Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Have The Reynolds Girls Taught Us Nothing?

On its surface, Katy B's "On A Mission" appears to be a very good pop album.

The use of a disclaimer in that statement is regrettable, but necessary, because as is the case here, appearances can sometimes be deceptive.  While the 12 tracks featured on the record appear to be very good pop, they are not.  It's a misconception, plain and simple, as Katy explains herself on closer, "Hard To Get".

"Hard To Get" is far from the best to be heard on the album, but is serviceable enough, and it seems a nice touch when, towards the end, she launches in to a dedications section.

"Big up my Mum, my Dad, my brother and my Auntie Gaya (sic?) for always supporting me and pushing me to do what I love in life and be happy"

Such a lovely sentiment!

"Second of all, big up to B and Sarah for believing in me and taking a big gamble and having next level ideas and a ridiculous passion for Real Music"

Oh dear.  What Katy has done here is ascribe a level of authenticity to her work that ordinary pop is, by its very nature, precluded from reaching.  "On A Mission" is not a collection of pop music, but Real Music and as such is worth infinitely more.  How silly I was to imagine otherwise!

When I first heard this, I had two gut reactions.  The first was to laugh - any pronouncement of Real Music is bollocks, obviously.  But my second reaction was one of slight disappointment.  Over the course of the album I had developed the impression that Katy B was a woman who not only made great pop records, but was unashamed to admit it; an important quality when you are a professional popstar.  With the hackneyed assertion that, yes, my music really is credible, she destroyed my assumptions and to be honest, I felt a little let down.

It brings to mind the age old question: did The Reynolds Girls teach us nothing? 

For the uninitiated, the Reynolds Girls story took place in 1989, a year in which powerhouse producers Stock, Aitken and Waterman were at the top of their game, producing 19 top ten singles and 6 number ones.  Champagne all round at the Hit Factory, one would think, but for SAW, the charts represented only half of the battle.  Increasingly, the team felt their records were being frozen out by radio stations in favour of more 'grown up' fare, something they took (and still take) great umbrage with.  This situation inspired the writing of the fiercely anti-rockist "I'd Rather Jack".

With lyrics that the included the lines "What happened to the radio? / They never play the songs we know" and references to "music from the past", the song veiled very thinly its attack on the primitivist playlist programmers that the production team saw as the bane of their existence.  In this sense the song was a very personal one to SAW, and wasn't written with any particular artist in mind, resulting in it spending some time 'in storage'.

It could have remained unrecorded, but fate intervened when sisters Linda and Aisling Reynolds cornered Pete Waterman at a gig, and handed him a demo tape.  Following their chance meeting Waterman, as he later told the Metro newspaper, thought "we may as well use these two".  Promptly, the girls were signed to PWL, and released "Jack" as their first single in February 1989.

If you listen to the finished product, you will quickly realise that The Reynolds Girls were not the strongest singers.  Nor, judging by the video, were they particularly great dancers, and when you watch any of their interviews it is apparent that they are also completely devoid of any of the charisma required to be Proper Pop Stars.  Put simply, they lacked any discernable talent whatsoever, and to call them the Poundshop Mel & Kim would be doing a disservice to Poundshops.  But it didn't matter.  The song itself was great, and its message is an enduring one.

Pete Waterman may be a man who gets a lot of things wrong, but here he, Mike Stock and Matt Aitken were 100% correct.  In essence the song is all about people looking down on pop music; not necessarily because they consider it bad, but because of an altogether ill-conceived notion that it has no inherent value.  Pete summed it up nicely in an interview for a BBC3 programme titled "Most Annoying Pop Songs We Hate to Love", a top 100 countdown mainly comprised of clichéd 'bad' songs derided by exactly the kind of people who claim to love Real Music and in which "I'd Rather Jack" placed 53rd.

"This record is actually what this list is all about - this is about snobbery - people (in music) who are up their own arse"

In 2011, 22 years AJ (After Jack), it's disappointing to say the least that while the world has progressed in many ways, a lot of people still haven't caught up with The Reynolds Girls.  There are still too many unenlightened individuals out there who, like Katy B, continue to perpetuate the myth of Real Music.  Something must be done about this.

So, as punishment for her foolhardy words, Katy is the first artist to feature on the Real Music Wall of Shame.  Henceforth, whenever a pop star refers to their work as 'real' or are in any other way so preposterously platitudinous about its supposed worth, they will be placed on the wall alongside her so that the world can see just how ignorant they have been.  Only when they realise the error of their ways and retract the offending statements statements will they be taken off it.

UPDATE: While writing this post, I found this video.  Katy really does have a lot to learn.

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