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Oct 19

DAVID SNEDDON – “Stop Living The Lie”

Popular21 comments • 1,414 views

#947, 25th January 2003

One possible reason Popstars’ producers risked an unconventional song with Girls Aloud: the show itself had competition. The BBC approached the reality TV era warily, but there was no way the Corporation could stay fully aloof from those kind of viewer numbers. Still, appearances had to be kept up – if the BBC was going to run a talent show, then by jingo it would involve real talent. And, in pop terms, that meant songwriting.

The resulting show, Fame Academy, was originally developed by Endemol as a Pop Idol/Big Brother crossbreed – the novelty was that the contestants all lived together in a house being taught the ways of stardom (Academy, see?). The BBC’s publicity leaned heavily on the teaching aspect, perhaps hoping that an educational aura would somehow settle on a show clearly designed to steal ITV’s Popstars thunder.

Instead, it gave me – and I assume others, since Fame Academy wasn’t the hoped-for blockbuster – the impression that the whole show was going to be didactic and joyless. I also felt like enormous emphasis was being placed on songwriting as the element which would separate out the real talent of Fame Academy from the manufactured flotsam of those other shows. Perhaps, as a several-year veteran of Internet pop discourse, I was over-sensitive to that talk, but it seemed to bode ill. I passed.

So the first I really knew of Fame Academy was when David Sneddon got to Number One with the first-ever solo self-penned reality show winner’s record. At which point all my most jaded and prejudiced assumptions were proved appallingly right.

From its opening lines rhyming “café” and “coffee”, “Stop Living The Lie” is one of the greatest advertisements for song doctoring and professional writing the charts have ever seen. The problem – which should have been obvious from the beginning – is that while the craft of modern pop involves a huge range of musical, technical, engineering, performance and studio skills, the image of a songwriter in the public mind is a bloke with an acoustic guitar or a piano. That is what they wanted and that is what they got, in the unbearably earnest form of David Sneddon.

Is “Stop Living A Lie” about anything? It certainly is! Well, I think it is. It’s sung and written to sound like it is – there’s about-ness in every pained note. It might be about religion, in which case it’s very on the nose indeed: “We all have a saviour / Do yourself a favour”. It might be about true love. It might be about all the lonely people, where do they all belong, except in this version Father MacKenzie and Eleanor have a nice cup of tea together and it all works out fine. Someone is living a lie, but what that lie actually is? Not so sure. There’s a “he” and “she” who live lives of vague bleakness – Sneddon comes across as being more interested in the notion of writing a song with characters in than the more specific work of actually making any up.

In other words, it’s a bad song by a beginning songwriter, ponderous and hand-wavey but probably no better or worse than most people’s first efforts. Except Sneddon’s are being pushed into standing as exemplars for Proper Talent and his single is in a situation where it was likely to get to the top however dubiously undercooked it was. This is, ironically, a far worse abuse of the charts than Pop Idol pulled, as there was no pretence Gareth or Will were anything but attractive young fellows singing the song they’d been given, which has been an element in pop since its dawn. Stop living the lie, indeed.

Sneddon’s fame was quickly academic, but he’s gone on to a successful songwriting career, so I assume he got the basics sorted in the end. In some ways he’s a figure ahead of his time. If you’d asked me in January 2003 which of “Stop Living The Lie” or “Sound Of The Underground” would sound more like British pop in the 2010s, I’d have picked the high street futurism of Girls Aloud over the awkward young singer-songwriter guy. Wrong.

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Comments

  1. 1
    Steve Williams on 15 Oct 2019 #

    I think I’m going to be the only person defending Fame Academy (series one, at least) here, because I really rather enjoyed it and certainly thought it was more interesting, as a TV show, than Popstars The Rivals which as I mentioned in the Girls Aloud comments was a right mess. What was really strange is that Popstars The Rivals was about finding a group and they continually sang individually, while Fame Academy was all about finding a solo artist and they all sang in groups all the time.

