Saturday, 18 July 2009

Little Boots / Perceptions Of Success Part 2

Judging music purely in terms of commercial success is a dangerous and rocky road to go down. Often the lowest common denominator can achieve commercial victory over something more substantial.

But like it or not, commercial success has weight in the music industry. Let’s face it, it’s called an industry for a reason. Industries don’t work if they aren’t making money.

A while ago we talked about perceptions of success in the music industry here, and concluded that even the measurement of commercial success is fraught with difficulties these days. Chart position alone may not necessarily be a true or full representation of the earnings an artist can make due to synchronisation income from ticket sales, merchandising revenue, advertising streams, and even product placements. However, irrespective of this, the charts still play an important part in demonstrating what is endearing itself to the UK population at any snapshot in time - just look at the number of Michael Jackson singles and albums that have re-entered the charts following his death.

So on the basis that the charts have relevance in terms of public popularity, a careful look down this weeks album charts shows us that it seems that an artist that Breaking More Waves first raved about last October and November, predicting that she may be bound for the stars, hasn’t really taken off to the extent that many hoped. Little Boots debut album Hands entered the charts at a reasonably satisfactory number five, but a week later had slipped down to number forty. Now this may be fine for a leftfield indie or rock band with a hardcore fan base developed through gigging and little spent on marketing, but for a pop act with significant exposure and a team behind her this is a dire performance. She now lags behind Fleet Foxes , Lily Allen and The Script who have all had albums out for much longer periods. Her record company must be pretty disappointed. Her biggest success was having the most downloaded free single on I Tunes in the UK - but it was free so commercially this wasn’t a success, although in terms of personal goals Victoria has claimed that all she wants to do is get her music out to people.

Some may say that comparisons by sex are irrelevant, but as both La Roux and Little Boots appeared around the same time, both bringing keyboard wizardry with pop songs, they are inevitable. And right now the score is about 4-1 to La Roux. The evidence is clear - two big hit singles, a number two album (which in any other week would have been number one, except for a certain Mr Jackson deciding spoil the party in a most unfortunate way) and an autumn tour of much bigger venues than Little Boots.

So the question is what has gone wrong ? Why has the music of Little Boots not resonated with the public as much in the UK as La Roux, despite all of the exposure ?

The cynics will simply answer this question by saying “Well, she’s not very good.” But we would disagree. The Little Boots album is by and large a good pop album. (See our review here.) It isn’t perfect, but there’s certainly more melodic and inventive pop tunes on it than the last Girls Aloud or Britney albums (although both of these acts had one big single up their sleeves) We still believe that Hands could have been a bigger success than it appears it will be. So here are the Breaking More Waves top seven reasons why we think Little Boots has not had the commercial success predicted.

1. The most important reason. New In Town was a terrible choice of single - there are far better songs on the album. Without a big lead hit single the public will not part with cash from their pockets. for an album. Compare with La Roux. In For The Kill vs. New In Town. We know which one we’ll be humming at year end.

2. Not only was the single a poor choice, the video was seriously misguided and didn’t suit Victoria Hesketh at all. The geeky bedroom covers videos were much more endearing.

3. Little Boots was marketed to the wrong core audience. In hindsight trying to market pure pop to Guardian readers and the like didn’t work. By pure pop we mean pop that is populist, that sells and has a certain desposability about it. Throughout history pop music is initially purchased by young girls and gay men. From Take That to Kylie Minogue to The Beatles. All of these acts initially had core audiences from one or both of these groups. Then as time goes on, if the artist hangs around long enough, other markets come on board as the artist gains more serious intellectual respect or just high regard for producing a series of classic pop songs (See Madonna, Take That or even Britney as examples.) It seems that Little Boots was initially marketed as ‘cool pop music’ for those of us who like to read Drowned In Sound and Popjustice. Unfortunately, we are in a minority, most audiences fitting into one or either of these groups. It’s a shame, we would have liked to have seen more Future Of the Left / Fleet Foxes / Los Campesinos fans dancing to a bit of catchy electronic pop, but it seems that such fans don’t dance much. Or at least not to Little Boots.

4. Too many electro pop ladies at any one time. Already the backlash against these artists has begun as over saturation of the airwaves occurs. Little Boots had the head start with the BBC Sound Of 2009 Poll putting her in first place and her record company should have been in a position to capitalise on that and push earlier than they did. Another example of the major record companies not being able to adapt quick enough in todays fast moving world.

5. Whilst we are sure that Victoria Hesketh is a nice enough person, and seems pretty determined, the interviews we have seen / read are pretty dull. We want our pop stars to be outlandish, sexy and provocative. We want them to be the kind of people that you fantasise about, that in your dreams you would bed for a night of unbridled passion. Victoria, despite the glittery dresses and cool hair seems more the kind of person that we’d like to go down the pub with (although when we have seen her play live there is a hint of something sexy there.) The golden rule of pop is that sex sells. From Elvis to Lady Gaga, the evidence is there.

6. Following the marketing and projections of Little Boots as just that little bit cool and a little bit geeky as described in 3 above, something went wrong between the low key release of songs such as Stuck On Repeat and Meddle produced by Joe Goddard in 2008 and New In Town. New In Town was too polished, was void of a real melody and lacked character. It therefore alienated much of the fan base that had cottoned on to the quirkiness and difference of tracks such as Stuck On Repeat, but didn't pick up much of the younger teenage market who like artists such as Girls Aloud and the Sugababes.

7. On the basis that there are better songs on the album than New In Town, the album would have been better released after a further single release, in the same way that the La Roux album wasn't released till after the release of Bulletproof, allowing a slightly slower build and her 'true pop' audience to find her.

