I’ll tell you what pop’s missing at the moment and that’s rivalries. Not feuds, we have plenty of feuds, there’s a feud a day on Twitter I think. Feuds are great but the emphasis is on the stars themselves and what they think or feel. Rivalries are different. They’re about the fans, about what stars mean on a social level.
The great necessary thing about rivalries is that if you’re an outsider they should baffle you a bit. Take That and East 17 – seriously? What’s the difference? They’re both boy bands right, both manufactured, you shouldn’t be listening to either of them, you should be listening to oh, I don’t know, Consolidated or something. And isn’t the rivalry all a hype thing anyway? I had those conversations a few times in 1993.
But hype is the brassiere of pop rivalries, it lifts and separates but there’s got to be something there in the first place, some real division the marketing can draw to your attention. East 17 were rough lads, not cheeky, Londoners, ravers maybe – they were singing “House Of Love” at a time when the words HOUSE and LOVE were code for DRUGS and DRUGS. Well, maybe. Would you get Gary Barlow with his songcraft making anything so rambunctious and mucky and unchoreographed as “HoL”?* Would you get Tony Mortimer and his crew of chancers making anything as sleek and crushable as “Pure”?
There were real differences, but proper rivalries don’t just rest on real differences. They rest on the unspoken tribal things the groups bring to the surface, which were waiting there ready for bands to incarnate them for a few months. Those deeper things are why people feel however briefly that the rivalries matter, because unlike silly stuff like Coldplay v Crazy Frog they dredge up the hidden splits WITHIN a group you might be inclined to think of as a mass. After a bit the baffled voices receded and everyone KNEW what East 17 vs Take That ‘meant’. We have hardly anything like that now and it’s a shame.
*or indeed singing “So many bombs in the world it’s like a LIVING MINE”