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A manufactured band is a group of people who are put together by a record company in order to make a profit. These people have almost certainly never met before, and musical talent is very often not a serious concern. They are usually selected on looks over talent, as this seems to be the only way to tap into a young market that has little musical interest. It seems to be a case of 'who cares about music - we can sell records with sex!'.
Manufactured bands can be split into three distinct types:
Boy Bands - These are the original - but not necessarily the best - type of manufactured band.
Girl Bands - These are like boy bands, but set to appeal to an older audience, or a younger audience consisting purely of girls.
Mixed Bands - These consist of members of both sexes who can interact suggestively, giving wider market appeal.
A Little History - Key Events by Decade
Manufactured bands have actually been around for quite a long time - although in the last few decades they have become far more common. The main periods of development are:
1960s - The Monkees were formed. This band was created for a television series that was intended to be an American version of A Hard Day's Night. There were a couple of songs per episode, which were often quite good, and the actors were all shown singing and playing instruments. However, it was soon revealed that the band didn't really perform - at least on their early records - as only a couple of the members were actually musicians.
Exceptions: The Beatles, The Rolling Stones.
1970s - The Bay City Rollers, stars of their own television series, were hugely popular, and became the latest target for screaming teenage girls.
Exceptions: The Police, The Buzzcocks, The Clash.
1980s - Possibly the start of the true era of manufactured music. In this decade, there was a plethora of maufactured bands, one of the biggest being the insufferable Bros.
Exceptions: The Smiths, Pixies.
1990s and beyond - New Kids on the Block, Take That, Boyzone, Backstreet Boys and many more sold millions of records to young girls. Girl groups such as the Spice Girls became increasingly common. Westlife were the first band to have all their first five singles enter the charts at numbers one. Manufactured bands have now begun to dominate the charts and changed the perception of the term 'pop'.
Exceptions: Anything non-manufactured - examples include Green Day, Radiohead, Idlewild, and Nirvana.
How to Spot a Manufactured Band
There are several clear indications that show whether a band can be classified as 'manufactured':
Are there no actual instrumentalists among the band members?
Can they dance much better than they can sing1?
Does one sing while the others sing 'harmonies' in the background?
Do they always mime when performing 'live'?
Do they appear a lot on children's TV? (A manufactured band's target audience is often children, as they are the world's most gullible consumer market.)
Do their singles constantly enter the charts at number one, and then drop down to a lower position the next week, almost invariably replaced by a near-identical song by another group?
Do they always get other people to write their songs for them?
Does every one of their songs have a pointless key change, usually just before the final chorus?
Does the name of their band have a misplaced number or letter in it? (U2, Blink-182, Alabama 3 or the sadly departed Ben Folds Five don't count, but 5ive, N'sync, Hear'Say, A1 and children's entertainers S Club 7 definitely do.)
Do they have their own children's TV series? (This is a surprisingly common one.)
If you answered 'yes' to four or more of these questions, you have probably discovered a manufactured band.
Spotting a Boy Band
Boy bands have a few extra identifying markers, which the following questions will quickly reveal:
- Do the members all wear identical clothing?
- Are they constantly followed by screaming girls who have nothing better to do with their lives?
- Does the band have the word 'Boy' in its name? (Eg Boyzone, Backstreet Boys.)
The Boy Band
A boy band usually has four or more members that are usually very similar from band to band:
The floppy-haired one - usually blond. This is often the only one who can actually sing.
The one with the body piercings - this is the one who is 'slightly wacky'.
The 'rapper' - he can't really rap.
The gay one - most boy bands have a gay member who invariably comes out after a year or two in the band, despite everyone knowing already.
The 'other one'. This is the one who never does anything and is most likely to end up crashed out on drugs and forced to leave the band in a media scandal.
The Girl Band
A girl band usually has three members, although this can increase to five. The band members can be a little more varied than in a boy band, but are usually very similar:
The singer - this is the one who can sing. A bit like the floppy-haired one in the boy band.
The media target - this is the one who is constantly picked on by the tabloid press for being too fat, too thin, or having a relationship with anyone, ever.
The one with the pierced tongue/nose - this is this member's only distinguishing mark. A bit like the 'other one' in a boy band.
The marketing is firstly aimed at children between the ages of six and 12, and when the short attention span of these youngsters starts to waver, the girl band will start aiming at men between the ages of 16 and 28. When kids lose interest, there's always a herd of sex-obsessed men to sell to.
The Death of a Manufactured Band
Thankfully, manufactured bands - especially boy bands - usually have a shelf life of about 12 months. You can hope that after this time they will do one of the following:
Become so successful that they stop working at all, only emerging for so-called 'live' dates and charity functions (eg Boyzone).
Split up. This is not always better than the band descending into dormancy, as the members may be able to pursue a solo career, which is almost as bad. Thankfully, not all solo careers are successful - but some are, so be careful. (Eg Robbie Williams, Geri Halliwell).
Get dropped by their record label. Manufactured bands exist solely to make profit for their managers and their record label. If they start to lose popularity, they will often simply cease to exist. If this happens to a manufactured band, laugh loudly and buy yourself a celebratory drink.
Avoiding Manufactured Bands
It is possible to avoid manufacured pop groups. The easiest way is never to buy any of their records, and never let everyone doubt how much you hate them. Simply follow these easy steps to ensure that your life is relatively free of manufactured pop:
Never watch children's TV (even if you have children) or 'public entertainment programmes' such as the National Lottery Show (in the UK). Manufactured bands rely more on their visual image than their music for their success, and so often make such appearances, miming all the time, of course.
Do not listen to drivetime radio, especially the charts, and if you have to, keep your finger close to the 'off' switch. It is safer to listen to CDs, or radio shows by DJs that never play manufactured music, such as BBC Radio One's Steve Lamacq or John Peel.
Unfortunately, you may still come across manufactured bands. Be careful! Always have a CD, cassette, minidisc or mp3 player to hand, with some good music in it ready to play.
The Future of Manufactured Music
We are already seeing the possible future of manufactured music appear in Japan. Computer-generated pop stars have been created, and many more are on the way.
As much as we may want to deny it, manufactured bands are here to stay. The best any of us can do is avoid listening to their music and watching their TV shows. If this Researcher can manage it, then so can you.