BAMM UK: Manufactions

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BAMM UK is a regular look at music/digital issues from our London-based correspondent. This week: Manufactions …

Lady Gaga appears in legendary UK music paper the NME this week (a publication which present editor Krissi Murison is valiantly rebuilding as a decent magazine, following its noughties decline into a teenybop rag fuelled entirely by haircare-product sponsorships). Now, you can either love or hate Gaga – and reaction to her ‘ironic’ new 80s-styled album cover indicates she may well have jumped the shark in many circles – but there’s one thing here which stands out amidst her usual rafter of faux-controversial statements.

‘I’m not going to start churning out what you expect,’ she says. ‘If you want me to be a manufactured act, you can f*** off. Let me tell you something. If you f****** rip my hairbow and my wig off my f****** head, my shoes, my bra, every single thing on my body, and you throw me on a piano with a microphone, I will f****** make you cry.’

Don’t know about you, but I always hear the distant tinkling of alarm bells when I hear someone rally against ‘manufactured acts’. In this case, there’s a bonus element of rank hypocrisy: Gaga is a privately-educated art-school chick who was discovered by superstar Akon and placed under the mentorship of Grammy-winning producer Red One. Sounds pretty manufactured to me, as long as we’re dealing with dictionary definitions here.

But that’s beside the point. The fact remains – is there anything more gratingly tedious and hipster-lite than sneering at ‘manufactured music’?

The argument is usually this: manufactured music is damaging to ‘real’ music, and somehow of a lesser artistic value. Both points are nonsense. Firstly, let’s face the blunt truth – shows like The X Factor and American Idol (the modern bastions of manufactured acts) don’t attract the ‘music fan’ demographic. They are shows for people who buy two or three CDs a year. Music for people who don’t like music: it’s a viable market. And a harmless one. Whatever you think of Kelly Clarkson or Will Young, it’s not as if their billion-sellers results in a massive sales slump for acts like Animal Collective or Beach House. The two markets are distinctive as night and day. So, relax: manufactured music doesn’t affect real music in any substantial way.

The second point is that manufactured music is inherently bad. Not true, as anyone who enjoys listening to The Ronettes or The Supremes or The Monkees or Madonna will tell you. Hell, even Gaga is a great manufactured act – this humble writer happens to believe that Telephone is one of the best pop songs of the last ten years. The main issue with Factor/Idol and their ilk is that their output has been universally dire. Which is to say: if Simon Cowell discovered an artist with the calibre of a Sinatra or a Garland, would it really be fair to downplay someone so talented simply because they’re part of the ‘manufactured’ sector?

There’s room for all kinds of music out there – from shiny pop acts to grizzled bar-circuit veterans. A true music fan would judge acts on their context and ability, rather than instantly dismissing an artist based on college-kid prejudices. And maybe Lady Gaga should take heed and embrace her manufactured elements. That way, it’ll be far easier to blame the record company when she experiences her first big commercial flop …

(Please note: despite any defence of manufactured pop music in the article above, BAMM retains the right to believe that Justin Bieber is infact the Antichrist, and will one day rip off his human-suit in front of a screaming crowd to reveal a hellish demon intent on destroying Planet Earth).

4 Responses

  1. Phil says:

    The third piece of the story is the marketing/promotion aspect. Gaga can be manufactured or not manufactured; but no one promotes himself/herself as a manufactured act. I just want to know where she bought her copy of Madonna’s book, “The Business of a Female Pop Star.” Gaga’s following her playbook pretty damn closely. She’s now entered the “Like A Prayer” faze of her career.

  2. Michael says:

    Point well taken. And here’s one for the anti-pop machine folk to chew on. Kelly Clarkson’s second album. Quick, who played bass on it? Well, three tracks, anyway. Mike Watt.
    In ’91 I saw Camper Van Beethoven on their last tour. (Well- for a long time, anyway) Indie pioneers if ever there were, and David Lowery told the audience that after the show, they could present their ticket stubs to the venue across the street and get in to see A Flock Of Seagulls, who were fast falling from grace at the time. When the crowd of fans started laughing, he said “Is that a joke? I think they’re pretty good”

  3. Well…recording is a manufacturing process, so that line was crossed a long time ago by our ancestors, n’est-ce pas? My local heroes here in NM are globe-trotting Smithsonian-recognized husband-wife team Bayou Seco, who only perform music they’ve learned directly from old-timers, carrying on oral traditions. I was raised in that tradition too, but like most of us, was seduced and then swept away in the tide of media and technology. Seems the best we can do is learn to surf that tide…not really knowing where it will take us!

  4. Fernando says:

    I really liked this blog post because it talks about a very fine line between being talented with a mainstream projection and a product that is put together by a bunch of music executives in order to sell music, which in most of the cases is not the same. Every time fans are getting more options to choose from and manufactured artists are struggling more than ever to stay alive.

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