What do you think of when we mention ‘manufactured pop’? Do you imagine the likes of Britney Spears, who was handed her career only after TLC turned down ‘Baby One More Time‘? Perhaps you consider the world of Simon Cowell, with his factory line of re-shaped identi-kit stars? Well these are indeed true examples, but in reality almost all of pop is somewhat manufactured, even since the 1950s Elvis or 1960s Beatles, as it has to tick certain boxes in order to be ‘popular’.
If the intention is to be precisely that then a package has to be created beyond the talent or the voice and this is where we have a bit of an issue with the idea of manufactured pop. Managers and labels step in to complete the carving and effectively reshape the original talent in what they decide is capable of shifting records. There’s something disingenuous about it all. It’s like the talent isn’t enough, or that the public don’t appreciate the beauty of the music, but the delivery of the product.
It is frustrating, however, this is today’s world and if it brings us music that’s still great after you’ve opened up the beautiful packaging then the master planning is in fact irrelevant.
And so we turn to the latest bright young thing, Jess Morgan, aka Spark, THE teenage star of 2011. In this instance the production line from which she appears is the BRIT stage school, most famous for plonking Katy B, Amy Winehouse, Kate Nash and Adele onto our screens and into our iPods. A production line of some serious caliber then, but a factory none the less, so that means the original talent has been heavily advised, tweaked and moulded in preparation for the chart assault.
No matter though, as fortunately in this case the music is good enough and the talent more beautiful than the package. And it’s this ‘package’ that is the first thing we noticed, as she appears to be the total sum of all the parts from the recent glut of female solo pop artists – factories always look for efficiency, so what else did you expect? Take a little pinch of Adele’s classy voice, a little snip of Katy B’s street, mix in Marina & The Diamonds drama, oh and find a producer like Starsmith to locate that Ellie Goulding ingredient. Finally get her signed to a giant label like Warner/679, but obviously the initial release has to come through the independent Neon Gold label first. There. Perfect.
So what does she actually sound like? Yes you could guess and sadly you would be absolutely correct. It’s pop but a little bit edgy and alternative enough. It’s tinged with the urban taste of Uffie or Santigold on tracks like ‘Wrap‘ and she sounds like Katy B singing over The Good Natured on the new single, ‘Revolving‘, (out on November 15th). Thankfully she’s apparently quite engaging live, with a successful set as part of the NME’s Radar showcase during the recent In The City Festival in Manchester. You can also see her play the Neon Gold show at New York’s CMJ Festival on October 21st.
The real test is whether she can survive through the critics cynicism and make her sugar palatable for everyone. After all she is a real person with a real talent and even though you can go down the boxes, tick, tick, tick, we still see this ending in the inevitable boom. (MB)