Simon Napier-Bell spent several decades behind the scenes in the pop music world; he co-wrote Dusty Springfield’s “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me,” managed bands including the Yardbirds, T. Rex and Wham!, and has written several books about the British music industry, including Black Vinyl White Powder and I’m Coming to Take You to Lunch. We asked him for his thoughts on One Direction.
TIME: Where do you see One Direction’s album in the pop landscape?
Simon Napier-Bell: Currently One Direction are in a pretty central point in the pop landscape. But the pop landscape changes as quickly as the landscape when you’re in a car. What you see now will be gone in a few minutes, or at least in an hour. One Direction are man-made pop. They have to be given songs, stylists, direction, and production. This type of group is the most transitory of all. Good for a year or two at most. Important only at keeping the record business afloat now it has resorted to an a pop-only strategy.
How important is their record’s success to the music business right now?
One Direction’s importance to the music business right now is feel-good and little more. We all know the record business as we have always known it is doomed. These bursts of pop creativity by behind-the-scenes people — songwriters, producers, etc. — can keep it afloat for only so long. To those who are clinging to the wreckage, One Direction’s success might seem vital. To those who were happy to see the boat sink, it’s utterly inconsequential.
What does the team around a boy band have to do to keep up momentum?
The team around a man-made pop group have to dig up new songs, pay top producers, find vocal coaches and stylists, and stop the members of the group falling in love or finding Buddhism or Scientology or anything else mentally distracting. With girl groups, the main preoccupation is to stop any of them getting pregnant; with boy groups, to keep them away from drugs that could have them arrested. Try to keep them on cocaine, rather than drifting into heroin. All in all — handling groups that are not self-created, self-writers, is a repetitive uninspiring job, about on a par with being a waiter in a fast-food joint, or a toilet attendant.
The depressing thing about building an industry-constructed group for a teenage audience is that it only has a life of a couple of years or so. As the girls who rave over it grow older, they look for other more mature artists. And their younger sisters don’t want their elder sisters’ leftovers, so they look for something new.
Which doesn’t mean the records aren’t great, catchy, well-made, well-constructed and well-written. Just that they could just as well be sung by any other group of cute looking boys or girls that the industry chose to put together.