From the London Times: “Reality TV is killing Real Music”

All press / news

This House believes that "Reality TV is killing Real Music"

The Noes won 216 to 122.


Paul McGuinness
Manager of U2.

David Hebworth
Music journalist.

Nick Rhodes
Nick is the keyboardist for Duran Duran and has been with the band throughout its 25-years of success. Duran Duran are currently embarking on their first UK tour since 1984.


Neil Fox
Capital FM music master ‘Foxy’ is currently a judge on ‘Pop Idol’. He has won Seven Sony Awards, three New York World Radio Awards, and the Sony Gold Broadcaster of the Year Award.

Miranda Sawyer, Pembroke
Music journalist.

Badly Drawn Boy
Mercury prize-winner.

Generously sponsored by Natwest,
this debate is in association with MTV.

Thursday, 06 May, 2004
Location: Debating Chamber
Event starts at 8:30pm

Is Pop Idol the death of music?

The academic world pondered the burning issue of the day in the Oxford Union's debating chamber, writes Adam Sherwin.

A DEBATE that has divided living rooms and music industry boardrooms was brought to the hallowed debating chamber of the Oxford Union on Thursday night by two million-selling pop stars, the manager of the group U2 and a judge from the television show Pop Idol. Not all were familiar with Union conventions but the standard of debate was clearly the draw for the 400-strong intellectual elite, who were held rapt by the question of whether television talent shows are killing real music. A modern-day Aretha Franklin or Bob Dylan would be dumped at the first hurdle because they wouldn't pass the television "image" test, the doomsayers said. But the accountants who now run the music industry tell a different story. Last year sales of singles plunged by 30 per cent but records by the winners, losers and rejects of television talent shows accounted for 26 of the top 200 bestsellers. Without the 3.12 million singles sold last year by Gareth Gates and his cohorts, record company balance sheets would make even more depressing reading and there would be less money to invest in discovering talent. The popularity of talent search shows is unquestioned. In the 2001 general election 26 million people voted, while more than 32 million votes were cast in the first series of Pop Idol. MTV produced the debate to accompany yet another music reality show. Breaking Point will reveal the cynical manipulations of executives at Island Records, home of U2, as they create a marketing plan for a new rock band plucked from obscurity.

Damon Gough, a prize-winning songwriter who performs under the name of Badly Drawn Boy, lined up with Neil "Dr" Fox, a disc jockey and Pop Idol judge, to defend the creation of instant stars. Ranged against them were Nick Rhodes, the keyboard player and strategist with the group Duran Duran, and Paul McGuinness, the manager of U2, a rock band whose longevity is the antithesis of fly-by-night Fame Academy starlets. Rhodes gave warning that Britain's reputation as a culturally vibrant musical melting pot is under threat from a surfeit of reality shows. "It is as if we must suffer the Eurovision Song Contest every week," he said. Youth culture had reached a dead end with the Starbucks and Pop Idol generation. Record companies had found a way of shoring up profits but the fast turnover of artists meant that the prize of a No 1 single had been devalued. The songs released were "homogenous garbage" and the artists didn't even get to choose which tracks they sang. "What happens when the Pop Idol producers work their way down the chain and start creating lawyers?" he asked.

Fox countered with an appeal to populism. He said that 15 million people watched Pop Idol and Will Young had sold a million copies of his new album two years after he won. "You can't deny Will is bloody talented and as an openly gay middle class student he hardly fits the profile of an identikit pop idol," he said. McGuinness, who also guides the career of P. J. Harvey, invoked Marx in his analysis of the exploitation of reality pop. He said: "It is reversing the trend begun with the Beatles where the artist seeks to control their music and the means of its distribution. U2 own all their own songs and master tapes because we were determined not to be victims of the industry. But these ghastly miming groups are like contract players in the Hollywood system performing songs the record company controls. And their contracts do not last very long." He lamented a world in which "the lumpen proles are turned into temporary stars using the critiques of Ancient Rome under the gaze of Emperor (Simon) Cowell".

Gough, sporting his "teacosy" hat, beard and well-worn jeans and sneakers, summed up for the Pop Idol team. In 1998 he was skint but borrowed money for a train fare to London. He returned with a Pounds 100,000 cheque and his first record deal."I'm appalled by the idea of a TV talent show but it's what happens afterwards that counts -can they sustain a career?" Without "light and shade" in popular music, Gough said, he would have nothing to "kick against". His views were formulated after a chance meeting with the Pop Idol finalist Darius Danesh on a flight to Iceland. Gough said: "He asked my advice about going on Pop Idol and I said good luck, if it works for you. He has managed to turn it around with his own brand of charm and the public rightly warmed to him."

The Oxford body clearly warmed to Gough's unique debating style. The undergraduates kicked out the motion that television talent shows are killing music by 216 votes to 122.

Damon Gough (Badly Drawn Boy)
Ultimately, I couldn't care less. I suppose I'm here because I am seen as a "real" artist. It's hard enough to get a break in the music industry as it is. If a reality TV singer can sustain a career after winning, then good luck to him. The musical world I live in and the Pop Idol world don't need to meet. Reality pop gives artists like me something to kick against. It's great that Britain gives someone like me the freedom to make a living from music. Let's not get too uptight over a glorified karaoke contest...with my image I would never get past the audition anyway.

Oppose the motion.


Nick Rhodes, Duran Duran
Today we debate whether the European Union is eroding our national identity. But I say we are losing our musical identity under the tyranny of relentless reality pop shows. Everyone in the music business is scared of losing their jobs. Pop Idol is the only way to turn a quick buck. We are told to buy the winner's single to No 1 as if they deserve another prize. But the artists have no say in the songs they record and the music means nothing to people. We just want to move on to the next show. This generation will say to itself in 20 years' time: "We had Pop Idol and Starbucks." A sad indictment