The lust for fame has always been a crucial pop motivation, but there are periods when that flame seems to burn more nakedly than others. In his classic book on the New Pop and, Like Punk Never Happened, Dave Rimmer is quite candid about the primary motivations for the crop of stars breaking through in ’82: they wanted money. And the way to money was celebrity.
But the concept of celebrity – much like the individual slebs themselves – requires an occasional trip to rehab. The very idea of fame needs to refresh itself periodically, put on a bit of slap, remind the unfamous why they admire the ambition and hunger even as they’re laughing at the hubris and folly. And in the early 80s the Fame film and TV show was a vehicle for doing this.
Nobody I knew – least of all me – would admit to liking Fame but in the terrestrial TV era we all watched it sometimes anyway. Along with Sesame Street and Marvel Comics it was one of the foundations of my concept of What America Was Like – sassy, young, hopeful, prone to burst into song.
I didn’t have the musical knowledge to parse Irene Cara’s theme tune as typical of a particular strand emerging in American pop: an urgent, brashly commercial, slightly clumsy mix of rock and disco – epitomised by the compulsory wailing of the guitar solo here. “Fame” feels like a dry run for the far superior “Flashdance”, where beat and rock and ambition all mesh into something genuinely steely and yearning. Here the parts don’t quite fit and “Fame” sounds corny, not inspiring.
But there’s some effectively stagey touches – the driving backing murmur of “Remember…remember…rememeber…” for instance – and even though it was two years’ old by this point and nothing whatsoever to do with New Pop, “Fame” is a good marker for the shift in pop from playful and colourful to something hungrier and huger.