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  Caroline Sullivan: full interview
Updated 05 February 2003, 11.32
Pop critic Caroline Sullivan
Top pop critic on what she thinks about made for TV pop

NR: What's your take on manufactured pop?

Caroline: I think the reality pop phenomenon was initially a good thing because it was good entertainment and a fun way of finding new people.

You also got to laugh at poor little Hayley from Birkenhead stumbling her way through some Britney Spears song. There was that sort of sadistic enjoyment of laughing at people's misfortunes.

But it's turned into a kind of accepted pop thing which shows no sign of going away. It has become more of a bad thing really. I think the main problem with reality pop is there's no longevity for the groups.

If One True Voice and Girls Aloud are around for more than six months they can count themselves very lucky. Of course Hear'Say are all driving Minicabs now, two years after they all thought they'd be famous forever.

It also means there's no loyalty to the group. Fans won't necessarily buy the group's singles over and over. They think "If I don't like this single I won't buy it and there'll be another one of these groups five minutes down the line."


NR: Do you think it's a good way to find new talent?

Caroline: I think it's a good way of finding a particular type of short lived pop talent. Most of these people don't write their own songs, which is considered important these days.

Lots of them are just in not because they want to sing or make good music, but because they want to be famous.

You might come up with a couple of good singers after auditioning ten thousand, but they're thrown into it at the deep end and most of them don't have the inner resources to cope, which makes you think "Who's going to be the first drug overdose of this lot? Who's going to be the first casualty of the reality pop phenomenon?"


NR: Do you think that it's a good thing for kids to aspire to?

Caroline: I don't think that fame in itself is a good thing to aspire to. I think it's better to have a talent and let fame be the by-product. Not the main thing.

Even Kylie Minogue, which is pretty rich coming from her, has said that it's pretty shocking that you can ask a kid what they want to be and they say, instead of an actress or singer, they want to be famous.


NR: Isn't this just the same as before?

Caroline: I don't think that that's a way of justifying it. When you manufacture a band on TV it's actually bad for morale, because you're tearing away all the mystique, you're making a process transparent and there's absolutely no magic to it anymore.

When I was a kid and I loved Wham and Duran Duran, they might have been manufactured, but at least you didn't see it happening in front of you.

I mean who wants to see these people auditioning and turning into a pop band? I just think it takes a lot of the fun out of it.


NR: Which one of the four programmes worked best for you?

Caroline: Pop Idol, because of Simon Cowell who really ought to have his own stand up comedy show.

But in terms of actual interesting television, once you see the first couple of Gareths or Dariuses, it's not that fascinating.


NR: Where do you think these programmes can go now?

Caroline: I don't think there's much mileage left in reality pop TV as we know it. I think that as the steam runs out of it we're going to see weirder and weirder formats.

At the moment they're working on a pop has-beens starring people from the eighties. It's getting a bit desperate because the format is exhausted and not as many people are tuning in as used to.


NR: What do you think the future holds for the people on these shows?

Caroline: I don't think the future is very bright for the people discovered on these shows. Even the most talented, like Will Young, will have the stigma of having been discovered on these shows, and it is a really big stigma.

Nobody's going to take any of these people seriously.


NR: Do you think it's just another telly fad?

Caroline: Yes. In order for it to keep going it needs viewers, and viewers are turning off in record numbers. Also, it hasn't got the support of the music industry.

Even the groups who have big hits like Hear'Say, who's single sold more than any debut single of all time, it still doesn't make the record industry any money, because singles don't make money.

Albums make money, and these groups don't sell albums. One thing the music industry hates is not to make money.


NR: What do you think of people like Simon Fuller and Simon Cowell?

Caroline: I'd love to see Simon Fuller and Simon Cowell come out as a double act and make their own record.

I think they'd be a lot better than any of the people they've discovered so far.


NR: What do you think of the comments made by people like Robbie and Kylie?

Caroline: Robbie Williams said it was cruelty dressed up as entertainment, and he should know!

But he's right. These kids are taken from their council estates and their jobs as secretaries and milkmen and they're popstars overnight and they have no time to prepare for it and learn.

At least Robbie, when he was with Take That, had a couple of years playing small clubs before anybody had ever heard of them. They knew what they were getting into. I don't think that these people have the slightest idea what they're getting into.


NR: Do you think they should go to somewhere like the Sylvia Young Theatre School to learn to handle fame?

Caroline: All these kids think they can handle it, but when they become famous say "It's harder than I ever dreamed it would be."

I think they need some kind of lessons, like at the Sylvia Young Theatre School, before they're ever allowed to get near a TV camera. It's just not fair to them.

One of these days one of these people is going to end up committing suicide or taking a drug overdose.

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