Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Pop go the weasels.

Remember real pop stars? I do. Back in my day we had *proper* stars. They were unapproachable because we considered them somehow better than us. They were artists who had something to say and an interesting way of voicing whatever that was. They lived better and more beautiful lives on our behalf - we wanted them to be dynamic and risky and entertaining, and to live full lives that we could enjoy and learn from, entirely vicariously, while still holding down a job at Woolworths. It was a valuable relationship, the one between a pop star and his or her audience, and a lot could be earned and learned from it - on both sides.

Then, of course, something quite revolutionary happened. Punk brought a new way of thinking, and a new way of approaching music. Singers and musicians were no longer pedestal-straddling demagogues - suddenly they were ordinary people, just like you and me. Perhaps even a bit thicker. "Here is a chord," we would famously read. "Here is another. Now go form a band." The relationship between band and audience changed - some would say for the better. I say it just changed. The audience were suddenly onstage and, while I like my mates to be pop stars, I like pop stars to be pop stars too.

You'd think there would be a third course, but there is not. This was proved quite lucidly to me as I stepped out of the tube station at Greenwich North last night.

The short walk along the illuminated path towards the O2 - a massive circular tent owned and named by a mobile telephone company - was like a nocturnal stroll through a haunted Dystopian forest. Three massive video screens to my right showed, on a loop, Eliza Caird (a singer who has chosen to rename herself after a character in 'My Fair Lady' - namely Ms Doolittle) handing over her sports shoes to a young man. The Mastercard slogan underneath the sponsored footage declared: "Giving something back to the fans - priceless." Can you see what's wrong with this picture yet?

Talented pop singer though she may be, why would this young man want this young lady's trainers? Why should it be a big deal for him? For her? Or for Mastercard? Teenagers in the mid 1970s would climb over each other at concerts to try to grab a scrap of Donny Osmond's shirt - is this somehow a throwback to this kind of hysteria? Is texting a mobile 'phone message to a Mastercard competition line the modern equivalent of scurrying backstage to try to grab an autograph from Jimmy Page as he is rushed into a waiting car? Or is this showing us that Eliza is down with the kids? Happy to mix with the rest of us - even hand over her shoes, for God's sake, to appear as human as the rest of us? Nah. That's just as unlikely.

The bleak picture widened as I got closer to the dome. Not only Eliza, but Tinie Tempah (not real name) and Rod Stewart (real name) were offering clothing and other personal items to 'fans' under the same Mastercard banner. A 30ft picture of Rod had been stuck to the floor. Even at that size, and that close up, the Mastercard small print on the side of the ad that accompanied Rod's face was beguilingly small.

The event I was attending was billed as the 'Brits After Party' and on the way out, ordinary people like you and me were given VIP laminates as "a keepsake". Do they get us into a party, then? "No. They're just a keepsake." A laminate, something to wear on the bus home - to pretend that you are someone, because you look like you get up close and personal with pop stars?

Not an after party. Not an after party VIP pass, either.

The gig itself was bleak. A man called Mark Ronson (real name) stood behind a metal desk while failed pop wannabes like Rose Elinor Dougall joined in a karaoke routine of other people's songs. At least Rose's face - which turned to permanent thunder when she found she could not hear her electronic drumpads through the expensive monitors pointed at her ears) was, to quote Mastercard again, quite priceless.

A pass that isn't a pass, a party that isn't a party, a group of people that are not a band? Not good. And when a credit card company jumps into the frame with an advertising concept that seeks to create some kind of mythical star-fan divide and then bridge it, as a magnaminous and fun gesture, I for one call time.

Pop, as predicted so many years ago, has eaten itself. And we all know what happens next.