Eimear Hurley takes a look at some of the former pop bands trying to take back their success.
I am slowly recovering from a heart-breaking revelation. Having grown up in the ’90s, I held precious music-memories of sugary pop ballads and cheesy dance numbers, of young stars prancing around on stage in PVC costumes and divulging their most intimate secrets in Smash Hits! It was a strange and wonderful time for pop music, and one which I had hoped to leave behind me along with my hairbands and mood rings. Yet, when the news reached me that S Club, one of my favourite groups from my tweens was reuniting, I was ecstatic. I thought that maybe all seven members would get back together again, and that they’d have a new album full of mature and well-produced material to delight old fans and new. Alas, S Club 3 (formerly known as S Club, formerly known as S Club 7) proved to be a bitter disappointment. It really was hard to decide, as I watched them perform ‘Don’t Stop Movin’’ on a morning TV show, what part of this sight was the sorriest: the false smiles through which the familiar verses emerged; the singers’ struggle through versions of the dance routines they used to breeze through ten years before; or the sheer despair of the fact that these were the only three of the original seven enthusiastic (or broke) enough to put themselves through this.
For every new act coming onto the scene today, it seems that there’s a group from a previous era trying to get another bite of the cherry. The past five years alone have seen the re-emergence of Take That, Boyzone, The Spice Girls, The Beach Boys, S Club (kind of), Steps, Black Sabbath, Blink 182, Blue, Pulp, The Libertines, No Doubt, The Stone Roses, The Police, and Blur. So what is the meaning of this wave of nostalgia consuming the music industry? It’s difficult not be cynical and suppose that money is the main motivation behind it. The recession has hit musicians of today as well as those of yesteryear, and during these tough times, crowds are often more likely to cough up the cash for a ticket to see the band they loved when they were seventeen than one whose album was released on download last week. They know, too, that young fans who never got to see their favourite bands play live will buy tickets in their thousands. These poor kids are the most likely to be disappointed if the gig doesn’t match the quality of the music safely preserved on their iPods, but that isn’t really a concern of most aging popstars.
Comebacks are risky ventures, though, because a band’s legacy is, ultimately, all it has. Steps may have to learn this the hard way. When they disbanded in 2001, their official statement explained that they wanted to go out on the top of their game, and to have their fans remember them in their prime. Now they are back, and if you haven’t seen the footage already, it is cringey, to say the least. And so, the squeaky clean image that they managed to create in the past is at risk of being marred forever. The ’90s was a forgiving time for vocal artists, with shows placing more emphasis on dance routines and impractical costumes than live performance. Now, unfortunately for Steps, we don’t look so kindly on lip-syncing as we did then.
Reunions are infamously difficult to orchestrate, because bands have a nasty habit of ending on bad terms. People part ways for valid reasons, and although they might romanticise the past, old wounds are quick to re-open. After the Police’s reunion tour ended in 2008, Sting likened the experience to going back to a dysfunctional marriage, and remembering why it ended in the first place. Simon and Garfunkel probably have the right idea, with one joining the other periodically to play some of their classics and let the crowd share in a nugget of nostalgia, and then both part company again and get on with being just Simon or Garfunkel.
For a reunion to be worthwhile, a group has to offer old and new fans alike something new. Woody Allen aptly noted that a romantic relationship is ‘like a shark: it has to constantly move forward or it dies,’ and the same goes for creative relationships. Take That’s metamorphosis from a ’90s boy-band into a credible, modern ‘man band’ has proven that one group can top the charts over two decades. They know that their fanbase has grown up, and that picking up where they left off in 1996 would not earn them any new followers. Essentially, there has to be an element of unfinished business. In order to compete with bands who maintain their standards and relevance year after year, reunions have to be exciting and genuine. Except for the Wombles, because that just never gets old.