Last week I watched the Brit awards on television. For those of you not in the UK this is the UK’s version of the Grammy’s. Over the years it has morphed from a shambolic industry only affair into a big glitzy evening with a large public audience held at the O2 in London. Sadly it just isn’t cool.
James Corden as compere gamely plugged away at his script. Unfortunately it felt like he was reading the autocue and was embarrassed at the awful jokes he was inflicting on us. A succession of bored looking celebs trooped up to the stage to give and receive awards and read out bland acceptance speeches. A series of artists performed and some, like the Arctic Monkeys, were very good, but even then the audience reaction seemed muted especially amongst the industry guests. Presumably they were all struggling with the dilemma that they wanted to make it clear that they were way too cool to enjoy this stuff but not that cool they hadn’t come.
I can remember when music was the single most important thing in the world. Discovering new bands was so exciting. My favourite bands spoke directly to me, to my very soul, in ways that my parents could never understand. Music wasn’t just fun, it was important. Where was this passion now? Surely the kids don’t accept this?
Then the Arctic Monkeys won the final award of the night for best album (A.M. and it is a pretty good album too) and despite having had a good go at drinking the bar dry, frontman Alex Turner gave a proper rock star acceptance speech.
I am pretty sure that at that point many viewers were thinking ‘what a pretentious load of drunken rubbish’ but for real fans it was the talking point of the show. At last here was a rock star speaking to his fans. Speaking to, and for, a generation in a way that made them feel special and unique. He wasn’t trying to conform and be nice and safe.
The first time I saw the Arctic Monkeys live they lacked stage presence. Great music but lacking the swagger of a true rock act. There is part of the ‘Rock Star’ job description that demands eccentric behaviour, arrogance, pomposity and living a life of excess. Rather like a promising young employee Alex was more than competent and diligently ticked all the boxes yet lacked a little self belief. Now he has grown into his role and looks confident. Alex is no longer just writing great lyrics, he is a proper front man, fully carrying out all aspects of his job description. When I saw them on the last tour they were the real deal.
At the Brit’s Alex was simply doing his job in a way that few of the preceding acts had done. And it was clear that the problem with the Brit’s was that they fall into an uneasy middle ground: too corporate and nice for Rock and Roll yet too ‘naughty’ to be truly professional. In short they fail to be authentic in any meaningful way and look like a cynical money making machine.
A few months ago the Arctic Monkeys cancelled a gig at the last minute. When it emerged that the band had been at an awards do the night before and had been seen out very late, conclusions were drawn.
If you want your rock stars to stick it to authority and conform to the job description then you have to expect the consequences. Bands know that they get paid to perform and cancelling gigs is just not acceptable. It’s a fine line between the expected mayhem and professionalism and sometimes young bands, like young employees, will slip.
Not Alex though, he knows what parts of his job description are non-negotiable. It turn’s out he was hospitalised with laryngitis.
I for one am looking forward to more of the authentic Rock Star – roll on Reading Festival. Let’s hope Alex develops enough to be considered for promotion.
We all want someone to shout for
Yeah, everyone wants somebody to adore
But your heroes aren’t what they seem
When you’ve been where we’ve been