T in the Park: Goes pop
As T in the Park embraces its inner pop kid, Nicola Meighan swoons at a festival bubbling over with chart-tastic girl bands, pin-up boys and feisty females
Nick Cave battered Kylie to death with a rock and in doing so resurrected pop. For when the implausible twain married larynxes – on 1995’s hit murder ballad, ‘Where the Wild Roses Grow’ – it caused a schism in the pop continuum. By 1996, the prince of darkness had incited the impossible princess to reclaim her 80s bubble-perm frolic, ‘I Should Be So Lucky’, as a liberating, post-modern précis, at London’s Poetry Olympics. It’s long been held as an emancipating turning point in La Minogue’s brilliant career.
Sure, pop music isn’t all about Kylie – although she has embodied the genre for over 20 years – but the key motifs of said Cave-related anecdote resound through pop culture in 2009. It thrives in the alliance betwixt mainstream and counter-cultural doctrines (witness the recent news that lung seductress Christina Aguilera is to cross vocal chords with riot grrrls Le Tigre). It celebrates a new-found respect for 80s melodic excess (VV Brown’s new single, ‘Shark in the Water’ is a glorious throwback to Amazulu’s 1986 hoopla, ‘Too Good to Be Forgotten’). And it revels in the harmonious union of ‘manufactured’ pop with ‘authentic’ rock (Girls Aloud are set to support – and surely outshine – Coldplay at Wembley in September 2009).
All of these constituents prove, and improve, the credentials of pop.
Perhaps, then, it’s fitting that Cave’s ancillary resuscitation of said genre will climax at this year’s T in the Park. The swaggering rock diabolist and his cabal of bad, Bad Seeds will savage (and salvage) the Balado massive alongside The Saturdays, Katy Perry, Lady Gaga and Lily Allen. And that’s just for starters.
TiTP has toyed with token pop cameos in the past – Mika, Pink and Lulu have previously performed; even Kylie herself bedazzled the festival in 1995 – but the bill has never been more incandescent with instant aural gratification than it is in 2009. Ladyhawke, Calvin Harris, VV Brown, Little Boots, Gary Go and Daniel Merriweather will take to the stage – to name-check a few.
Festival director Geoff Ellis credits Scots music fans’ broad-minded aural appetites with the prevalence of pop on this year’s programme. ‘With T in the Park, we’ve always included big name pop acts that we think would work well in front of the audience,’ he says. ‘Our fans have always displayed catholic tastes, which means that we can introduce a few pop acts and they’re not too narrow-minded or too pretentious to enjoy the spectacle.’
Needless to say, commercial factors also influence the line-up. ‘We always try to have the bill as varied as possible,’ says Ellis, ‘which is a necessity if you are to attract such a big crowd from a small population. Undoubtedly Lady Gaga has huge appeal,’ he concedes. ‘Similarly, Katy Perry is an international superstar.’
Colossal record sales and screeds of magazine covers are one thing, but chart pop acts have historically proven disappointing at best – and farcical at worst – in the live arena. (We’re looking at you, Spice Girls and Milli Vanilli). So this year’s pop-tastic TiTP line-up suggests that either Ellis is taking a hell of a gamble or our present crop of pop icons have got their on-stage act together.
Of course, it’s the latter. ‘It’s true to say that pop artists put on a much better show in a live setting now than their predecessors did,’ says Ellis. ‘Ten years ago, perhaps a band like Coldplay wouldn’t have been brave enough to have Girls Aloud support them, but it’s also true that the Girls’ forerunners couldn’t have put on as good a show.’
It’s hardly surprising that pop proponents are striving to thrive in the live realm these days: in March this year, the Performing Rights Society reported that UK revenue from live music had exceeded that of recordings for the first time in history.
The ability to cut it live has become vital to pop’s survival.
While takings from the gigging business financially upstage record sales, however, pop tracks are also enjoying a new lease of life – thanks to a rejuvenation of the singles chart. In the late-1990s and early-2000s the hit parade came to a virtual standstill; the albums market dominated, while singles reached their chart peak on the week of release, and thereafter plummeted. Yet revolutions in chart eligibility and music consumption (see: downloads, ringtones, MySpace, etc) – have made watching songs gradually scale the Top 40 a gleeful diversion once more.
Ellis agrees that the iPod generation’s listening habits chime with the commodification of pop. ‘People are definitely listening to songs now as opposed to whole albums,’ he says, ‘which was also the case in pop’s so-called golden era. However the difference now is that bands such as The Killers, Kings of Leon and The View also have songs that cut through to a mass-market while still retaining their rock or indie or album-buying credibility.’
Granted, The Kings of Leon and their ilk attract main-stream as well as alternative fans, but doesn’t the TiTP bill suggest people are tiring of standard guitar fare? Ellis denies any conscious departure in the programming of more traditional artists.
‘There’s no move away from guitar or indie rock acts,’ he says, ‘and I don’t think there is necessarily a dearth of exciting new guitar bands. But there has been an increase in good electronic acts – Ladyhawke, Little Boots, Florence & the Machine.’
‘A good pop song is a good pop song,’ Ellis concludes with a nod. ‘Look at the re-emergence of the UK’s biggest band, Take That. Or the longevity of Abba’s music.’
He’s putting his cash where his mouth is: the bearded Swedes’ tribute band, Bjorn Again will also play this year’s TiTP.
So where will this live pop paradise end? Will next year’s T bill boast a two-pronged performance from Xtina with Le Tigre? Or a ‘Don’t Look Back’ style stage on which Neneh Cherry will re-enact Raw like Sushi?
Or a tent dedicated to the clarion works of Stock, Aitken and Waterman?
We should be so lucky.
Lady Gaga & Calvin Harris, Main Stage, Sat 11 Jul; Katy Perry, NME/Radio 1 Stage, Sat 11 Jul; Lily Allen, Radio 1 NME Stage, Sat 11 Jul; VV Brown & Little Boots, Futures Stage, Sun 12 Jul; The Saturdays, Daniel Merriweather & Gary Go, King Tut’s Tent, Sun 12 Jul.