Last Saturday night I found myself in the giant bread basket that is Wembley Stadium. Well, I say “found myself”- I had been offered a ticket and jumped at the chance. I was there to see Take That Mk 2, the “man band” version of the four chaps who had so captivated me aged 12.
On either side of me were pink cowboy hats, the occasional set of light-up deelyboppers, t-shirts proclaiming “I love Howard”. But two things were very strange. First of all, there was no screaming; people applauded politely, they sat down during the quiet tracks, nobody cried and rent their garments. Secondly, the audience was, well it wasn’t just teenage girls (which admittedly would have been a little strange when the Thats probably have an average age of 40 now). It was mums and dads, teenage sons, grandmothers, the sort of people who wouldn’t have been seen dead (or possibly weren’t even born) at a TT gig the first time round.
So if the best boyband ever are now a “family” act making ads for M&S, who are girls going to scream at now?
It’s hardly a pressing question, but a curious one; once upon a time, the opportunity to shriek at a bunch of unthreatening oafs in co-ordinated polyester was a rite of passage somewhere between ponies and A-levels. Is loving the likes of the Bay City Rollers, David Cassidy or Blue no longer a milestone on the adolescent girl’s path from innocence?
A quick look at the pink racks of girls’ mags in the newsagents suggests so. The selection (Go Girl!, Shout, Mizz, Girl Talk, Bliss) are mini versions of women’s mags, with Heat-style “sack the stylist” features and obsessing over Jen and Angelina. What is also noticeable is that the boys featured (Zac Efron and the Jonas Brothers) are completely outnumbered by the gobby, brilliant, strident likes of Lily Allen, Lady Gaga and Girls Aloud, plus Miley Cyrus, Taylor Swift and the Saturdays. It seems girls are loving girls again.
Which is great, of course; arguably year Doom for boybands was 2002 when Girls Aloud beat One True Voice on “Pop Stars: The Rivals”, proving that spunky girl pop is miles better than drippy ballads. Telly viewers saw the sitting on stools and key changes for the formulaic manipulative crap they are and voted with their feet (or thumbs).
But when a bunch of celibate boys (or a hot vampire who pushes away his ardent girlfriend) are your only lust objects, where are girls going to safely learn about all that stuff like unrequited love, dreamy eyes and squirmy feelings? Without getting too Daily Mail, perhaps they are much more advanced than I ever was and are actually getting out there and meeting Real boys.
Or more likely, they’re just not interested any more. Times have changed. The conveyor belt of reality TV-spawned music acts means that no sooner is George the dancing boy the new hot thing then he is replaced by the next one. It’s not easy to fall in love with a group of poptarts if no magazines want to cover them after their time has passed, and it’s no longer lucrative to bring out a Christmas annual (sample interview qu: “What does Mark look for in a girlfriend?”).
And also, technology means that net-savvy kids are able to find out about, and download, more new music than ever, whether legally or not. You’re not going to listen to the equivalent of “Everything Changes” 400 times if you’ve downloaded one track each from 50 different artists.
Or perhaps it’s just that kids are cooler these days. The line-up for this year’s Underage Festival includes the Pigeon Detectives, Mystery Jets, the Horrors, Golden Silvers and a long list of trendy bands I am too old to know about. “Top of the Pops” is dead, but a bunch of street dancers won “Britain’s Got Talent”.
So is that it for boybands? Perhaps not. At the end of my row at the Take That gig were two 12 or 13-year-olds. They didn’t know Do What U Like or even Back for Good, but they did know Patience. Perhaps it’s only time before someone, possibly Simon Cowell, taps into that boyband magic again . . .