Snap, Crackle And The Ideology of Pop #11

by Srinandini Mukherjee

Out of all the ridiculously-obscure Buzzfeed quizzes I have ever come across, there’s one that I haven’t forgotten – it was titled, ‘Can You Tell Who the Band Is Minus the Lead Singer?’ It has stuck with me because despite being an avid listener of multiple pop bands, the quiz was embarrassingly difficult to complete. And evidently, I wasn’t alone. Nowadays, unless you’re a major fan, it’s pretty hard to tell who plays for which band behind the lead singer, let alone what instruments they play.

It wasn’t always like this, was it? A few decades ago, regardless of whether you were a fan of a band, you either knew all the members, or none at all. People recognized Paul McCartney and George Harrison just as much as John Lennon. Isn’t that the way it’s supposed to be? A band is meant to be a group of musicians, all of whom have their moments to shine with their instruments in the music they make. When you hear compositions from other genres, it’s obvious that each musician within a band is essential to the piece they’re playing, and that they usually have a significant contribution towards it. In pop however, the bands themselves seem to promote the current situation- the lead singer is often shown more prominently in photographs, tracks usually have mellow backing music, where no instrument stands out while the lead singer shows off his vocal range, and even when they perform live, the biggest cheer goes up upon the arrival of the lead singer onstage. It’s no secret that Adam Levine is the identity of Maroon 5 to such an extent that he alone features in most of their videos.

I’m not sure why most current bands seem to voluntarily showcase the lead singer while the instrument players stand in the shadows- maybe it’s a reflection on what pop music has become? Raw instruments themselves have taken a backseat in recent years, replaced by synth beats and autotune. A band is meant to be made up of various kinds of instrumental talent, but the only element that the industry still seems to somewhat value is the voice- everything else has become replaceable with technology. Hence, maybe listeners don’t pay a lot of attention now to what the rest of the band members have to contribute.

It is arguable, however, that this is mainly an issue for pop-rock groups. Ever since the 90s, the more mainstream pop-dance groups have been using an irrefutable solution to combat the changing times - vocal bands. From Spice Girls to Little Mix, we have a group of singers and singers only, performing to a catchy backing track. And in some way, they did succeed - fans seem to lavish their attention equally on all members of these groups without wondering about the origins of the music accompanying the vocals. As someone who is pretty pessimistic about the current state of the charts, I have to say, this might be a convenient loophole for the bands themselves, but it has led us to the kind of tracks we find far too often in the Top 40 today - repetitive, bland tracks about breaking up, going out, or being in love, which are all beyond interchangeable. None of these vocal bands really have an identity of their own and they all sound more or less alike: to be honest, I’m sure if we asked someone who had never heard neither NSYNC nor the Backstreet Boys to listen to a few tracks from each and distinguish between them, they would have a pretty hard time completing the task.

Nevertheless, to conclude on the original issue of this column- I have seen that when interviewed, a lot of pop artists humbly say something along the lines of, “Well, the only thing that really matters to me is my music, I don’t care about the fame…”. I can only hope that this statement is genuinely true for all the wonderful musicians and band members that are left in the dark while their lead singer enjoys the limelight.