Styles & Forms | Noughties Pop

Although boy bands and girl bands held sway over anglo-American pop for much of the 1990s, the end of the decade witnessed the return of the individual artist. While the likes of *NSYNC, Blue and Sugababes continued to fly the flag for groups, artists such as Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and Pink emerged as arena-filling soloists.

The soaring popularity of R&B continued to leave its mark on the charts, with many pop acts making much use of tight harmonies, smooth melodies, streetwise beats and raunchy choreography.

The period also saw huge hits for a succession of performers who had found fame as members of groups. Take That’s Robbie Williams, *NSYNC’s Justin Timberlake, Destiny’s Child’s Beyoncé Knowles, The Spice Girls’ Geri Halliwell and Boyzone’s Ronan Keating were now stars in their own right. But perhaps the most significant development in early twenty-first-century pop was the increasingly powerful role of television in making and breaking stars.

The Small Screen Comes To The Fore

Having been an important player in the music business since Elvis’s scandalous appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1956, television widened its influence in the 1980s with the introduction of MTV and the subsequent rise of the music video. In 2001, however, the partnership entered a new era with the launch of Popstars.

Tapping into the British public’s increasingly rabid obsession with both celebrity and reality TV, the show tracked thousands of young hopefuls as, through a merciless sequence of auditions, they were whittled down to a final line-up of five members. Myleene Klass, Kym Marsh, Suzanne Shaw, Danny Foster and Noel Sullivan adopted the name Hear’Say, and millions of viewers watched as they were groomed for stardom and recorded a debut single, ‘Pure And Simple’. Crossing the identikit harmonies of Westlife with the bouncier grooves of S Club 7, it went straight to No. 1 in 2001.

Critics accused Popstars of stifling creativity with unadventurous songs and formulaic marketing, as well as exploiting the power of television to line the pockets of its creators. Hear’Say certainly proved to be a short-lived sensation. Marsh left the band in 2002 and they split later in the same year, having plunged from being media darlings to hate figures in the space of 12 months.

But the format remained a hugely popular one with the public. In 2002, Popstars was followed by Pop Idol, a series that shifted the focus from groups to solo performers and allowed viewers to vote on who should win. Fourteen million people saw the vote go to Will Young, whose popularity looks set to far outlast that of Hear’Say. Blessed with a muscular, soulful voice, he breathed life into ‘Evergreen’, the uninspiring Westlife ballad with which he made his (inevitably chart-topping) debut in 2002. Young also resisted efforts to package him as an anodyne pop clone, becoming one of the first pop stars to be openly gay from the...

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Source: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music, general editor Paul Du Noyer


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