    As you say, it was certainly supposed to be more wholesome than Popstars and they really emphasised the songwriting element, and it was supposed to be all about improvement rather than tension, to the extent that only three of the competitors were up for eviction every week, chosen by the “teachers” and the others would be free to spend the week writing and singing and honing their skills, which was interesting, but perhaps a bit too confusing for the mass audience. And it was a really big show too, it was on for an hour on Friday nights (rescheduling a load of shows like HIGNFY), plus there were extra shows from the house on Tuesdays and Thursdays, plus a late night show to see if any of the students had got off with each other, plus additional shows on BBC Choice, as was, and CBBC. They absolutely churned stuff out for it.

    And after all that, the first show was a disaster, Richard Park said he would have given it “five out of a hundred” and it technically appalling. But I stuck with it, and I would honestly say that it got a lot better and I quite liked the loose format (not that I ever watched anything but the Friday shows) and how it all seemed quite a supportive atmosphere and everyone got on, and it felt like it was being quite honest and open about the whole industry.

    But despite David Sneddon being the most generic pop star you’ve ever seen singing the most generic song you’ve ever heard, and seemingly the only way it could have ended, it certainly wasn’t supposed to be like that. As the format suggested, the “teachers” had a lot of say in proceedings, selecting who’d be up for eviction, and the students had all been chosen by the production team with the exception of one who’d be picked from a choice of three by the audience in the first show. One of the three was David Sneddon, but in fact he didn’t even win that vote, and only got into it a few weeks later as a stand-by contestant when one of the original students dropped out through illness.

    The winner was very clearly supposed to be a girl called Mali who played a million instruments and was very earnest and authentic, and was always given really credible oldies to sing like Tracks of my Tears, and the judges all lavished praise on her every week and never put her up for eviction. And the second she was, she was voted straight out, clearly the audience were quite aware of the massaging that seemed to be going on.

    But you know, it was an interesting series. And it gave us Ainslie Henderson who was very entertaining, in small doses at least. Series 2 was bloody awful, though.

  2. 2
    Lee Saunders on 15 Oct 2019 #

    2003, the best year of my life!

    Which is down to numerous reasons, none of which are this song. Year 3000 on the other hand is the ultimate sound of me the 5 year old in love with pop music and living with it in real time. And this dreadful record kept it off the top. The last time I listened to this – for about 30 seconds, mind – was around the start of the year where I joked to my friend that whatever was number one at the current moment surely couldn’t be worse than this. Well it was another Scottish singer-songwriter’s first hit, and suddenly if I had anything ‘nice’ to say about Stop Living the Lie its that it wasn’t that.

    1

    I grew up with a CD-R copy of the first series Fame Academy album in the house but I can’t remember it ever being played, and certainly I don’t remember my parents ever showing a liking for Sneddon, Lemar or any of the pop stars that emerged from either series. I’m no fan of Lemar, despite liking 50/50 at the time, but his Tasteful neo-soul influences would have least paved the way for an interesting conversation on Popular.

  3. 3
    will on 15 Oct 2019 #

    I only thing I remember about David Sneddon was the fact that one time, when interviewed on CDUK, Blazin’ Squad recited a rather unkind song about him.

  4. 4
    ThePensmith on 15 Oct 2019 #

    #3 – I’d forgotten about that beef they had. It wasn’t Blur vs Oasis admittedly, but still mildly amusing all the same.

    For all that I can remember about both series of Popstars (Nasty Nigel vs. Kym Marsh, Darius doing Britney, Pete Waterman going blue in the face about his ‘vocal harmony group’, Sarah Harding chanting ‘C’MON THE GIRLS’ and/or bursting into tears every five seconds) and the first series of Pop Idol (Will Young’s ‘Annabel, get the shotgun’ moment, other hilarities usually involving his parents’ reaction to things. Posh people dealing with their offspring becoming famous, you gotta love it, eh?), I can’t remember very much about ‘Fame Academy’ without YouTube corroboration, save for the fact that then Capital FM boss and ‘headmaster’ of the panel on the show, Richard Park, always appeared to be on the verge of decking one of its co-hosts, Patrick Kielty.

    Which perhaps explains why we only have the one encounter with ‘the BBC model’ on Popular, as I alluded to back on the entry for ‘Colourblind’. The fundamental problem with ‘Fame Academy’, and it being on the Beeb, as you’ve elaborated on Tom, was the fact that they almost seemed embarrassed to have it on their schedules from the minute they confirmed they were doing it, like they felt contractually obliged to try and grab a slice of the audience action that ITV had enjoyed unbroken for nearly two years by the time ‘Popstars: The Rivals’ was airing, without really thinking it through and missing the point entirely on what made these sort of shows enjoyable to begin with. It was essentially ‘Eldorado’ crossed with ‘Big Brother’, but with singing in a semi derelict North London mansion, hosted by Patrick Kielty and Cat Deeley.

