It’s soft, insipid and lacks character for anyone with a mature palate. That’s right: I’m talking about baby food. First up, a baby has milk; then baby rice; then mashed tatties or banana; then fish fingers and broccoli; and finally, as an adult, fillet steak. That fillet steak would be wasted on a toddler: it’s too difficult for them to eat and they wouldn’t appreciate the difference between the steak and a Big Mac anyway. It doesn’t matter, though, because you wouldn’t give your wean fillet steak in the first place: babies need to take small dietary steps before tackling more complex meals.
Right: let’s ditch the food metaphor for the moment. Jake Bugg has criticised One Direction, saying that they can’t “really be considered a band”. For me that’s like saying that a bike can’t really be considered a car: no-one is claiming that it is. Define “band” anyway. I’m guessing that Jake thinks that the only way to make music is to do it like The Beatles did 50 years ago, and a band must match their template: singers, guitars, bass, drums. Where does that leave Kraftwerk? Sparks? NWA? The Pet Shop Boys? White Stripes? Or is it enough that it is a collection of earnest musicians – regardless of instrument – sagely nodding their heads in time with every prodigious chord-change?
The argument is essentially about what constitutes “proper” music. For me, music exists on a sliding scale of complexity, and all of it can be considered “proper”. To return to babies for a moment, the first music most of us hear will be nursery rhymes: simple words and melodies that are designed to stimulate us and engender in us a curiosity about music. This music is as valid as Trout Mask Replica, but the key point is that it is meant for babies. You are meant to move on from this and as you move up the complexity scale you have to consider who the target audience is for the music. Manufactured pop music of the type delivered by One Direction is clearly targeted at under 16s and should therefore be judged on those terms. Based purely on musical content – i.e. ignoring economic and moral arguments for and against the creation of this type of music on an industrial scale – it’s supposed to be fun, not too complicated, and encourages young people to love music. Or, to put it another way, it’s soft, insipid and lacks character but it’s meant for children and encourages them to explore Bowie, The Smiths and Patti Smith – and The Vinegar Tits – when they are ready for it.
Why, then, does manufactured pop music matter? It’s the musical equivalent of baby rice or mashed potato. It’s not particurly stimulating for adults who have developed their tastes beyond boy bands and ballads but it’s a starting point for some children to develop a love for music, a point from which to move away towards the Aphex Twin and Frank Zappa.
Does Jake Bugg need to get his knickers in a twist about One Direction? That’s for his management to tell him, not me.