Could it be magic? No, it's marketing

 

By rights, we should be talking about how the Arctic Monkeys have stuck it to The Man with their radical and subversive internet campaign.

All that sort of thing. But we're so rock'n'roll crazee around here, in a "let's break all the rulze" sort of way, that we're going to talk about Take That instead. Even going to try to get a dialectic going about whether Arctic Monkeys are more sophisticatedly marketed than Take That ever were.

With their new album chasing up the charts - not new at all in fact, just another collection of greatest hits with some tarted-up, never-heard- before track tacked on at the end - Take That are a timely reminder of the fascinating music industry construct known as "Popenstein".

If you came in a bit late on this, the first perma-grinning and disturbingly stupid Popenstein creations were Menudo, a Puerto Rican boyband who operated a revolving-door policy: once a member hit the age of 16 he was discarded with alacrity and substituted with a gullible 12-year-old. Menudo were a scientific experiment which became the template for those who grinned professionally in their wake. Boyz II Men, Backstreet Boys, 'N Sync, and right up to those heinous modern-day creatures known as McFly.

A fascinating musico- sociological study back in the 1990s found that Popenstein bands lived or died by the frequency with which they included the words "love", "baby" and "heart" in their lyrics. Just taking the first word there, researchers found that Backstreet Boys used it 48 times on one album, while 'N Sync used it 77 times. There was a control group used in the study - namely, Pink Floyd. It transpired that the Floyd used the word "love" a total of zero times in their work.

Further research found that for a boyband to retain and expand on its fanbase, it had to have clearly identifiable characters so as to mop up differing demographic quadrants. Thus, a good boyband (as in commercially successful) would have a stong-but-silent type, a winsome heartthrob type and a goofy-but-appealing joker type.

Before you think this is all very neat and easy, consider the fluidity of certain bands. Take, for example, four very famous young men who used the words love, baby and heart to excess in their lyrics. They had a cute one, a serious one, a goofy one and a quiet one. Young girls screamed hysterically at their shows and their pictures adorned many a bedroom wall. They all dressed the same, had the same prototype haircuts and were told what to say in interviews by their manager. Their name was The Beatles. Before they took to the LSD, obviously.

It's never all what it seems, or as easily predictable as you might think, in the Popenstein world. The most successful writer of songs for boy/girl bands, one Max Martin, used to be in a Swedish death metal band. And the person who wrote all of Atomic Kitten's songs used to be on the indier-than-thou Factory Records label (Joy Division et al) - Andy McCluskey from Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark.

And you think a boyband and a girlband are interchangeable marketing devices? Think again. As McCluskey, who should know, has it: "Girlbands have to survive on instinct, wit, talent and quality of a song. It's a piece of piss in a boyband. You can write the most contrived drivel for them and sell millions because teenage girls are in love with the members."

You could argue the case that the reason Arctic Monkeys got to No 1 in the singles charts was by dint of a shrewder "hit the target market" campaign than Take That would even have dreamed of. Through assiduous use of mailing lists, web links and blogging, these cheeky Monkeys have become the new indie sensations, now being spoken of in the same superlative breath as Franz Ferdinand and Kaiser Chiefs.

It's never what it seems in the music industry, and sometimes it's not even what it seems to seem. One thing we know for sure, though: the release of the new Take That album is conclusive proof that love isn't just blind. It's deaf as well.

bboyd@irish-times.ie