    And just like ‘Eldorado’, it largely didn’t work because it came along at precisely the point where the music reality TV format was admittedly, not going anywhere, but was starting to lose its early lustre and people – certainly critics – were starting to dig the knife in. Ratings did improve for it as the weeks went on, but I do recall the first few episodes were mercilessly lampooned in the press. It was very full of its own importance, constantly pushing upon us that the objective was to find ‘real talent’ and ‘real music’. Yet the irony was that the ‘students’ were all doing covers up until the last few weeks of the show when they started writing and performing their own stuff.

    And at the end of it all? They still found yet another anonymous pretty boy as a winner. Not to undermine David or his talents, but it was hardly inspiring confidence in the show’s protracted (and half hearted) mission statement. ‘Stop Living The Lie’ is a song that you can hardly imagine would have got to number one under any other circumstances. He’s living a lie alright. Namely the lie that he was a popstar and performer. He wasn’t. Songwriter for hire, maybe, as his subsequent career has proved. But as a popstar, it was theoretically dead on arrival. He grazed the top 3 again that April with the actually far better ‘Don’t Let Go’, but two more lower charting top 40 singles ‘Best of Order’ and ‘Baby Get Higher’ put the nails in the coffin by year’s end and that was that.

    The real winner in the long run – thus confirming and continuing the notion that the telly audience rarely gets the actual winner right on these things – from that first series of Fame Academy was actually third place finalist Lemar Obika, who even on the show displayed an effortless talent and charm beyond all his fellow contestants, which subsequently translated into a mononymly trading career that was still producing top 10 hits and albums and a multitude of Brit and MOBO awards as recently as 2010, biggest of all being the unbunnied but rather marvellous ‘Dance (With U)’ and ‘If There’s Any Justice’, records so soulful, sophisticated and uplifting you’d be forgiven for thinking it was Luther Vandross. That we don’t get to discuss them is a crying shame.

    I’ll save comment on the second place finalist because she’s a #2 watch on the next entry, with an equally short lived (but I would argue unfairly so) career. There was also the frankly irritating fourth or fifth placed Ainslie Henderson who had his only top 5 hit with ‘Keep Me A Secret’ that March before disappearing into the ether after record label disputes. A second series of Fame Academy did follow a year later, but the careers of that series’ winner Alex Parks and runner up Alistair Griffin were also cut off the minute they released flop follow ups to their largely forgotten top 5 debuts. In fact, the joke is that the celebrity version for Comic Relief lasted longer than the main show. And at least that had the decency to gift us with Fearne Cotton trying and failing to sing ‘Driftwood’ by Travis that even now is YouTube gold.

    Not to mention that the two week reign of this means we are prevented from discussing both Busted’s far better ‘Year 3000′ and Jay-Z and Beyoncé’s equally quite good ’03 Bonnie & Clyde’, I give it a 2.

  5. 5
    Lee Saunders on 15 Oct 2019 #

    Oh there’s a thing. I remember the Kielty/Park FA feud appearing on another stupid Channel 4/5 ‘most shocking celebrity moments’ thing at the end of the 2000s. Perhaps it stuck in the public memory longer even than SLTL.

  6. 6
    Ed on 15 Oct 2019 #

    So is this worse than The Stonk, Tom? And if not, are any bunnies worse?

