Arts & Culture

Let Them Listen to the Kooks: How The UK Government Took Over British Music, and Destroyed It

The United Nations has decreed that British pop stars are bad role models. Last week the UN’s anti-drugs chief attacked “coke-snorting fashionistas” like Amy Winehouse, whose nasal habits are apparently causing “untold misery, corruption, violence and instability” in Third World … Read More

By / March 17, 2008

The United Nations has decreed that British pop stars are bad role models. Last week the UN’s anti-drugs chief attacked “coke-snorting fashionistas” like Amy Winehouse, whose nasal habits are apparently causing “untold misery, corruption, violence and instability” in Third World countries where drugs originate. In truth, British popsters aren’t bad enough. The pop music scene here has become a state-funded, Soviet-style cultural factory that churns out agreeable singers to entertain the nation. Far from being rebels without a cause, too many of our pop stars are shaped and moulded by government cash. The cardboard-cutout nature of British pop was on full display at the annual Brit Awards ("the Brits") in February. The Brits are a bit like the Grammies, only less well-executed and less glamorous. This year’s Brits were notable for two things. First, Amy Winehouse was forced to censor, with black eyeliner, the nipples of the naked lady tattooed on her left arm—an act of image-policing that set the tone for the rest of the conformist awards ceremony. And second: the revelation that most—of Britain’s young pop talent is now produced by something called the Brit School. This is a state-funded school in Croydon, a soulless suburb of South London, which has 850 pupils aged 14 to 16. They furiously study the theory and practice of performing arts, creative technology and media, all of them desperately hoping to become the Next Big Thing. The school is heavily subsidised by the government’s Department for Education and Skills and also by the Brit Trust, the body which – yep, you guessed it – organises and oversees the annual Brit Awards. Not surprisingly, then, this year’s awards ceremony looked and smelt like one, long, super-dull advert for the pop starlet factory in South London. All of the kids in the front row of the audience at the Brit Awards were students of the Brit School – and a disturbing number of winners and performers were alumni of the Brit School. Former pupil Adele, the 19-year-old singer who has the worst faux-cockney accent I’ve ever heard, won an award for her single Chasing Pavements. Alumni Kate Nash won Best British Female Solo Artist. Leona Lewis, who performed her No.1 single Bleeding Love at the ceremony, is a former Brit School pupil. So is Katie Melua, the curly-haired singer of soft folk-pop songs. Even Winehouse—dear, brilliant, troubled Amy—learnt her trade (singing, shuffling, looking moody beneath the tonne weight of her beehive) at the Croydon pop factory. Of course, as the UN informs us, Ms Winehouse is no government-approved, Department of Education-stamped role model for British “yoof”—yet she is the exception that proves the rule about The Brit School. The school doesn’t only produce girl singers well-educated in how to carry a tune and how to conduct themselves in TV interviews. It also trains future indie band performers – which is ironic, since “indie” is short for independent. Bands like The Kooks, The Feeling and The Noisettes—all of whom consider
themselves denim-wearing, serious, edgy musicians—were set on the path to stardom courtesy of the government money sloshing around in their alma mater, the Brit School. One newspaper has described the school as a “conveyor belt for indie-music success.” The government wants to go even further. Not content with funding the guitar and singing lessons of 16-year-olds who will later become bedroom pin-ups for Britain’s tetchy teenagers, the Department for Culture, Media and Sports is now looking into directly funding independent record labels. Indie bands always prided themselves on being “independent” of massive music labels like EMI and Universal—yet soon they may become “dependent” on the British state. I’m sorry, but give me an EMI-backed, commercial, stadium-playing superstar over a government-funded indie band any day of the week. Such is the domination of state-generated pop acts today that those who criticise the Brit School are easily silenced. At the Brit Awards, the Arctic Monkeys—a decent guitar band from Sheffield in North England who definitely did not attend the Brit School—parodied the school’s pupils in their acceptance speech for Best Album. Mischievously wearing country tweed suits and flat caps—as if to poke fun at the middle classes who now dominate the pop scene—the Monkeys said in mock-posh accents: “We all went to the Brit School, we remember you all. We had a great time in them years…” The powers-that-be weren’t happy. Canned applause was played to drown out the Monkeys, and they were bundled off stage. Never mind the New Musical Express or any of Britain’s other supposedly rebellious music magazines, it took the Financial Times—the Financial Times!—to point out what the silencing of the Monkeys was all about: “Soviet-style airbrushing was ruthlessly employed to restore order to the show.” This is all bad news for British youth. In the past, teens normally resisted the rules and morality of their rulers, and instead identified with mods, punks or rockers—the more outrageous the better. Today they are fed a diet of well-behaved girl singers and bland bands produced by a state-supported music factory. Ignore the UN: Britain needs some properly bad role models. Where’s the next Johnny Rotten?

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