Last week, Radio 1’s Head of Music George Ergatoudis noted that guitar music would come back sooner rather than later. He didn’t mean Ed Sheeran-type stuff with acoustic guitars and so on. He meant guitars that plug into things. He was responding to a comment by Kiss FM’s Programme Director Andy Roberts, who’d said that “we’re due guitars [again] but I think they’ll be a fusion of something we [radio stations] will all be able to play.” Ergatoudis was less ambiguous: “Guitar music is definitely on the way back.”
Most people in radio and TV have never made a secret of the fact that they would happily play Foo Fighters, Muse and U2 on a loop if they could get away with it. Most of the music industry and supporting media is populated by the blokiest blokes with the blokiest tastes, who only grudgingly produce or entertain the existence of pop music because they need to tick boxes and make what they perceive to be easy cash. No wonder so much pop is so joyless.
With guitar music out of the spotlight, times have been tough for these people. The commercial viability of dubstep, and some of the genres on its orbit, have proved useful as a stopgap. Any port in a storm and all that. It’s been able to emulate the aggressive boysy primal aspect of the louder guitar music at a point when guitar music has been out of fashion, and it’s been cool, which keeps the cultural gatekeepers happy. But one can’t help feeling that people like Chase & Status and Nero and DJ Fresh and Example have all been used by Radio 1; musical fuckbuddies while radio programmers wait for their true love to return.
Well now they have waited long enough. It seems to us that Ergatoudis’ statement is not some sort of mysterious prediction based on a slowly shifting musical landscape, but a declaration that he will make it happen whether people are ready or not. Radio 1 will make guitar music come back.
Some of it will probably be pretty good – it will need to be to force guitars back into the mainstream – but most will be derivative and tedious, as will be the people who make it. Whenever pop comes back it sounds different, because pop always pulls in the sounds – however subtly – of whatever else is happening in the more interesting areas of underground music or changing technology. (And then the underground sounds stop being underground, and cool people move on to a new sound, which is then absorbed into the next wave pop and the whole thing starts again, and so on.) So pop excites because it changes, but when guitar music comes back – whether it’s by Oasis, or The Strokes, or whatever – it does so by not changing. It succeeds by sounding almost exactly like something that’s happened before. We wonder which past era of guitar music will be pillaged for the next ‘rock revolution’? A sort of punky, grungy sort of thing maybe? You could see it making sense to people who’ve been enjoying Skrillex, perhaps. One has to feel a bit sorry for metal, a genre that continues to thrive while being roundly ignored by the mainstream media.
Look we don’t really care what it sounds like. We don’t want to listen to this music. So why do we want guitar music back?
Well, not because it’s going to make things easier for any of us. Whatever it sounds like and whoever the stars are, the next wave of guitar music will force pop out of the spotlight. The big stars will continue to do well – it’s not as if the next Katy Perry album is going to flop – and radio will still grudgingly play the big chart hits. But it will be harder for new artists to get off the ground, and it will be harder for fairly established pop acts to get support for their next album. It will probably end the careers of people like Pixie Lott.
And maybe it needs to. Maybe most pop needs to be burnt to the ground.
Listen to this – a new song by Pitbull and The Wanted. It’s on Pitbull’s new album.
Or listen to Britney and Will.i.am’s current effort ‘Scream And Shout’.
We don’t think those clips are official so they might have been pulled from YouTube by the time you see this. In case they’re missing, what those two songs represent is pop music writhing around in its own shit. Who could listen to those songs by supposedly a-list artists and possibly argue that pop deserves to remain the music world’s dominant genre?
Pop needs a kick up the arse.
Pop needs to try harder.
Pop need to be scared for its future.
Pop needs to be forced into a corner.
And then pop needs to come out fighting.
Obviously it’s up for debate whether a shift in focus in the UK will have a global impact, but there must be George Ergatoudis-type people all over the world. It will be interesting to see how it pans out. But it’s for the best.
We know this is going to be difficult for all of us, in the short term. Probably for the next three or four years. We will have to accept The X Factor going even further in the direction of Ed Sheeran-esque singing/songwriting authentipop contestants like Arthur ‘James Arthur’ James. We know it will mean some of our favourite artists – people like Marina & The Diamonds and Hurts – might struggle with their next albums, simply because Radio 1 will be focusing on guitar music and may not support them. They might even get dropped or, worse, start to incorporate guitars into their music in a bid to stay ‘relevant’. In the chart climate that is just around the corner, Amelia Lily will have had even less radio support than she got with her first single. Bands like, say, Stooshe, will never get signed. Maybe they shouldn’t have been signed in the first place? Maybe this is the point. The really sad thing is that there are loads of exciting, brilliant pop acts who will never even exist because the perception will be that nobody will be interested. Really, it just means radio and TV and the press won’t be interested. While we wait for pop to rebuild itself there will be plenty of collateral damage. But we will just have to accept this. APOLS.
The good news? Well, firstly, the last time this happened – for a five-year period in the early-to-late-2000s when pop was pretty much Girls Aloud, Sugababes and a load of failed boybands – the world was a very different place, with music finding listeners (and listeners finding music) in a very different way. In 2013 it might be possible for new pop music to find an appropriate audience without the thumbs up from the bigger media outlets. And in the world of radio, Capital seems more powerful now than it was back then, and we can’t imagine Capital being quite as keen as the BBC to completely ditch pop. So perhaps things won’t get quite as bad as they did a decade ago. And secondly, when the guitar music thing is all over, those popstars who survive, and those who barge guitar music out of the way and push pop back to the top of the agenda through sheer force of their own amazingness, will reign supreme. Pop will be bigger and better than ever before.
It will all be fine, but we’re in for a bumpy ride. Naturally Popjustice will be here throughout the whole ordeal, and we’ll continue to find the good bits of pop whether they’re fashionable or not.
Just think of it as having builders in. A long stretch of hellish awfulness with men you don’t know making a lot of noise as they destroy everything you once held dear. But then, when it’s all over, you’re all set up to have a massive party.