  7. 7
    Robin Carmody on 15 Oct 2019 #

    At this point, and particularly during a wave of stories about gun crime in the month this song went to number one which had Westwood deliberately toning down his next show and not speaking in the opening section, there seems to have been a lot of pressure on the BBC – in some cases from its own broadcasters; Gambo wrote a piece in the Mail moaning about Radio 1 playing too much US hip-hop that was “irrelevant to the UK”, oddly not an issue for him when the songs concerned were by Journey and John Cougar Mellencamp (as I said at the time, unaware of what would soon become an irony in the first case) and he was taking up what was then precious and rare FM airtime for the station to play them – to push more “proper music” and to push black pop back underground. This is the irony of 1Xtra’s early years: it only existed because of the UKG crossover, but before digital media reached an apotheosis and you couldn’t easily hear it on the move, it was one of the main reasons why the landfill apartheid climate could happen. So the context of the BBC’s patronage of this song, in the context of the time of its release, is particularly grim. It was as if there was a mounting pressure on the BBC to revive the covert racism which was the unfortunate subtext and shadow side of Reithianism – c.f. my Facebook posts about which version of “Mickey’s Monkey” they played in 1963 – and, especially after the political sackings a year later, they just capitulated in a way that would not be reversed until the 2010s (and specifically the early 10s’ “mini-Bannister” and Moyles’ departure).

    This is bad, obviously (but not four points worse than the song that reached number one on 12th & 19th June 1976, in my view, but then your relatively high score for *that* makes me think of those old ILM posts by coastal US liberals who say they quite like modern mainstream country but they know they’d hate it if they lived in the flyover states …). You are heading for some songs whose actual sales numbers were dismally low, of course, in an era when large swathes of the young audience had drifted to filesharing.

  8. 8
    Robin Carmody on 15 Oct 2019 #

    Also of course it has to be remembered that Will Young’s very background (I was slightly disappointed that your entries on him, although of course you’re not finished with him yet, weren’t “I got into pop and started watching ITV to escape from my background and now I could no longer do that”) said everything about how the old anti-ITV prejudice among a particular class, along with the “middle England, Tory anti-capitalism” (as Jonathan Freedland, perhaps surprisingly positively for a Jewish writer, has called it) of which it was a central part, had now dissipated. Ironically enough, it had declined just as ITV actually had become what the elders of that class had wrongly thought it was thirty years before, partially because however much it got like that, Sky was even more so, but only partially. The prejudice had been widely held when there was no real justification for it and pretty much died off when there *was* some kind of justification.

    Anyway, what all that proved was that the BBC could no longer put on any old LE muck and guarantee a particular audience among a particular class: it had to try much harder. Its captive ‘haute bourgeois’ audience had gone. But just as the new middle class are in many ways more actively racist than the old, its reincarnation had more dangerous racist subtexts than old-school LE (horrifically racist though pre-Bannister Radio 1 obviously was).

  9. 9
    Tom on 15 Oct 2019 #

    #6 No and Maybe.

  10. 10
    Tom on 15 Oct 2019 #

    #8 Not entirely sure I follow what you’re saying about Freedland there. Not (I hope!) that his Jewishness has any bearing on his views on anti-capitalism?

  11. 11
    AMZ1981 on 16 Oct 2019 #

    There’s a rather obvious touch point here that nobody has yet mentioned – Gary Barlow. Stop Living A Lie has everything that made Forever Love a solo career killing disaster and yet somebody in 2003 thought this was the right way to launch a pop career. Of course the mitigation is that it was a souvenier single from a reality TV show and as long as it didn’t bomb completely it was job done. If David Sneddon was never heard from again (and he pretty much wasn’t) there was always series 2. With hindsight we know that ITV had caught the BBC napping and they’d never really catch up but this wasn’t obvious then.

    Which takes me on to Year 3000 by Busted (a band I’ve seen live once in their own right and twice as a hybrid with a closely related act). To be honest it does have more in common with Stop Living The Lie than some might want to think; both are self penned songs by aspiring British songwriters and both are slightly mealy mouthed. And yet Year 3000 succeeds where Stop Living The Lie fails miserably for the obvious reason that it’s good fun. We will of course meet Busted a fair few times but all their bunnies are (up to a point) the sun shining on a jealous minded girl like you – Year 3000 is still their showstopper all these years on.

    Stop Living The Lie in its second week blocked 03 Bonnie & Clyde by Jay Z and Beyonce from the top. It’s not my genre but I suspect the RnB fans consider this a watershed moment.

  12. 12
    Purple K on 16 Oct 2019 #

    I never watched Fame Academy at the time and I think here is around the point where the lustre of the TV talent show started to wear off for me and I progressively cared less and less about these shows (not helped by the fact that I was about 1 year away from hitting my indie snob phase) , something that the #4 comment touched on. Looking back this feels like a weird anomaly, as if the fact that this was a no.1 record is the only proof of the song’s existence. Even back then I briefly remember it hitting no.1 and I was like “really?”.

