Mostly Pop August 2014

Summer is here, so Mr Moth puts his sunglasses on, gets into his swimming trunks and goes for a lie down in a darkened room.

union j saturdays

The Saturdays – What Are You Waiting For?

It’s summer, I’m afraid. Or, as a pop reviewer, it’s summer – I’m afraid. Yup, this is the month of absolute fuckery in the pop release schedule. We don’t even get the summer holiday novelty hits yet because everyone is still on holiday. Yeah yeah, live it up in Ibitza or Magaluf or Benidorm or wherever. Some of us are making do with three nights in Bournemouth and what’s our soundtrack? This? Whatever this is. Oh, it’s The Saturdays, great, I love The Saturdays.

Well, that’s an advert. That’s just a First Choice ad spun out to three and a half minutes. I don’t even mean that snarkily, it’s just a fact. The song is like something you’d get on a First Choice advert, while still having that distinctive but oddly unremarkable The Saturdays sound to it. The visuals say “Summer holiday abroad”. Then bang, there’s a bit where a towel unrolls and there’s the First Choice logo stitched onto it, onscreen for several seconds. They might as well have a voiceover at the end rounding up the summer deals. On that level I suppose it works, but what a miserable, desperate level to aim for.

Can I do my Saturdays theory now, then? Do you know why they’re so second-rate? Because they’re all still there. After a few years, the proper girl or boy bands lose a member. Take That – Robbie. Boyzone – Stephen (Yes, I know he didn’t leave, but they did lose a member). Bananarama – Siobhan. Spice Girls – Geri. Eternal – Louise. Westlife – Brian. East 17 – Also Brian. Destiny’s Child – Like, half the group. Sugababes – everyone, twice. S Club – Paul. Girls Aloud – er, OK, so my theory isn’t perfect but don’t you feel they should’ve lost a member by now? Come on. In seven years, Una’s never seemed happy…

 Union J – Tonight (We Live Forever)

So, on that note, which one of this lot do you think we’ll lose first? Harry? Liam? Bob? Jaffar? I don’t know their names, but who cares. This is a right load of horseshit, but at least it’s not selling me anything other than Brand Union J. By extension, Brand Cowell; smug, bland, inhumanly flawless. Look at their weird skin, their faces carved from foam rubber, look at their INSANE teeth. Nice homage to Ross Geller, guys!

I desperately want this to switch into The Lion Sleeps Tonight, but it never does, never achieves that level of self-awareness, charm or catchiness. All you get instead are these grindingly, relentlessly mediocre boys so full of self-assurance with NOTHING to back it up.

What is it with boybands, anyway? Why are they all so terrible? Girl bands aren’t this uniformly shit. The Aloud, Spice Girls, All Saints, Sugababes… Hell, even The Saturdays produced Up, which is brilliant. The last good song by a boyband, on the other hand, was Back For Good in 1472, when pop songs were distributed by means of a scholarly monk with a sacbut. There are two modes for boybands – gloopily sentimental and insipidly rowdy. This is in the latter mode, which is pretty much par for the course for Brand Cowell. Obviously it’s an improvement on the gloopily sentimental mode preferred by Louis Walsh, but really only just.

 Mausi – My Friend Has A Swimming Pool

Seriously, this is just the Aldi version of that Saturdays track, right down to the video. And, like Aldi, the cheaper version will probably prove more popular.

This is the very definition of a wannabe summer anthem, without going so far as to brand itself with the logo of a package tour operator. Of course, everyone is still on holiday so who knows if this will actually become a summer anthem or if it will simply boil away before we reach the longer cooler nights that thump eagerly with the beat of the fading sun.

I’m going to be honest with you, it doesn’t have much of a chance. It’s neither sweeping nor sufficiently banging, the spoken-word anchor line is hackneyed and dated without being retro – unlike the Rave Piano, the inclusion of which makes the song feel like an incoherent grab-bag of styles from the recent past.

