards themselves: Mainstream music is bland, Olly Murs is out of tune, no wonder the industry is in such trouble. But here’s the thing: Mainstream music has always been bland. I’m not sure how or why people forget this. And there was no golden age of the BRITs where awards were handed out to obscure artists with no financial backing and pure artistry in their hearts.
Yes, there was that one year when Belle & Sebastian surprised everyone by winning Best British Newcomer, but it was in the early days of online voting, and Belle & Sebastian just happened to have a particularly web-savvy fanbase in an era when pop fans weren’t yet properly online. That era lasted seventeen months, and only Steps were victims of it. The point is, that was a one-off anomaly.
The BRIT Awards are voted for by a group of around 1000 music industry professionals, pundits, artists and journalists. And as with any large voting panel, even if half the voters include some quirky or more alternative artists in their votes, the least offensive acts will always rise to the top. Worse, the best group, breakthrough act and single are selected by the public (in the first two from a shortlist voted for by the Academy, in the latter case from the ten most sold, most played tracks of the year) and the public don’t even attempt to pretend they have taste. Unless you’re a fan of the bland and the mainstream, there is a high chance of you being disappointed by the winners of any BRIT award. That’s just how democracy works.
That bands I don’t like (or just find inoffensive, which is arguably worse) exist doesn’t really bother me that much. Yeah, I could do without hearing Florence Welch’s ridiculously loud voice, completely void of dynamics, holding a single note for what seemed like half the ceremony, but I survived. And I was fine putting up with that Murs’ bloke because my girlfriend’s commentary on his tuneless performance was very funny.
No, I recognise that people have different tastes, and the majority of people aren’t into obscure music. They might be if they took the time to track it down and give it a proper listen and live with it for a few days before making a judgement, but that’s not the relationship most people have with music. And that’s fine. If everyone was seeking out the latest sounds from backwater towns, there would be no joy in it for the people who really enjoy doing such things. And if it wasn’t for music you can just have on in the background, if all music jumped out at you and created a real reaction, nothing would ever get done. You shouldn’t let the fact that new artists you don’t like keep appearing on the scene upset you.
But Blur. That’s a different matter. What are we to do about Blur?
On Tuesday night they only strengthened my resolve that the second I am in charge, no band will ever be allowed to reform ever again. Reunions are bad for bands and bad for fans. I know there are people out there who will disagree with me on this, but trust me, you are wrong.
Reforming a band is like Da Vinci going back and painting a hat on the Mona Lisa five years after he finished it. Or to give you a more contemporary and real life example, it’s like George Lucas incessantly updating the original three ‘Star Wars’ movies. Those films weren’t improved in any way by having scenes added and their special effects spruced up in the 90s (in fact those second generation special effects have just dated way faster than the original movies), just as they won’t be improved by converting them into 3D.
It was Leonardo da Vinci who said: “Art is never finished, only abandoned”. And that was a quote that George Lucas used to justify returning to the ‘Star Wars’ films. But that is because he fundamentally misunderstood what Da Vinci meant. He also said: “Art teaches us that we never finish learning, never finish exploring, never finish growing … Art is eternally unfinished and it knows that… And that’s the point”.
This doesn’t mean art is something that can be left to return to later, it means we should move on to new things and challenge ourselves. To return to what you left behind is to take a step backward in life. Hence, the Mona Lisa never got her hat.
I realise this might look like I’m overthinking an insignificant problem, but I don’t think this is an insignificant problem. When a band splits, that should be it. The end. “I have no desire whatsoever to desecrate the grave of seminal Manchester pop group The Stone Roses”, John Squire once wrote. And given how protracted that band’s descent into their grave was, you can see why he might want to keep it tidy. Though, of course, not even that grave is to be left in peace, as it turns out.
Blur never really split, though. They more fizzled out. This sort of end is always a problem, because it leaves bands feeling like they have “unfinished business” (despite the fact, as we have already established, where creativity is concerned everything is unfinished). But let’s make no bones about it, Blur came to an end. Graham Coxon developed a reasonably successful solo career, Dave Rowntree moved into politics, Alex James got into cheese, and Damon Albarn heralded numerous other commercially successful and often creatively interesting projects, including writing two operas and masterminding Gorillaz.
They continued to learn, explore and grow (yes, even Alex James). As a result, they are not the same people they were before. They are no longer Blur. They are four guys playing Blur songs, but Blur songs in their hands no longer make sense. They are not Blur. They are the disappointing director’s cut of Blur. No, worse, they are ‘The Phantom Menace’.
Art exists in its place and time, so four men in their 40s playing a song about people in their early 20s “following the herd down to Greece” is not the same as four men in their 20s performing it, even if they are the same men. If you think you’re enjoying it, it’s not because you’re watching it now, it’s because in your head you’re watching the gig you went to when you were fifteen, or the gig your mum wouldn’t let you go to when you were fifteen. That gig happened, it’s time to go to a new gig.
I never saw Refused when they were originally together, and part of me would really like to go and see them play now. But anyone who’s seen the film ‘Refused Are Fucking Dead’, which documented their break up, will know how much that band lived and died by the tension between its members. That’s not something you can recreate fifteen years later. True, they didn’t receive the recognition they deserved in the 90s, but they certainly have since their split. And I think it would be better left that way.