    It kinda feels like the “Every Loser Wins” of the 2000s, if that comparison makes any remote sense.

  13. 13
    Steve Williams on 16 Oct 2019 #

    #4 I’d actually forgotten there aren’t any other Fame Academy number ones – the winner of Series 2 didn’t get one, but I’d forgotten Lemar didn’t either. As you say, if people remember Fame Academy at all it’s for the celebrity version and for the Park/Kielty business. In fact the celebrity version carried on until 2007, which is some going given the original series had been axed in 2003.

    The Park/Kielty business was really awful. Park wasn’t especially likeable but he had some interesting things to say and there was a great bit in Series 2 where the other judges were lavishing praise on one hopeful and suggesting she could be the new Madonna, and Park disagreed with that and said it was “dangerous rubbish” to make such ludicrous comparisons, which seemed quite a refreshing approach. But eventually it all got overshadowed by the “Mr Nasty” business and Kielty was terrible, automatically poo-pooing everything Park said, however constructive, (“I don’t know what you were listening to, we all loved it here!”, that was his catchphrase), not realising that if you automatically slag off the judges whatever they say, the audience wonders why the hell they’re on the programme in the first place. Over on Pop Idol, Ant and Dec were happily sending up Simon Cowell (and Cowell had the wit to send himself up, unlike Park) but at least treated what he was saying with respect.

    It was really horrible to watch the pair of them, although it was responsible for one of the greatest breakdowns in television etiquette ever where Kielty cut Park off while he was speaking and moved on, and Park shouted “Oi!”.

    Series 2 was bloody awful, clearly the first series format had proven too complex to really catch on, so everyone was up for eviction every week, and because they’d moved from the big studio to the academy itself, there was no sense of spectacle and no dancing or anything, so all the hopefuls could do was just stand there and sing, just like on Pop Idol. And it was shown directly opposite Pop Idol (the Beeb moving it around so it would always start at the same time as Pop Idol) and I remember even the phone numbers were just one digit different from Pop Idol. It was just the most shameless spoiler, one of the most cynical things the Beeb have ever done. Dreadful series.

  14. 14
    23 Daves on 16 Oct 2019 #

    I remember this number one very clearly, because I actually placed a bet with someone that it wouldn’t get to the top. As I paid out the cash, I was told “Let that be a lesson to you not to underestimate the marketing power of the BBC – it makes no difference how shit it is, they’d never have allowed it to NOT be number one”.

    Like Gary Barlow’s worst solo work, it’s uncannily similar to the kind of “local singer releases his own EP of ballads” BBC Local Radio DJs occasionally champion. When I freelanced for the local press and student rags as a music journalist, lots of cassettes and CDs which sounded a bit like this plopped through my letterbox, filled with lyrical cliches and gentle arrangements.

    On this evidence, it’s impossible to understand why Sneddon won a talent contest and they languished in obscurity in Fareham or wherever. I can hear nothing that sets him apart, and if I’d been sent a promo of this without being aware of the track’s significance, it would have been utterly ignored.

    As for “Fame Academy”, I was briefly housemates with someone who almost made it into the academy during the first series. I’m biased, but she was a damn sight better than Sneddon.

    I still can’t log in, btw, but I don’t know if that’s still a common problem?

  15. 15
    Nixon on 17 Oct 2019 #

    Crikey, this is just *dreadful*, isn’t it?

  16. 16
    Shiny Dave on 17 Oct 2019 #

    Fame Academy came along at the exact perfect time – literally to the month – for it to be absolute personal catnip. I’d actually forgotten until now just how perfectly-timed it was to bait me with its songwriter elevation!

    Autumn 2002 was when I started songwriting, you see. I’d just moved to a new school for sixth form, where I ended up gaining a weird cult following in the most autistic way possible – the Avril Lavigne impersonation I did as a stim – and it got to the point where I became the inexplicable star attraction of the school’s Children in Need talent show that year. And I’d concurrently started writing song lyrics with a beginner’s naive zeal, and was embracing singing more generally as an Autistic Special Interest. (As regulars on here might have noticed, it still is.)

