More Talented Manufactured Band: One Direction Versus The Monkees
Glamour magazine in the UK gave some tips on "How To Win A TV Talent Show" and started with this:
"Immerse Yourself In Talent. And by immerse, we mean hide. Can’t sing? Not a hot dancer? Resemble a soft toy troll minus the tuft of pink hair? Then find four others sort of like you but slightly better looking, colour co-ordinate, learn to get off of chairs in time with key changes and enter the Groups category. It worked for Niall Horan."
Niall is the Irish member of the British boy band One Direction (aka 1D). The others are Harry Styles, Zayn Malik, Liam Payne, and Louis Tomlinson. You just need to remember Harry, Zayn and Niall. No one seems to care about the other two. The group was created by none other than Simon Cowell after they appeared (not together initially) on the UK X Factor.
So, according to Glamour, they weren't chosen for their singing skills. They're not actually terrible but they're no Temptations either. They're decent singers. And other than one member sort of knowing how to play the guitar and another sort of knowing how to play the piano, they didn't play any instruments. So, if they weren't great vocalists and they weren't great instrumentalists, how you may wonder did they end up becoming a band. Well, who needs musical ability when you're good looking, right? And good looking can sell a lot of merchandise to preteen and teen girls.
One Direction live on The Today Show
1D and Classic Rock
Now, 1D has been compared to The Beatles. But never fear this seems to be based mainly on levels of popularity. Look into the backgrounds of The Beatles and their musical ability went well beyond playing a bit of piano and guitar. And like The Fab Four, they write their own songs. Kind of.
Many of 1D's songs are written for them. When they appear as co-writers they're rarely listed first, which means they likely contributed nothing more than a few lyric changes to a song. This is something that frustrates a lot of songwriters, who work with big names like Beyoncé, Rihanna and One Direction. They must share royalties simply so the singer can gain some legitimacy for "writing their own songs."
One Direction - Best Song Ever
One Direction has also been accused of ripping off some classic bands. Live While We're Young is said to be a rip off of Should I Stay or Should I Go by The Clash and Best Song Ever is said to resemble The Who's Baba O'Riley. Def Leppard apparently considered legal action due to the similarities between Pour Some Sugar on Me and Midnight Memories. This may be an attempt to gain credibility by sounding like successful rock acts of the past.
Music snobs may decry the death of real music and oh how much better music was in the past. Alas, this isn't true at all. Manufactured groups are nothing new and The Monkees are a perfect example.
The Monkees I'm a Believer
The Controversial Monkees
The Monkees, Peter Tork, Micky Dolenz, Davy Jones and Michael Nesmith, were the creation of television producers Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider for the TV series The Monkees, which first aired in 1966. The show was about a band who wanted to be like The Beatles. While Nesmith wrote some songs for the group and Tork played some guitar on their recordings, they weren't heavily involved in the creation of their early music. This seems to have been mainly due to time constraints. According to Biography.com:
"The group sold millions of albums, but they struggled with their reputation as a manufactured act. Nesmith and the other band members began to take more creative control with 1967's Headquarters, which featured numerous songs penned by the quartet. They also played many of the instruments for the recording as well."
The creation of the band was controversial enough that The Byrds wrote a song called "So You Want to Be a Rock 'n' Roll Star" mocking them.
"So you want to be a rock'n'roll star
Then listen now to what I say
Just get an electric guitar
And take some time and learn how to play
And when your hair's combed right and your pants fit tight
It's gonna be all right"
The Monkees live in 2013
Controversy erupted over whether or not they played their own instruments on their albums. This was an era when "serious" and "artistic" rock was on the rise. There was also the question of whether they sang their own songs or not. In 2011, Peter Tork told Rolling Stone:
"With all due modesty since I had little to do with it, the Monkees' songbook is one of the better songbooks in pop history. Certainly in the top five in terms of breadth and depth. It was revealed that we didn't play our own instruments on the records much at the very moment when the idealism of early Beatlemania in rock was at its peak. So we became the ultimate betrayers. The origins of the group were obvious and everyone understood that, but suddenly some little switch was flipped and all that stuff came crashing down around our ears."
-- Peter Tork: Monkees Canceled Tour Due to a 'Glitch' by Andy Greene, Rolling Stone
Peter Tork and Michael Nesmith were able to play instruments. Micky Dolenz could play guitar but had to be taught how to play the drums. Both Nesmith and Dolenz had sole writing credits on later albums. The Monkees have also left behind some classics including the theme song, Daydream Believer and the Neil Diamond penned I'm a Believer. Whether One Direction leaves behind any classics remains to be seen. Even if they had more talent than 1D, they were still manufactured as a group. They were good looking guys who showed up to auditions and made a name for themselves through a TV show.
Opposition to Manufactured Artists
Davy Jones comment to Tiger Beat in 1969 highlights what frustrates many people about manufactured artists.
"I get so angry when musicians say, 'Oh, your music is so bad,' because it's not bad to the kids. Those people who talk about 'doing their own thing' are groups that go and play in the clubs that hold 50 people, while we're playing to 10,000 kids. You know, it hurts me to think that anybody thinks we're phony, because we're not. We're only doing what we think is our own thing."
The argument goes why do these guys get all the success and money when there are truly talented singers, songwriters and musicians who don't have nearly as much success or can't get a contract at all. However, The Monkees filled a certain niche and appealed to an audience that people with the level of talent of The Who, Bob Dylan and The Rolling Stones (who made millions by the way) didn't want to appeal to. The Beatles did initially cater to this audience but decided they no longer wanted to.
This is true of One Direction today. Ten year old girls wouldn't buy a Foo Fighters or Yeah Yeah Yeahs album as an alternative if 1D didn't exist. It's not like people with more talent are competing with boy bands singing kid-friendly bubblegum pop songs. Like it or not, there's an audience for this kind of music that artists with tons of talent may have no interest in serving. And if they did, they'd be called sellouts for not using their talent to make "better" music.
Popular boy bands from the 80's to 2000's
Some who decry the death of "real music" are frustrated by what they consider the poor music taste of consumers. But many people are capable of enjoying different kinds of music as this comment on Peter Tork's interview with Rolling Stone points out:
"I just can't contemplate the 60's without the Monkees. I am an avid rock fan, i grew up in the 70's and 80's, i was brought up on Zeppelin and Sabbath and Mott and T.Rex, then came the wonderful punk years of The Ramones and Pistols, but i love the Monkees, the songs are great, the whole thing is great. I believe the real problem with the Monkees is they were never supposed to be that good. They were, they are and long may they tour and play those wonderful songs."
There's room for lots of different kinds of music and lots of different audiences to be served. Many people want music to be fun and escapist rather than deep or experimental. And some are capable of appreciating both. After a long week at work or school, many people want music that will make them dance rather than make them think. If there's a demand someone is going to fill it. And when it comes to fun, escapist music, perhaps its better that those with lower levels of talent are the ones making it.