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

 You are in:  Talking Point
Front Page 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Commonwealth Games 2002

BBC Sport

BBC Weather

Tuesday, 26 February, 2002, 11:53 GMT
Has pop become too commercial?
Sir Elton John has hit out at the state of the modern pop scene, comparing the music of stars like Steps and Britney Spears to packets of cereal.

The veteran pop star told BBC Two's Newsnight there was too much music that sounds the same in the charts now.

He argued there were too many average bands stifling the chances of real talent getting airplay and sales.

"Record companies want the quick buck from the Backstreet Boys, NSync, Britney Spears, S Club 7's, Steps - they've always been around, I'm not knocking the music perhaps, but it's like packets of cereal."

Has the pop industry become too manufactured and commercial? Is Elton John right?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

We have a rich diversity of music

Kelly Islington, UK
How can Elton John talk about today's music in such a derogatory way! We have a rich diversity of music catering for every taste in the market. HE may not like competition from the likes of boy bands, but WE deserve the right to make a choice as to what music we do and don't buy.
Kelly Islington, UK

So-called pop music has created a world of unbearable noise over the last fifty years. In all that time, there has hardly been any real talent in it at all. While the best classical music performers reach new heights of excellence, there hasn't been any compositional talent in pop. Any way you look at it, innovation in music is dead.
Mark, USA

Isn't "pop" short for popular music? It's supposed to be commercial. I think the commercial music scene is fantastic today, with so many talented young artistes around and there IS a real variety in music in the charts from R&B, garage, house, easy listening to metal. I think the charts are much more healthy now - much better than in the 80's when the scene was dominated by MOR oldies like Elton John, Cliff Richard, Dire Straits and Bruce Springsteen.
Deborah, UK

The majority of UK chart music is pathetic

Tristan Abbott, UK/USA
The 'popular' music scene in the UK has been dismal for ten years. The scene is dominated by manufactured bands and electronic music that any five year old with a keyboard can come up with in ten minutes. Sir Elton also criticises the US charts but at least the US charts have many bands who can play their instruments. There is also a thriving alternative rock scene followed by millions which isn't blacklisted by the majority of their radio stations like the UK. Let's face it; the Top 40 is generally aimed at the pre-teen market just like television between the hours of 3pm and 5pm each day. Bands like Travis, Radiohead and Coldplay are rare blips in the scene but the majority of UK chart music is pathetic.
Tristan Abbott, UK/USA

Most pop always has been and will continue to be, commercial. There are exceptions, thankfully, and there is also plenty of non-pop music. 90% of anything, including pop, is crud. If you don't like the crud, don't listen to it.
Daniel B. Rego, USA

Didn't we know this anyway? It's worse here though. Almost every piece of music sounds exactly the same as every other and exactly the same as ten years ago. At least there is still some variety in Britain.
Coal, Japan (ex-UK)

I totally agree with Elton and I think there's another worrying trend to show how out of touch record companies are with the real world. Why are they paying so much for has-been artists such as Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey? Surely anyone with a vague ounce of business sense would see that artists like these have had their day and will never have the same number of hits as previously. As Elton says, instead of putting money into short lived pop groups and past it has-beens, they should be nurturing potential talent. It took REM five albums to get really big; U2 and Radiohead three, so stop looking for the quick buck and start thinking about the long term.
Keith, Australia

The major labels are stifling new talent, because to ensure a return on investment they only want product that fits specific tried formulas

John (Indie Label Owner), Brit in US
I applaud Elton John for speaking out. The major labels are stifling new talent, because to ensure a return on investment they only want product that fits specific tried formulas, perceived by accountants as being popular ... Established acts (Sir Elton, Sir Paul, Whitney) Bubblegum (ala Britney or Backstreet boys), Power ballads (Creed), Middle of the Road R'n'B (Nelly Furtado, Robbie) a little Rap and Hip-Hop, ... all are packaged to fit these genres. The labels care nothing about the music. The majors buy radio play, they buy prime store space and distribution, they buy media reviews supported by advertising. They do not want competition from new music, it shortens the product-life of their artists.
John (Indie Label Owner), Brit in US

Elton John is so right. The N-Syncs, Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears are all prefabricated junk bands. They survive by videos. They are nothing more than cheerleaders running around a stage. Is it any wonder that a Beatles album out sold every other album last year? Modern pop music today is a joke...
Hugh T. Steuart, USA

If you don't go through the creative process that makes you an artist and the experience of working your way into being accepted and respected by an audience then you may as well give up. No public will tolerate a 'quick-fix' pop star as they are bit likely to have the experience to maintain any popularity they may have. It is a ploy by record companies, agents and managers to get a quick injection of cash. The records are boring, boring and boring. Thank god for people like Van Morrison, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, The Stones, Gershwin, Prokofiev, Beethoven and Mozart!
Jo, England

I think that music goes in cycles. There are times when a glut of great talent and original sounds hit the market, and there are times like now when that has dried up and teeny boppy rubbish hits the stores. The tide will change yet.
Peter J Hunt, Easter Island

All this from the man who's started putting celebrities in his videos to help sell records.
Amanda, London, UK

