Where does pop fit in the current musical landscape? A casual run through what currently gets played on mainstream radio may give the impression that it’s in robust health but the reality is that there are fewer artists making a success of two-and-a-half minute pop songs than at any time since its birth.
Yes, you’ve got your Taylor Swifts and Miley Cyrus’s; your Biebers and your Mendes’s but there are strange forces at play. Firstly, their individual rise to stardom was not an especially natural one, relying on, variously, famous family, friends, social media innovations and record labels silently pummeling countless millions into direct audio marketing (look it up, it’s terrifying, Big Brother on a preposterous level). Likewise, the charts – such as they are – will have a handful of artists at several positions with different tracks, leaving you to contemplate exactly how an episode of Top of the Pops could possibly look now. Just look at the old re-runs on BBC4 and be dazzled by not only how many acts were on each episode but how they were all GENUINE contenders, even at the lowest reaches of the charts shifting tens of thousands of copies per week. What chance the newcomer in 2019?
Wednesday night at the legendary London venue, The Troubadour, site of some of the the great revolutionaries of music’s first steps, from Dylan, to Simon to Hendrix. The cosy downstairs area is exactly what you’d want as a band or performer, authentic without the spit and sawdust. Joel Rothwell, a young singer from Manchester, is playing his first London show here, a ballsy move and one which is hopefully going to pay off for him because if anything can save pop, it’s people actually getting out there and performing live.
By any stretch of the imagination, it’s not busy. A ‘passenger incident’ on the Victoria Line has ensured the tube system is all but at a standstill and the trains still running have people’s heads being trapped when the doors attempt to close. Regardless, Joel has a full band, a stream of jovial song introductions (by about the third song he himself was referencing that ‘a girl he once knew’ was featuring regularly) and a healthy dose of wandering off-stage and around the tables. It was actually impressive he had, right at the beginning of his career, engineered enough stage craft and confidence to pull this off, a real chink of light at the end of the tunnel.
Joel’s voice holds up admirably throughout and beyond some questionable dance moves (somewhere between River Dance and a beetle on its back) every song is nailed and received due applause. At nine songs, it’s one of the longest support slots I’ve ever seen and would have benefited from concentrating on key tracks – less is more and all that but for an evening at least pop music felt like it still had a fighting chance at survival. Joel’s new single, Know Them, is released 28th November.
Need to know
It’s not you it’s me
Just Don’t Know
Joel headlines Manchester Academy 3 in February 2020: https://www.manchesteracademy.net/order/tickets/13350976/joel-rothwell-manchester-academy-3-2020-02-23-19-00-00