Thursday 27 October 2016

Pop stardom: can money buy success?

Published 25/10/2015 | 02:30

Ready to pay: Emin would splash the cash to have a worldwide hit but so far international stardom has eluded him.
Ready to pay: Emin would splash the cash to have a worldwide hit but so far international stardom has eluded him.

It is a performance that's part-Enrique Iglesias, part-Eurovision. Emin, a Moscow-based Azerbaijani, is doing his best to rouse the crowd who have come to Bush Hall in West London and he's only being partly successful. Many drift to the bar when he sings in Russian, others are stony-faced and unresponsive when he tries to coax some audience interaction.

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If Emin means nothing to you, you're hardly alone. He's tried for years to break into the English-speaking world, but has struggled to develop the sort of fanbase he enjoys in Russia. The 36-year-old father-of-two happens to be the son of the one of the wealthiest men on the planet and, is something of a self-made tycoon in his own right. Consequently, he appears to have thrown enormous money into his bid to be a global sensation.

He's had journalists flown to Moscow, Paris and London this year to generate publicity - a rare, old-school, and expensive approach that the industry largely eschews today. And he appears to have jetted in specially for this showcase too.

Tonight, immediately afterwards, he will board a private jet and return to Moscow and he will be accompanied every step of the way by the Sky News presenter Eamon Holmes who, along with his TV host wife Ruth Langford, is making a fly-on-the-wall documentary on Emin's bid to break the UK.

His performance, which manages to be slick in places but very ordinary elsewhere, would suggest that he has his work cut out for him to appeal to the great record buying public in the English-speaking world - or even the legions who are happy to take music for free.

Watching him trying to generate excitement in a flat concert hall makes me appreciate, once more, just how difficult it is to 'break' a newcomer, or to take someone who's successful in one territory and make them a star in another.

More than a decade ago, EMI thought they were onto a winner with the Scottish singer, Angela McCluskey, but a pricey campaign failed to turn her into the household name her undoubted talents deserved.

A couple of years later, I witnessed Paddy Casey play a showcase in Los Angeles that had been organised by his manager Paul McGuinness and was attended by every significant American music critic and several celebs. It didn't happen for him either, despite having U2's then manager opening doors on his behalf.

The footnotes of music history are littered with such tales.

"I am under no illusion about how difficult it can be to have a hit in other territories," Emin tells me a couple of hours before taking the stage in London. "It is important to have really strong songs."

Such songs are certainly absent from his latest album, the cheesily titled More... Amor. The lively pop ballads may have tickled the fancy of those in his adopted homeland, but not here.

"It is really difficult to write great songs," he says. "I've worked with [former member of the glam rock band Mud] Rob Davies, who wrote Kylie's 'Can't Get You Out of My Head'. We've written 30 songs together but we haven't recorded one, because there has to be magic.

"I remember having a conversation with Dr Luke, who's one of the top worldwide writer-producers [who's written for Katy Perry, Rihanna and Miley Cyrus]. 'What if you were to consider writing and producing a track for me?' And he said, 'Do you know how many tracks I have to write before I have a hit?' He said, 'I've camps of writers writing for an artist and sometimes we can't even get a song that's worth recording. So when you think about the 21 US number ones that Max Martin had, he probably had to write 3,000."

Emin believes unlimited money can only get a fledgling musician so far. "If somebody told me that you can pay this guy a million bucks and he will give you a worldwide hit, I'd pay it. Absolutely. Because it would save me so much time travelling worldwide doing 20 interviews a day explaining who the f*** I am. But it will never happen - it will never be that formulaic."

When we meet, Emin is pinning his hopes on a forthcoming single 'Boomerang' which features Nile Rodgers. "[Daft Punk's] 'Get Lucky' was one of my favourite songs of the past few years and Nile plays such a huge role in it so when he said he liked one of my songs, I was really happy when he said he would play on it and help rearrange it a bit - to give it that Nile Rodgers touch."

But the presence of the Chic frontman would not turn out to be the boon that Emin was hoping for: released last month, 'Boomerang' was in the US chart for just a week - at lowly 43 - and it failed to chart in Britain. (Perhaps a support on Take That's European tour earlier this month will have boosted his prospects a little.)

'Making it' is about as imprecise a science as you can get, as a mammoth new book, Electric Shock, makes clear. Author Peter Doggett looks at 125 years of popular music and the key figures who helped soundtrack each decade. Luck, knowing the right people, and being in the right place at the right time certainly helped, but great songs were a constant too - whether you're talking Elvis or Eminem. l Unless there is a spectacular upswing in the next two months, 2015 will not be remembered as a particularly remarkable year for great album releases - and many of the ones that will appear in those year-end polls emerged in the first quarter.

Father John Misty's I Love You, Honeybear came out in February and will surely be uppermost in the minds of many critics when they do their annual December best-of round-up. Tonight, the veritable one-man-band behind the moniker, Joshua Tillman, plays Dublin's Vicar Street - great news for those of us who keep returning to his music. The ex-Fleet Foxes man's debut album, Fear Fun, is pretty special too.

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