Elton John complaining about pop being too commercial? Pot calling the kettle black if you ask me.
Tom, UK

Music styles change. If the original boy musician (Mozart) released a record today, how many teenagers would buy it? Likewise the Beatles. However things may be going a little far. How can Gorillaz be nominated for Brit awards? - The 'band' doesn't even exist!
Alex, UK

How refreshing that someone came out and said what so many of us feel

L Corey, UK
Elton John is so right about the pop stars of today. God, how refreshing that someone came out and said what so many of us feel. And the good legends or the really good talent, are ignored if they're over the age of 30. It's such a shame. The record industry will simply turn their backs and push them out the door if their sales slip by even a little margin. Right on, Elton. Thank you for speaking my mind!
L Corey, UK

I would just like to say that I found Sir Elton John's comments in his interview on last night's programme very interesting. I am a third year music student - this year I am taking a module on aesthetics and music and have studied the idea of music as commodity (or cereal, as he put it). I found Simon Cowell's comments most irritating - he seems to have no artistic or musical values whatsoever and if the future of the music industry is in the hands of people like him then I can only say it is likely to carry on going downhill.
Rebecca Williams, UK

Although I may accept some of Elton John's points about the record industry, I take exception to his comments about Pop Idol winners Gareth Gates and Will Young. It was a far superior audition process than Popstars which produced a so-so band - Hearsay. Darius is a determined talented brave young man who will make it in the pop industry. Gareth is a pop idol, what's wrong with the fact that he's an adorable, brave, talented young lad. And as for Will Young what a discovery, what a voice. I was glued to the set. He is someone who will be and should be an international superstar. EJ should comment only if he has listened to the quality and tone in his voice. This young man will break the American market, he's what they've been waiting for. It should be noted I'm a 49 year old grandma and I will be buying the record and any subsequent albums. These young people performed live to live audiences tested to the limit of any singer's repertoire whilst being judged and watched by millions.
Brenda Kelly-Dodds, UK

I would like to commend Newsnight for last night's piece on the music industry. I would also like to tell Elton John that I agree entirely with his comments. I am 22 years old and now listen exclusively to Radio 3 at work all day, and Radio 4 in the evenings for news. This is entirely because the music played on other radio stations (particularly Radio 1) is exactly the type Elton described, basically, bland rubbish.
Jack Wratten, UK

At last people like Sir Elton John are coming forward and telling the music industry moguls just what they don't want to hear - that they are more interested in a fast buck than real talent. I manage a band from Sheffield that are fresh, have something new to offer the music industry, would be long term as far as producing records is concerned and they most certainly have talent. These lads write their own music, and perform live playing their instruments. The music is colourful, vibrant and exiting as are the band, they look good on stage and are not afraid of hard work. I have approached just about every major record company in Britain and all have turned them down. There is a lot of talent out there trying to get through but they are not boy bands or girl bands, they are grown up musicians with a lot to offer. The problem is most definitely the record companies, not the bands.
Nick Earnshaw, UK

Manufactured "bands", synth sounds and vocal tricks can be music - for a while.
But give us the artists: good songwriters, live players who can really work their instruments and live vocals. Then you have a craft; not a technology. Get the music business to support the craft - not the revenue.
Ceil, USA

I couldn't agree more with Elton John

Edwin Godinho, Ireland
I couldn't agree more with Elton John. You'll probably have to pay me something to either pick up one of their albums or even listen to their music on the radio. The only talent emerging today seems to be in the Soul/R&B cat., because they are genuine artists.
Edwin Godinho, Ireland

Sir Elton's comments are spot on. The majority of new artists are recruits from stage schools and manufactured bands. Obviously, there are some excellent exceptions such as David Gray, Travis and Turin Brakes, but the lack of support these artists get from their labels on initial release compared with all the hype that is surrounding Will from Pop Idol, for example, makes me despair about the future state of music in general.
Sian, UK

Fantastic new bands like The Hives, Elbow, Turin Brakes, The Strokes et al don't get the airplay, TV or newspaper coverage

Rick, UK
Fantastic new bands like The Hives, Elbow, Turin Brakes, The Strokes et al don't get the airplay, TV or newspaper coverage because of amazing non-talents like Posh and Geri Halliwell. I like pop (S Club 7, Kylie and Robbie all have a place) but it'd be nice to see some variety in the chart and real talent shining through. I remember when the Top 40 used to be exciting, and the number one was unpredictable. A new entry less than 5 wasn't considered failure - and records even managed more than one week in the Top 10!
Rick, UK

Of course it is. Ever since The Beatles (they were the boy band with talent!) record companies have foisted an ever more alarming array of talentless and pointless celebrities onto an unsuspecting public? Or are the public really to blame - look at the success of Popstars and Pop Idol! And the British public's lionisation of the frankly dreadful Robbie Williams! We get the pop music we deserve, however I won't listen!
Chris Butler, UK

We don't want manufactured bands, where the members are 'found' and have to work together. What we want is bands that get together on their own and want to work with each other.
Caron, England

See also:

21 Feb 02 | Music
Sir Elton slates pop industry
Internet links:

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

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Talking Point stories