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Opinion: We thought boybands were bad until singer-songwriters came along

Posted August 14, 2013 by David Sheehan in Music

There was a time, not that long ago, when the bane of most music-lover’s lives was the test-tube boy (or girl) band. Manufactured artificially either away from the public gaze or, latterly, on shows such as Popstars or The X Factor, these ensembles assaulted the charts and our eardrums with pop-music of varying quality and annoyance levels. While some like Girls Aloud and JLS enjoyed a large degree of success, others such as our own Six and One True Voice went down quicker than Divine Brown on a busy night on Sunset Boulevard.

It should of course be mentioned that one of the most hilarious episodes in Irish TV ever came to us courtesy of Boyzone’s debut, erm, performance on The Late Late Show back in 1993. This is a a moment that should certainly be treasured, if only for the looks on the faces of the audience sitting mere inches from Ronan and the lads and their gyrating hips and flailing arms. If Louis Walsh has contributed nothing else to popular culture, then he should be thanked for presumably being the man who thought it would be a good idea to let 5 lads shake their stuff in front of a group of pensioners.

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In recent years, however, the trend on these reality shows seems to have railed against the aforementioned bands. On the face of it, this would appear to be a good thing, but what has risen from the ashes of the boyband is something far more disturbing – namely the singer-songwriter with a guitar and a broken heart. Okay, the broken heart isn’t strictly necessary, but it definately helps. Or if the heart in question isn’t yet broken, then there should be some kind of unlucky-in-love story to be trotted out as a precursor to a strum and a whinge. Oh, and if the song is about some girl who you fancy but she doesn’t know, or she does know but doesn’t care, or she does care but had to move to somewhere too expensive to visit on a student card, then all the better.

Of course, we all know who to blame for the rise of this heart-on-the-sleeve nausea-inducing dross – step forward James Blunt. Before the Bluntmeister came on the scene, guys sang about cigarettes and alcohol, drunken 18-30 holidays or drinking beer and fighting after the nightclub. You knew where you were with that. Then along came Mr. Blunt with his wistful stalking-to-music that was You’re Beautiful, sent up so wonderfully by Tom Gleeson, who really got to the heart of the matter.

While writing about matters of the heart isn’t all that new, a figure pulled out of my head estimates that over 90% of all songs ever written are about love, there used to be a certain craft involved where the meaning wasn’t altogether obvious to the point of slapping you around the face. There are numerous examples of tortured souls who committed words to paper – Kurt Cobain, Nick Cave, Tom Waits and Barry Manilow – but the rash of songs penned by whiny adolescents making their way onto the national airwaves in recent times is very worrying indeed. Whatever happened to suffering in silence, sucking it up like a man, or at the very least restricting your sullen strumming to the confines of your bedsit?

More the point, perhaps it’s the downcast outlook on life that has these lads getting dumped left, right and centre. It’s unlikely anyone listened to the Christy Hennessy soundalike  Passenger and his self-indulgent wallow-fest Let Her Go and thought ‘He sounds like a laugh-a-minute!’. Lyrics such as the below are unlikely to have the ladies queuing up.

Staring at the bottom of your glass
Hoping one day you’ll make a dream last
But dreams come slow and they go so fast

Still, there does seem to be a market for this kind of thing at the moment, and good luck to the likes of Ed Sheeran, Gavin James, Passenger and all the other singer-songwhiners out there who are turning their wholly uninteresting dalliances into cold, hard cash. One can only hope that the public is close to breaking point on this though, and commercial radio seizes on something less irritating very soon. If not, then we can only hope the lads find happiness, or at least broaden their song-writing horizons away from singing about themselves and their woes. Off to Coppers with ye boys…

About the Author

David Sheehan

  • Ciaran O’Brien

    I like singer-songwriters when they’re not constantly whining about a girl they used to love.

    There’s a chap called Wayne O’Conner who does the rounds of Irish pubs here and there, he has songs about superheroes and the everyday trials of being a psychopathic serial murderer. I think his best love song is about Angelina Jolie…

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