Monday 25 September 2017

The Plastic revolution

The Noughties broke new ground by challenging music's old business model, it also gave us glorified karaoke on the X Factor, writes Nick Kelly

X Factor judges: Louis Walsh, Danni Minogue, Cheryl Cole, Jack Black and Simon Cowell.
X Factor judges: Louis Walsh, Danni Minogue, Cheryl Cole, Jack Black and Simon Cowell.
Thom Yorke of Radiohead

Nick Kelly

The Noughties was the decade when the digital revolution changed everything: how we listen to music; how we hear about it; how much (if at all) we pay for it; how we discuss it. . .

The pace and scale of the changes brought about by a host of ingenious technological innovations, from the iPod to high-speed broadband, was truly dizzying. In the Noughties, the future gate-crashed the party.

Queueing up to buy round shiny discs in ye olde high-street record stores suddenly seemed a quaint pursuit -- the pop culture equivalent of an Amish community service.

Now we downloaded files from websites (and, to the fury of the major record labels, not always legal ones). Internet pirates like Napster caught the industry napping. And it took them the best part of the decade to wake up. Even the primacy of the album format was toppled in the digital coup -- why pay for the filler when you can cherry-pick the killer?

The mix 'n' match quality of the Net turned it into a sprawling online jukebox, especially with the emergence of websites such as YouTube.

This led to an unprecedented eclecticism -- both in terms of the range of genres we listened to and the accessibility of the archive of music's past to the current generation of wide-eyed kids. Suddenly one of the cardinal rules of pop had gone by the wayside: kids started digging the same tunes their parents (and grandparents) grew up on. No one blinked an eye if the mixtape on your laptop included all points between ABBA and ZZ Top. Genres were there to be blended and bended.

The speed of pop culture also accelerated like a cheetah driving a Porsche. Whether it was Britney shaving her hair, Rihanna's shocking bust-up with Chris Brown or your favourite pop star shopping in your local mall, it was all over the web within minutes of it happening, with bloggers like Perez Hilton or the TMZ site keeping the celebrity feeding frenzy going. . . 'til the next big story broke.

The Twittersphere was also up and running, with the result that the carefully controlled PR machines underpinning the pop world were in a tizzy.

Radiohead put their stamp on the Noughties by embracing its fundamental changes -- stating with their experimental album 'Kid A' in Y2K, which must be one of the most leftfield records ever to top the charts in America.

Their decision in 2007 to release the equally brilliant 'In Rainbows' online, ahead of its physical release was emblematic of how the tide was turning on Planet Pop.

Even more revolutionary was the idea of a band asking their fans to pay as much for the record as they deemed fit.

This ruse sparked outrage from record company bean counters but it was a masterstroke of marketing: the record found a pot of gold at the end of the Rainbow.

Other great albums of the decade included Arcade Fire's 'Funeral', The Strokes' 'Is This It', Daft Punk's 'Discovery' and the Go-Betweens' 'Oceans Apart'.

Not all developments were universally welcomed: an unfeasibly smug pop mogul in high-waisted slacks by the name of Simon Cowell gave the world 'X Factor', which built on the success of/ripped off (delete where appropriate) Simon Fuller's 'Pop Idol'.

Unfortunately this time, the revolution was televised and so the rise of the karaoke singing contest dominated prime-time weekend TV schedules around the world. The most successful artist to build a credible career after the credits rolled was Leona Lewis, whose 'Bleeding Love' was one of the biggest selling singles of the decade.

Irish acts also lit up the Noughties. U2 went back to basics with 'All That You Can't Leave Behind' and wowed the crowd at Slane Castle -- not once but twice in a historic move which saw the Taoiseach of the day force through legislation in the Dail allowing two concerts to take place in Lord Henry Mountcharles' manor in the same year.

Cue, a million newspaper headlines containing the words 'Beautiful Day'.

In between Bono's globe-trotting charidee campaigns came 'How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb' and at the end of the decade 'No Line On The Horizon', which saw the band take to the rooftops of Morocco for inspiration.

Homegrown boyband sensation Westlife were the toppermost of the popermost; Kian, Shane and the lads were a constant presence at the summit of the charts scoring more Number Ones in the UK than any other Irish act in history, helping manager Louis Walsh become a fixture on our TV screens and a celebrity in his own right.

The Corrs also charmed their way onto daytime radio playlists the world over, as did Enya, whose fanbase stretched across continents and language barriers.

If it was something a little more angst-ridden you were looking for, then there was always Snow Patrol's singalong stadium anthems ('Chasing Cars' was a classic) or million-selling Damien Rice, who inducted Leonard Cohen in to the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame and won the prestigious Shortlist Prize in the US for his album 'O'.

Not to be outdone, The Frames singer Glen Hansard gave the whole country a lift when his star turn as a love-struck busker on Grafton Street in the lo-budget indie romance 'Once' was feted in Hollywood and he walked away with an Oscar for Best Song for 'Falling Slowly'.

From Mundy to Fionn Regan, from Damien Dempsey to Lisa Hannigan, a new breed of confident singer/songwriters emerged and played sell out shows at home and abroad, some also earning Mercury Music Prize nominations in the UK and Choice Music Prize nominations here.

This stuff sounded pure no matter which fancy new device you listened to it on.

Irish Independent

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