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Irish Times : Welcome to Irish pop’s sellout of the century

mercredi 13 janvier 1999

Source : Irish Times

From The Irish Times :

January 13, 1999 By Tony Clayton-Lea

Welcome to Irish pop’s sellout of the century

The huge success of Irish pop music is essentially a marketing triumph that has little to do with Irish culture, argues Tony Clayton-Lea The line of Irish pop and rock successes is getting longer. Last year witnessed the emergence of one record-breaking Irish pop act, B*witched, and the international commercial consolidation of another, The Corrs. Boyzone raised the ante yet again with a string of chart hits, U2 released the first of a series of Greatest Hits records and Ash, along with U2’s Bono and The Edge, seized the day as well as the youth vote for the Good Friday peace referendum.

Pencilled in for release throughout 1999 are records from The Cranberries, Sinad O’Connor, U2, Enya, a Greatest Hits collection from Boyzone, and (probably) another hat-trick of No 1s from B*witched. What this means is that up to the end of 1999 at least, notwithstanding further success from new Irish acts, the majority of the world will once again be singing an Irish song.

Something is happening here that not even the pop culture pundits of Ireland have been prepared for. Over 20 years ago no one could have predicted that U2 would be so immensely successful. Five years ago The Cranberries were considered shoe-gazing no-hopers.

Four years ago it was difficult (actually, make that impossible) to suppress laughter at the sight of Boyzone on The Late Late Show. Three years ago The Corrs were playing pub gigs in their native Dundalk. This time last year, who outside their record company and families had heard of B*witched ? The people who have (or think they have) their fingers on the pulse of Irish pop culture have too narrow an outlook and too jaundiced a world view. Perhaps they need to align themselves with what is popular as opposed to what is hip.

Then again, perhaps they just don’t like fiddles. In the context of The Corrs and B*witched, who can blame them ?

Not to put too fine a point on it, the use of the fiddle in Irish pop music has got to stop. Depending on which way one looks at it, the appropriation of the fiddle and the sound it makes is either a natural expression and utilisation of Ireland’s rich cultural heritage, or a modern catch-all marketing conceit of the highest order.

In the case of both B*witched and The Corrs, there is an argument for wholesale confiscation of the fiddle. The former’s use of the instrument is tantamount to grand cultural larceny.

One gets the distinct impression that if it wasn’t for Riverdance and Titanic (with the Beatles, Electric Light Orchestra, Take That, songwriters, producers, and astute music marketing managers thrown in for good measure), B*witched would be on a hiding to nothing.

Sure, it’s fun, cheery, cherry-pie pop music with a cheeky grin on its face. But if I hear the term "Celtic hip-hop pop" one more time, I’ll commence proceedings to exhume the body of Sen Riada in order to show his bones part of their legacy.

The Corrs are a different matter altogether. You know they’re famous and have crossed over into the European pan-generational mainstream because they have been parodied on British television by Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders.

The Corrs are easy touches in this regard because they don’t have a hard edge. Everything about them is soft-focus, from the photographs to the music.

The American record company executive who first heard them play in his office must have jumped up in the air, clicked his heels, and shouted a thumping high-five "Yes !" when he signed them to a record deal. But what The Corrs and B*witched have done is more than mere cultural theft. Finally, Irish acts are coming to terms with marketing themselves as viable products of pop, something which many have tried to do in the past but failed.

You would never have seen Rory Gallagher or Phil Lynott bottled as a bona-fide pop product because you felt they would have been severely embarrassed or enervated by the process. Not only was it not the done thing, but it lacked credibility.

Bob Geldof tried his best at the pop star game, but his conscience and lack of complicity clearly got the better of him.

Being put on a pedestal was not important enough for Ireland’s erstwhile superstars - they were too busy looking after the music. The current generation of Irish pop stars has no such misgivings.

Indeed, present-day Irish pop stars seem to thrive on the energy and excitement they exude. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as it shows that as an entity Ireland has lost a certain degree of its own benign humility. It also shows us, however, that Irish pop stars, from Ash to U2, have little or no shame about selling themselves to the highest bidder.

That is greed, self-confidence, honesty, arrogance or a combination of all four. Whatever the reason, we are looking pragmatic hypocrisy straight in the face.

Now that the disposable, occasional brilliance of Irish pop music is a constituent part of the Esperanto of pretty much anyone between the ages of six and 60 who has access to radio or television, there is the need to assess its worth.

A simple question : is it any good ? A simple answer : it depends on whether or not you like it.

The likes of The Corrs and B*witched are, of course, highlighting the commercial face of intrinsically Irish pop music. They are not the first to blend traditional Irish music with current pop forms (Thin Lizzy, Horslips, The Pogues, Marxman, Sinad O’Connor, Martin Okasili and Scary ire, to name but seven, got there first with varying degrees of acceptance) but they are certainly the most successful.

That both The Corrs and B*witched have been embraced by most of Europe and fans farther afield proves once and for all that Irish traditional music has well and truly come out of the closet. It is no longer one of our secret national treasures, something to be dusted off and proudly displayed. It has been assimilated. It tours the world. It wins awards and breaks records. It gets to No 1.

And yet, while the music is readily identifiable, the culture - via words and ideas expressed - is not. While the likes of Irish music artists Gavin Friday and Pierce Turner weave various strands of Irish culture through, generally speaking, un-commercial soundtrack music and song - in the process creating genuine post-modern Irish expression, nuance, and flavour - the Celtic hip-hop pop people extol a somewhat more cut-price, mundane aesthetic.

Welcome to the sell-out of the century.

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