This week I had the pleasure of watching the new Rolling Stones film, Crossfire Hurricane. If you haven’t seen it, then I suggest you watch it. The film charts the meteoric rise of the band from the Blues clubs of West London in the early 60s, to inciting riots at every gig by sheer virtue of their popularity and leaving sodden upholstery in every venue they played due to the number of female fans who wet themselves in excitement (this is a genuine claim from Keith Richards in the film.) It follows their astonishing American success, drug-taking, changes in line-up including the tragic death of Brian Jones and other low points such as the Altamont concert of 1969 that I was previously unaware of. This film left a distinct impression on me, as did interviewing Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood at the world premiere a couple of weeks ago, and has made me extremely interested in the Stones but more than anything it left me nostalgic for an era where the creators of popular music had, or rather were allowed to show, personality.
This was heightened as, by coincidence, I also watched Cheryl Cole: Access All Areas this week (I know, I’m a pretty wild guy!) and was genuinely more shocked when Cheryl used the ‘F word’ than when Mick Jagger, about to go on stage in New York, declared to a lackey in a manner most people reserve for pointing out they’ve run out of post-it notes, ‘Right we’re going to need some bottles of water, whisky and a lot more coke’ and proceeded to hoover the latter up his nostril as everyone around him did the same. And that says it all about modern pop music. I like the stuff, can’t get enough of it to be honest but generally for the tracks I’m fond of I won’t like the person making it. The reaction they all elicit is apathy and I’m sure this is intentional on the part of the record labels. I had this same discussion with a musician this week and we agreed that while all these pop artists must have a personality, they are unable to show it. I regularly see rappers on TV, who I was aware of before they were signed by major labels and for better or worse had bags of charisma, talking and behaving in the most banal and uninteresting terms and I’m sure this is down to the image they are being asked to promote.
Music is making more money than ever (not necessarily for the artists) and musicians are being asked to be a ‘hit’ makers and nothing else. I know music has, sadly, always come down to the cash but the removal of personality is, in my opinion, a sign of something more sinister. My conclusion is that the labels enforce this personality embargo to make artists more easily replaceable. If the Stones, Tupac or Nirvana had decided they didn’t want to toe the party line what on earth would the label execs have done? In the case of the latter two, due to the tragic deaths of Tupac and Kurt Cobain, the point was proven and they were never replaced but if Cheryl Cole, Justin Bieber or One Direction stopped making tunes then all that would happen is Kimberley Walsh would get to step up, Conor Maynard would get flown to the States and Union J would win the X Factor.
There are a few bastions of the old school left and I don’t think America suffers from this problem anywhere near as much as we do in the UK. America has Lil’ Wayne, Eminem and Nicki Minaj (who has created a bizarre image from her own imagination) and who do we have? Example, who is regularly labelled ‘controversial’ or ‘outspoken’ for calling it how he sees it, which is his prerogative… as a human being!
I’m not having a go at the artists I’ve mentioned, I like their music and I’m not saying they lack personality. My problem is with the people who stop them showing it. I think music is enriched by knowing more about the people responsible for it but then of course there’s the possibility that might make us dislike them and not want to buy their records… and we couldn’t have that now… could we?
Published on IAmMusic.TV, 5th Dec 2012