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EDITIONS
Tuesday, 1 October, 2002, 13:09 GMT 14:09 UK
Death of the manufactured band?
Hear'Say
Hear'Say went out with a whimper

With the demise of Popstars product Hear'Say, pop svengalis and record executives will be shifting a little more uneasily in their overstuffed leather swivelchairs.

Over the course of the past decade the manufactured group has risen to become the face of pop in the UK.

Even in the US, where "authentic" music genres like country, rap and guitar-based rock battle for pre-eminence, boy bands like 'N Sync and the Backstreet Boys have sold millions of records.

But like Hear'Say who have faced up to declining record sales and public hostility by giving up the ghost, many manufactured bands seem to have a mayfly-like shelf-life.

I think they represent a dark period in British music.

NME's Andre Paine
on Hear'Say
Every decade has had manufactured groups which have bestrode the pop world like colossi only to vanish without trace.

In the late 1980s, New Kids on the Block sold millions of records only to wither and disappear to the nether reaches of the darkest, deepest record shop bargain bin.

The likes of Take That, Boyzone and Westlife followed, paving the way for a stream of blander and more anonymous fare, with the likes of Blue, A1 and 5ive blending into one mass of spiked-up hair and funny dancing.

NME music editor Andre Paine said the demise of Hear'Say finally meant British record buyers would get a break from manufactured groups.

"It is welcome. I think they represent a dark period in British music. Everything was manufactured before our eyes, no-one had any real belief in the band.

"After this year, when Popstars: The Rivals and Fame Academy are over there will have to be a break. People will have had enough."

Television auditions

But there was no 1980s year zero for manufactured bands, with a history stretching nearly as far back as mass-produced recordings.

The 1970s had the likes of the Bay City Rollers, and the 1960s the king of all manufactured bands, The Monkees.

Mickey Dolenz, Davy Jones, Peter Tork and Mike Nesmith were picked from auditions for an American television series that hoped to rival the success of The Beatles' Hard Day's Night.

The Monkees
The Monkees enjoyed a string of hits
But despite its manipulated qualities, the music on their album continues to be played, with hits like Stepping Stone and Daydream Believer still covered today.

Paine said the motives were the key.

"There is nothing wrong with putting a band together if you make good music. If you just want to make money the music will always be secondary."

During the 1950s, the unscrupulous moguls of the Brill Building-era were always on the lookout for gullible recruits for money-making Tin Pan Alley acts.

Tin Pan Alley was sidelined by the rise of rock 'n' roll, but many in the music industry feel that as long as publicity campaigns persuade impressionable children and teenagers to buy music, manufactured groups will continue.

The likes of Atomic Kitten - originally three Merseyside girls picked by former OMD frontman Andy McCluskey - and Sugababes show there is still a rich vein for groups to mine.

Lengthy success

Smash Hits editor Lisa Smosarski said Hear'Say's demise had little to do with a growing disaffection for manufactured groups.

"I don't think it is because of them being a manufactured band. I don't think it is an argument.

"Those five people didn't get on and they were thrown into it really quickly. They didn't know each other and they didn't want to know each other. You still see bands doing well."

Smosarski pointed to the lengthy periods of success enjoyed by bands like Take That and the Spice Girls before their demise, prompted by the departure of one of the band's more important members.

New Kids on the Block
New Kids on the Block found fame and then obscurity
"If you look at the Spice Girls, the same things happened to them in the end - it was a personality clash when Geri left. But they were together for quite a while."

In the case of Hear'Say, they were ordinary people who did not even have the advantage of knowing the music industry or how to manage their image themselves.

She said: "It is quite exceptional. The public were so behind them when they came out.

"They were normal people suddenly they have become quite starry. That may have been where people turned. The tide changed. I don't think it is down to the Popstars show."

Mr Paine agreed that Hear'Say's lack of natural charisma contributed to an early bath.

"Hear'Say didn't even have a year of proper success. We are very good at making these girls and boys next door. They are not stars - there is no star quality."

But what is clear is that however close the gap between the rise and fall of a manufactured group, the phenomenon is here to stay.

Hear'Say split


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