So, next up for Little Boots is the single Remedy. It's better than New In Town, but with the album now out, will anyone buy it ? One single and a couple of months are a long time in pop music these days and the synth sound it uses is rather too similar to Lady Ga Ga's Poker Face. Has momentum now been lost to the point where dare we say it, by the end of the year Little Boots parts way with her record company ? Or will her fortunes change ? A Mercury nomination would help. Or maybe a heavy reduction in price to possibly assist the album back up the charts for more exposure following the release of Remedy. Or just a single that captures the public imagination - is it too late for a Stuck On Repeat re-release ? Let's just hope that in desperation Ms Hesketh doesn’t choose the celebrity Big Brother option or decide to get her boobs out for a lads mag -although we're sure Victoria has fine boobs, we don't really want to see them.

We’ll have more on Remedy at some point in the future, but for now here’s Little Boots performing the song on the Jonathan Ross show on BBC1.



Fair article with many good points. Perhaps LB just isn't that good. The album was average, a little like her looks. It got panned by many of the main music mags and ultimately that's where a lot of the general public go to see if an albums worth purchasing or not. We can go over and over the intricate reasons why it's not working for her, but if she's so average, perhaps it's a little unnecessary. It's like deliberating on why Ocean Colour Scene never made it like Paul Weller did! Lastly, V V Brown and Marina Diamondis will blow her well out of the park anyways, as their star quality burns much much brighter!!!

Robin said...

Yes this article only really makes any sense if you are of the view that Hands was an above average pure modern pop album. Otherwise if you think it was anything less, then that has to be the main reason why it has dropped so quickly down the charts.

Having said that there are many poor albums that stay at the top end of the charts for a very long time providing they have a couple of killer singles to hook the public in. We're pretty sure if Little Boots had (like La Roux) had those killer singles the album would have done better.

I'm liking the OCS vs Weller analogy Mike ! And as for Marina, there will be plenty more coverage of her over the next few days and months here.

Adam Maunder said...

If I may proffer an opinion:

I live & die for music; it's that & humour that get me through life, so it was with a reasonable amount of interest on my part that I found myself running across Ms. Hesketh on the Holland programme last November - someone who, it seemed merely at first glance, to have a grasp on the limits & possibilities of pop unmatched by anyone else at the moment.

Her performance left me hungry for more, and with the announcement of her topping the BBC's Sound of the Year, success will now surely come!, etc. But you've been through all that. Now onto my main point(s):

I don't, on the whole, tend to go in for much music that is packaged & sold with the express intention of hitting the charts - or at least not today's charts, anyway. My tastes are what tend to be characterised by that curious word 'Catholic'; anything, really, from the classics to jazz, American folk musics (chiefly blues & country), the styles which fuelled the rock 'n' roll explosion (honky-tonk country, and rhythm & blues), rock 'n' roll itself, and its many divergent strands (doo wop, rockabilly, and the myriad others); soul, Jamaican ska & rocksteady, leading onto reggae, the British Beat era, and pretty much everything else which emerged and diversified throughout that extraordinarily fertile period, the 1960s; funk (up to a point), punk and its incumbent 'New Wave'... you name it, there'll be something I like that either everybody or nobody loves or hates. Pop with a distinctly 1980s 'electro/'New Romantic' penumbra has never much cut the mustard for me. So - why then did Little Boots have on me the effects detailed by Johnny Mercer in 'That Old Black Magic' [I'm not typing the whole bloody lyric out here, but it is but a click away:]?

Well... on one level, it's the songs - her angelic whisper wrapped around what are, to me at any rate, deeply affecting, personally wrought songs of relationships & love's effects on the mind, body & soul, matched perfectly by the musical backdrops throughout.

Beyond this, the heretofore-cited 'geekiness' could also account for a personal connection to her music which often eludes me in relation to many others'; could it be that the creations of a self-confessed, 25-year-old bookworm whose existence in a seaside backwater [Blackpool] had till recently consisted of hammering out demo videos of potential hits in her bedroom, have chimed so completely with a self-confessed, 24-year-old bookworm whose existence in a seaside backwater [Swansea] still does consist of common-or-garden bachelor squalor, leavened occasionally by laughter and/or swooning, and more often than not both? Seems entirely likely to me.

I have a feeling that such things might not be entirely irrelevant to the point of this discussion. The often shatteringly personal nature of the material, coupled with an intelligence belying its construction & execution that puts nearly all others whose boats are moored in the same/similar jetties to shame does not necessarily (well, barely ever, let's be honest) equate with commercial success (viz. Jackie DeShannon, for instance); when such elements do combine to break into dollar-infused flame (it's no surprise whatsoever that Kate Bush is possibly her greatest inspiration), those artists enjoy a furious fanbase without especial financial remuneration to show for it.

A fairly common story, then, but, as you say: it needn't necessarily be so...

Breaking More Waves Blog said...

Hi Adam, thanks for your long and well written comment. I'm afraid I'm not going to answer with anything quite as erudite.

If you haven't done so take a look at the other blogs I've posted about Little Boots over the last year. You will see at times I have been quite delirious about her songs, and at other times have felt a little let down. I'm glad you've found something that moves you in her music.

I'm sure if Victoria was to read your post she would feel that her music had been a 'success' on a personal level, being deeply affecting for you.

This is what the two blogs on success I uploaded have been trying to do. To define different types of 'success.' Little Boots may not have had no.1 hit singles (although Remedy did reasonably well) but one may still consider her music 'successful' if she moves people in the way you describe.