 Basement Jaxx – Never Say Never

Oh, hey, speaking of which, here’s that piano again, which we can definitely say is back this year. This time it’s in the somewhat safer hands of the Jaxx, who never really hit the heights they should have, did they? Don’t get me wrong, they’re an amazing band and their best work is simply incredible – Red Alert, Romeo, Where’s Your Head At – but they’re basically perpetual mid-rankers, never up there with the Chemical Brothers, Fatboy Slim  or Daft Punk. Say. The one thing you can usually rely on them for is a good video, and this is no exception.

I know the thumbnail may look a little Eric Prydz, but go with me on this and you’ll see that it is in fact a rubber arse on a twerking robot. There’s no world in which a rubber arse isn’t funny and playing it straight makes it, obviously, funnier. So well done there. What’s interesting – far more interesting than the song, a plonky torch song that vanishes into the air the moment you stop concentrating – is the way it’s shot. Where The Saturdays gave us a commercial masquerading as a music video, Basement Jaxx have shaped their music video to closely resemble a commercial. Specifically, I’d say it looks like a Honda ad; though the written language isn’t speaking of automobiles, the visual language screams car ad. Engineering! Passion! Testing and refining in a clinical environment!

Giving it that extra edge of verité, you have the promise that the twerkbot syncs with iTunes, and how do we see it being sold? Via some fictional online store built in Movie OS? Nope, the sales quite clearly go through Amazon. No one with even a passing familiarity with online commerce could mistake that “buy” button. So this is clever, isn’t it? You want to make a fake ad look real, you bolt real ads on the sides and now it’s a real advertisement and that’s how you make your money. Gosh.

The Ting Tings – Wrong Club

Et tu, Ting Tings? I was hoping you might give me a positive review this month, but this is poor work. With the retro disco sound and aesthetic, it’s sort of working the same territory as Moloko’s Sing It Back, but missing the grace of that song by a mile. I’m all for groups expanding their sound, but it might not be wrong to say that maybe The Ting Tings should stick to banging, shouty, power pop, no?

Rizzle Kicks – Tell Her

This is Rizzle Kicks? Really? What evidence do you have for that? Sure, they show up in the video but beyond that? You know, I reviewed Lost Generation this time last year and said that Rizzle Kicks showed extra promise, that there were “hints of better to come”. I admit I was wrong.

Showing almost none of their usual charm this is a slight, unprepossessing Chic-lite summ- ohhhhh. It’s summer again! It’s a curse, I tell you! This would never have seen the light of shorter days, but here we are. Listening to Rizzle Kicks sing, and watching them drive in tiny cars. OK, so the tiny cars thing is quite charming. If you were going to give anyone this gimmick, it’s these guys. They almost make the giant MITSUBISHI stickers everywhere tolerable (another video this month seriously over-branded), but what’s with the rest of the video, eh? Given that the song is called “Tell Her”, there’s a remarkable lack of “her”. It’s a total sausage-fest, and not in a lad’s night out kind of way, just in a thoughtless women-are-invisible way.

HAVING SAID ALL THAT, check out the other video they did for this song. It has Maria Sharapova in it and is 100% pure, delicious, thirst-quenching advert. It’s an Evian ad, straight up and down. I’m fully through the looking-glass now, clicking to skip adverts that look like short films to watch music videos that are now adverts. Why can’t you skip this? Because if you could you would, so why would anyone pay for advertising space? How would anyone make any money? So here it is, native advertising.  It’s already the norm for a lot of the more savvy websites, your Buzzfeeds and your UsVsTh3ms; commercials dressed in the skin of content are the new, well, content. That’s the bargain pop is striking right now and I guess with streaming not bringing in the money physical sales used to its the future of revenue for the industry. That’s the lesson of Mostly Pop this month – advertising in videos is only going to get more explicit. Thanks for reading this column, created in partnership with Fentiman’s Curiosity Cola, the real taste of old-fashioned pop.

About Thom Willis

Thom is the curator of #microwrites - - and writes his own stories for He lives in London because, given the choice, who wouldn't?

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