Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education

Front Page



UK Politics







Talking Point

In Depth

On Air

Low Graphics

Friday, June 4, 1999 Published at 17:59 GMT 18:59 UK


Pop's style masters

The Who: Tuning in to the mood of Mod

See more pictures from the show

In the cut-throat world of pop, image can make or break a career.

The BBC's Matthew Leach visits the show
Illustrating this fundamental truth to keen effect is a new exhibition at London's National Portrait Gallery.

Icons of Pop is a celebration of 50 chart-topping British pop stars captured through the lens of such great photographers as Terry O'Neill.

[ image: Cliff Richard has thrived on a clean-cut image]
Cliff Richard has thrived on a clean-cut image
Beginning with Cliff Richard in1958 and closing with Robbie Williams today, the pictures show how a lucky few in British pop history have hit the jackpot in the style stakes.

"The selection leans heavily towards chart success and image-led acts who have had an enduring visual impact based on their portraiture and singles chart success," said show curator Terence Pepper.

Iconic status in pop is not achieved by image alone. Presence, personality, musical talent, even a name, play a vital role.

But along with the sound, the look of a band or individual is what endures in the public's mind.

Pick of the crop

The stars chosen for the exhibition have done this to the best effect, according to co-curator Philip Hoare.

"We had set our parameters. You had to be a pop star. We couldn't have Led Zepplin or Pink Floyd. You had to represent the best of your time," he said of the gallery's choice.

[ image: Paul Weller: King of cool]
Paul Weller: King of cool
For the 1950s, the 18 year-old, "boy next door" Cliff Richard is top of heap.

In the formative 1960s, the sharp-suited Beatles could not, of course, be missed out. But neither could The Who, tuning into the mood of Mod and youth rebellion.

In the 1970s and early 1980s, the style statement was often about gender. Even the most firmly heterosexual male musician might present a feminised image of himself for success.

But no one did carried off the sequins and make-up better than the likes of David Bowie, Elton John and Queen.

A few years on, colour and irony were flavours of the day with the New Romantics - Adam and the Ants, Duran Duran and Culture Club.

While today's kings and queens of cool include Paul Weller, the Stone Roses, Pulp and Oasis.

Behind the lens

Despite their enigmatic presence, none of these stars could have been presented so artfully without the photographer.

[ image: New Romantic flamboyance with Adam and the Ants]
New Romantic flamboyance with Adam and the Ants
But more than just a means to an end, the input of the person behind the lens can be a vital to the pop formula.

"The result can be a visual manifesto: this is what we are, what we want to be, where we are from and where we are going; these are our influences, this is what we want to say," explained Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys.

Terry O'Neill, Brian Aris, Harry Hammond, to name a few, are all photographers known for bringing the best out of pop stars.

They may use special trademark ploys, such as Eric Watson who always includes a splash of red. Or it could just be something in the way they put their subjects at ease.

[ image: The Eurythmics get Eric Watson's red star treatment]
The Eurythmics get Eric Watson's red star treatment
Either way, their participation could mean the difference between pop success or failure.

In this exhibition, the success of the artists in the frame is not in question.

And many of the images have not been seen since they were first published, in a range of formats from record sleeves, magazines and flyers.

Icons of Pop is at London's National Portrait Gallery from 4 June until 19 September.

Advanced options | Search tips

Back to top | BBC News Home | BBC Homepage | ©

Entertainment Contents

TV and Radio
New Media

Relevant Stories

04 Jun 99 | Entertainment
Pop icons in the frame

04 Jun 99 | Entertainment
Robbie rocks New York

12 Feb 99 | Brit Awards
British pop's annual awards

Internet Links

British music talent online

National Portrait Gallery

Britpop profiles

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.