    Throw in my general game show enthusiasm as well – which extended warily to the pop game shows, except I was already cynical about those – and Fame Academy was just about the most devastating televisual catnip ever, rivalled only when (fellow Endemol show) Deal or No Deal came along a few years later with its enormous potential for being consumed in a hyperanalytical fashion on any number of levels. (The fandom around that show had so many autistic people in it. I married one of them.)

    Except of course the show utterly blew it. (So did DoND, but it took a lot longer and a lot of people consider the time I thought it blew it to be the show’s imperial phase, but I digress.) The production was a mess, Richard Park was a panto villain, Kielty (who actually ended up hosting the rejected US DoND pilot before it got picked up by another network the following year!) anonymous at best and panto himself at worst, and the show was caught between educational remit and genre entertainment tropes in a spectacularly hideous fashion, the combination of spinoffs ranging from “CBBC content” to “late-night voyeurism” saying it all. (And all this at a time when Robot Wars was actually delivering on game show as edutainment – the technical stuff was seamlessly integrated into the show’s quasi-sports presentation.) I’m not sure even I kept watching.

    I almost wonder if Sneddon – the first alternate the show rightly shunned the first time – got voted as the winner as a giant fuck-you to Endemol from those who got stuck on this televisual ride and hated it. (#1’s memories of the anointed winner being mercilessly rejected at the first opportunity – which I’d forgotten about – suggest that really might actually be what happened.)

    And yet some people apparently responded to this meandering aimless ballad that might actually be worse than “Forever Love,” somehow. Even worse, its utter uselessness didn’t permanently kill off the power of The Actually Talented (Except Usually Not Really) Singer-Songwriter Bloke in pop game shows. What it did do was kill Fame Academy; the second season screamed contractual obligation and was ignored even as it fixed some issues and actually got the right winner. (Bizarrely enough, this isn’t even the entry I planned to mention her, that’s actually the bunny after next!)

    Remember when I mentioned Deal or No Deal? Incredibly, that is the Endemol show with the most bunnied (non-celebrity) contestants, more than Fame Academy and The Voice combined. (With two. One of them wasn’t because of DoND, in fairness, but a second genuinely was – his big win was seed money for a production career that ultimately produced a 2013 bunny.)

    Fame Academy was a window into a world of pop that, in 2002, I looked up on snobbishly – a world where real musicians played real instruments and did real music things. And in 2019, its biggest hit single turns out to be Exhibit A of why I was wrong. 1

    (#13 I can’t either and I’ve frankly stopped trying)

  17. 17
    Purple K on 18 Oct 2019 #

    #16 Good to see a fellow aspie here!

    I’m more forgiving of the Sad Boy Ballad (or whatever you guys call it) than most, but yeah, with songs like this it’s understandable why that subgenre gets mercilessly scoffed at (there’s a certain bunny from this year that also springs to mind).

  18. 18
    Smilin' Peter on 18 Oct 2019 #

    The main thing that I remember about David Sneddon’s 15 seconds of fame is that Steve Wright (of Radio 2 fame) used to insist on calling him ‘David Snedley’. Perhaps to underline how unlikely it was that someone like thatz with that name, could be a pop star.

    I don’t know what else to say about this. Except maybe… ‘meh’?

  19. 19
    Lee Saunders on 19 Oct 2019 #

    #16 #17
    Seconded. 2003 was the year I was diagnosed with Aspergers, early in the year too so possibly around the time this was number one.

    I’m changing my rating to a 2 because I should really reserve the 1 for more unforgiving atrocities I know we’ll be meeting at some point.

  20. 20
    lonepilgrim on 19 Oct 2019 #

    This is so bland it’s not even tedious – largely down to the forgettable performance. As someone who was completely detached from the TV series I can’t hate it for that reason. I actually find the ‘coffee/café’ rhyme and the nonsense about sleeves more endearing as at least they add a little ‘WTF dude?’ to the mix. There’s some craft evident in the chords and clearly he has been able to develop his skills to end up writing with, amongst others, Lana Del Rey – now that’s a reality show I might watch

  21. 21
    snoball on 21 Oct 2019 #

    This is not a bad song, just leaden and overly earnest. Which for a #1 single are appalling crimes beyond reproach.

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