And if there’s one thing that the BRIT Awards shows, it’s that people are willing to move on. For the most part, the awards on Tuesday night were not handed out to a parade of old duffers who are there every year. Aside from Blur, Foo Fighters (who won Best International Group) and Coldplay (Best British Group), none of the winners were in the public eye ten years ago. And in the case of Lana del Rey, who received the Best International Breakthrough award, not even ten months ago.
If there must be an Outstanding Contribution To Music award, it should only be handed out to artists who have had the foresight to quit and move on for good. By reforming, Blur add nothing to the musical landscape. If anything, it diminishes their contribution to music. The public gets what the public wants, but if they want music to progress, they need to stop encouraging these old men who can’t let the past lie.
PS – If you want some actual insight into what goes on at the BRITs, you should check out Popjustice’s very funny photoblog.
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We’re back from our brief break in transmission, and on the latest edition of the CMU podcast, Chris and I can be found discussing the Channel 4 secondary ticketing documentary Viagogo didn’t want you to see, the ongoing EMI sale saga, the highs and lows of the BRIT Awards, and One Direction’s falling out with Capital FM. Grab it later this weekend at www.thecmuwebsite.com/podcast
IN THE NEWS
Just before Blur played the closing performance of the BRITs, Adele had been given the Best British Album award. Which was nice. But before she could finish her acceptance speech, host James Corden arrived and told her she needed to leave the stage. Thanks to Damon Albarn’s long, tedious speech acknowledging the band’s Outstanding Contribution and the approaching News At Ten, ITV wanted Blur on stage to rattle through a few hits as quickly as possible. Adele, quite rightly, gave ITV the finger.
And there was more broadcaster-based controversy to be had, though this time the anger was directed in the opposite direction, or rather in (at) One Direction. The ‘X-Factor’ created boyband were given one of the few public voted prizes, Best Single. The public in question were iTunes users and Capital FM listeners. But when they went up to claim their trophy, Harry Styles chose to thank Radio 1. As a result, a guest slot on Capital FM the next day was cancelled and, according to Radio Today, they have also been dropped from the station’s playlist.
Secondary ticketing was in the spotlight this week thanks to a ‘Dispatches’ documentary which aired on Channel 4 last night, despite Viagogo’s attempt to get an injunction to block its broadcast. It was Viagogo and Seatwave which came under the most scrutiny in the programme, them and the promoters they partner with like SJM and Live Nation, the main strand of the documentary focusing on promoters who automatically allocate some tickets to secondary ticketing websites at inflated prices.
Universal filed its EMI acquisition proposals with European regulators this week, followed by IMPALA almost immediately restating its opposition to that deal, and to the sale of the EMI publishing business to Sony/ATV. Warner Music is, of course, also opposing the sales alongside the indie labels, although this week insider sources confirmed to Bloomberg that this was mainly because Warner still hopes to get some of the EMI business for itself.
In the ongoing MegaUpload story, the US made more allegations against the company and the file-sharing service’s founder Kim ‘Dotcom’ Schmitz was finally granted bail. The latter piece of news will be a relief for Schmitz as it looks like court hearings to extradite him and three of his colleagues from New Zealand to the US won’t happen until August.
Elsewhere in anti-piracy news, an English court ruled that The Pirate Bay infringes copyright, in Denmark a court ordered Danish ISP Three to block Grooveshark, and the final set of warning letter’s in France’s Hadopi three-strikes system were sent for court approval. However, counteracting all that partying, the EU asked the European Courts Of Justice to review global intellectual property treaty ACTA and check if it contravenes any fundamental EU rights.
Over in the world of legitimate digital music, OK Go manager Jamie Kitman claimed that, contrary to popular opinion, the band do not make very much money from the massive number of YouTube plays of their videos, nor do those plays particularly translate to record sales. He also said that the band didn’t see anything from their earlier videos being on VEVO, which follows on from criticism by indie publishers in the US that they too aren’t seeing any cash from their songs being on the Sony/Universal owned video site. But VEVO boss Rio Caraeff said this week that his site pays out all the royalties it should and it wasn’t any of his concern if record labels were withholding money from their artists or their artists’ publishers. All this chatter about the economics of streaming content services led quite nicely to the MusicTank debate on the issue, which Chris summed up here.
In other news, Charlotte Church settled with News International over phone hacking, the Black Sabbath reunion tour was downgraded to an Ozzy Osbourne solo outing, Kelloggs designed a breakfast cereal for Charlatans frontman Tim Burgess, Jazz FM accidentally broadcast five minutes of porn, Chris Brown was attacked by seagulls, and Kreayshawn used the toilet.
FEATURES AND NEW MUSIC
This week we had a very interesting interview with the boss of music distribution company Kudos Records, Danny Ryan, who has been very vocal in his support of streaming platforms like Spotify, when there has been growing resistance from some in the music industry recently. And speaking of streaming services, we had a great playlist from Clock Opera’s Guy Connelly, which you can listen to via Spotify and We7.
CMU approved this week were Micachu‘s recent unbilled DJ set at Ninja Tune’s Boiler Room takeover, foil masked house producer John Talabot, sythn-led krautrockers Siinai, and the shoegaze-influenced pop of Scarlet Chives.
Elsewhere on the site, we also had new music from Santigold, Mystery Jets, Squarepusher, Crocodiles, Zulu Winter, Lone, Willy Mason, Torches, Bad Weather California, and East 17, who are back with a new rock sound (and I’m not even joking).