On The Guardian website Miranda Sawyer campaigns for a return of Top of the Pops. Unfortunately she spoils a good argument with the mistaken opinion that The Mercury Music Prize represents the sole valid alternative to Simon Cowell’s X-Factor, and they are the only two games in town.
I’m not sure if the Top of the Pops format will work today, but we desperately need something to reverse the situation in the past decade whereby the general music-buying population is more or less completely cut out of the loop in determining which records and artists become successful.
With records played to death on the radio before they’re even released, we’ve reached the point where everything mainstream audiences get to hear is decided in advance by a very small number of elite tastemakers from the record companies and the media. The Mercury Music prize gives every appearance of being run by this same clique.
What was great about TOTP was the way it used a strict formula based on chart position to decide who appeared on it – nobody got vetoed because a clique of cloth-eared idiots from BBC light entertainment thought they didn’t fit the show’s format. If enough fans went out and bought the record, they got on. So we had Mötorhead on prime-time TV playing “Ace of Spades”, something which would be unthinkable now.
What’s very notable is the way the BBC marginalises genres like metal, jazz, blues or folk, despite their popularity up and down the country, in favour of various flavours of ‘indie’, which is all they think exists as an alternative to X-Factor pop. Yes, they might do the odd BBC3 documentary, but they tend to be very nostalgia-orientated, and don’t feature up and coming acts. Look at their festival coverage. For example, there was an eclectic mix of artists at Glastonbury this year, but you’d never have known it from the bands shown on TV.
Maybe genres have become so fragmented in today’s net-connected multi channel world that a crossover hit like “Ace of Spades” simply isn’t possible any more. But surely the best music of all genres deserves better than being trapped in separate musical ghettos?