Friday, 20 August 2010

Saturdays Suck

The general consensus is Hollywood failed to score this summer. Overall US box-office is down in relation to the comparable summer 2009. UK cinemas fared slightly better in large part because of higher priced tickets for 3D movies, even though actual UK cinema admissions fell 3%. The assumption is the World Cup tournament kept audiences away from movies, and that's mainly due to the fact our indigenous press overhyped England's chances of excelling in this year's games. As a result, distributors held back on releasing prolific movies until after the games. Had they predicted the true mediocrity of England's national football team then they'd have not bothered holding back. Still, this summer's been far from stellar on the movie front. Very few tentpole flicks registered with audiences and many movies that were positioned as celluloid behemoths died on arrival. For example, 20th Century Fox's movie rendition of 80s television series A-Team was billed as one of the prime events of the summer. Having spent a decade in development (it spent previous years in development at Universal in the 90s prior to going into turnaround) and costing $110 million to make, A-Team came and went without much fanfare. It wasn't meant to be this way as the movie had secured lucrative tie-ins with Pizza Hut and Orange who all assumed A-Team was a sure bet because of established brand recognition. A-Team has so far accumulated a woeful $76 million at the US box-office and a sorry $82 million internationally.

Movies are not art. It's not like a site-specific theatre production that's put together for artistic reasons as opposed to commercial gain. Making films is expensive and one needs to turn in a profit. Distributors are looking for safe bets; bets audiences will flock to if you tell them to. It doesn't always work out that way. The music industry is similar in many ways; perhaps more so. Whereas movies are still a lucrative entity, the value of the recorded music industry, including physical and digital sales was £1.36bn in 2009, with no growth from 2008. CD album sales are down 3.5%– bad news as CDs still accounted for 79.5% of all album sales during the first half of 2010. One can't blame the music industry for feeling out its depths and trying to manufacture sellable properties that will glean revenue, hence why THE SATURDAYS should've made viable business sense. THE SATURDAYS are a manufactured British girl group consisting of five members and was formed in 2007 by the executives at Universal Music and Polydor Records. The group was devised to capitalise on the success of aging girl group GIRLS ALOUD while filling the void left by the latter's current hiatus. THE SATURDAYS have released an album every year since 2008 and has been promoted relentlessly. Everything about them is an exercise in brand positioning and marketing. Even their name has been selected to tie-in with themed weekend programmes on the panoply of UK music channels. The girls have been stylised and advertised in a way that's meant to secure adoration and emulation. They're sassy, glamorous and have cute celebrity boyfriends. They're photographed in all the right places and the target demographic has been informed repeatedly to love these girls. After 2 years of concerted efforts and several false starts, THE SATURDAYS were meant to secure their first ever UK number 1 single last weekend. They didn't. They were beaten by Flo Rida whose single Club Can't Handle Me was released 2 weeks ago yet still trounced THE SATURDAYS track Missing You. The record label did everything in their power to get THE SATURDAYS their first UK number 1 with established pop acts like Dannii Minogue twittering about how much she wants them to be on top. THE SATURDAYS tried to secure a guaranteed top-spot last year by recording the official Comic Relief charity single Just Can't Get Enough only to peak at number 2, becoming the first Comic Relief release not to chart at number 1 in 14 years. At this stage in their careers, GIRLS ALOUD had two number 1 singles, four number 2s and a number 2 album. Even though Missing You sold a staggering 180,000 copies, THE SATURDAYS are nowhere near the level of success Universal Music/ Polydor Records wanted. When asked about the volatility of THE SATURDAYS, band member Una Healy stated, "We didn't come off the back of a reality TV show, we've grafted." I suppose that is true to an extent but THE SATURDAYS are as contrived as any act on the X Factor. And therein lays the problem. Whereas GIRLS ALOUD came to prominence through a televised reality singing contest and the music buying public had a vested interest in the band's success, THE SATURDAYS are an ensemble of former paedo-pop remnants of a previous group, or otherwise unknown stage school products designed to charm. They don't seem as accessible as GIRLS ALOUD who has become a lovable national institution.

If anyone questions why a movie website is talking about music; it's simple. My focus is often on the mechanics of creative industries and THE SATURDAYS as a creative product is similar to the A-TEAM in that both are brands created to capitalise on recognition, yet both are failing. Both are cynical exercises in capitalist creativity that go by the assumption that if you force feed a product to the masses, the masses will consume it, unquestionably. How wrong they are. THE SATURDAYS may eventually get an elusive number 1 (their new EP Headlines will chart this weekend but only sold 6,000 units by Tuesday, whereas Iron Maiden's new album has sold more than 22,000 copies) but that doesn't mask the underlining failings of creating substandard product manufactured to take advantage of the past recognition of similar acts like Spice Girls and Girls Aloud. It's a vacuous construct that deservedly won't survive in such a competitive and aware market.

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