Monthly Archives: April 2012

THE NEW BOYBAND SOUND


The boyband is back. With The Wanted and One Direction successfully crossing over to America, it made me take a closer look to who’s behind them. No, I’m not talking about Scooter Braun and Simon Cowell. I’m talking about who’s actually behind the music. While we’ve all seen boybands come and go, the writers and producers who create the irresistible pop confections often stick around. The Backstreet Boys and *NSYNC brought us Max Martin. Will the new batch also launch a superstar pop producer for the next decade?

Three producers are responsible for sharping this generation’s boyband sound: Steve Mac, Rami Yacoub, and Carl Falk. It’s no surprise that Yacoub and Falk, like Martin, are Swedes. Scandinavians seem to have a knack for creating irresistible pop melodies and hooks (see also: Robyn, Stargate). Together, Yacoub and Falk produced “What Makes You Beautiful” for One Direction and “Lose My Mind” for The Wanted, among others. For pop fans, Yacoub should be a familiar name. He also helped usher in the teen pop explosion of the late 90s, co-producing songs like “…Baby One More Time” and “Larger Than Life” with Max Martin. However, as the pop/rock sound became more popular, Martin seemingly traded Yacoub for Dr. Luke, and his career cooled off. Never reaching the status of the aforementioned superstar producers, this could be the time for Yacoub to breakout. In addition to his work for One Direction and The Wanted, he’s also recently produced Nicki Minaj’s “Starships,” Nicole Scherzinger’s “Don’t Hold Your Breath,” and The Saturdays’ “White Lies.” In case you haven’t been keeping track, they’re all great pop songs.

Yacoub’s partner, Carl Falk, is a little newer to the scene. Not around for the first boyband influx, Falk began producing for mostly European artists, like Westlife and Dannii Minogue, in the mid-2000s. For the rest of the decade, he collaborated with former boybanders and some artists you’ve probably never heard of. During that time, he also worked with Kristian Lundin, another talented Swedish producer, responsible for songs like “Bye Bye Bye” and “I Want It That Way.” Falk obviously picked up some of those pop sensibilities, and continued to work in Europe, where pop music never goes out of style. However, as pop music has exploded internationally, so have his productions. He’s collaborated with Yacoub on tracks for One Direction, The Wanted, Nicki Minaj, and Taio Cruz.

It would be remiss to acknowledge Yacoub and Falk without also mentioning songwriter Savan Kotecha. Kotecha co-wrote six songs on One Direction’s debut, including three with Yacoub and Falk. Like Falk, Kotecha started working in the industry around the mid-2000s, writing for mostly European artists. Serving as an A&R executive for Simon Cowell’s label, Kotecha has written for many other former X Factor contestants, including Leona Lewis, Alexandra Burke, Cher Lloyd, and Shane Ward. It’s no surprise he’s riding the boyband wave, as his writing style pairs perfectly with bombast pop productions.

While Yacoub, Falk, and Kotecha make a powerhouse pop trifecta, there’s also Steve Mac. Mac scored his first hit single in the UK over twenty years ago and has racked up a number across the pond since then. He’s had some international success with songs like Kelly Clarkson’s “A Moment Like This” and O-Town’s “All Or Nothing,” but has mostly worked with British artists like Boyzone and Westlife. For years, Mac seemed to be the go-to guy for big pop ballads. While that may still be his wheelhouse, as he’s responsible for One Direction’s “Gotta Be You,” his sound has certainly evolved over the past few years. Mac produced The Wanted’s breakout international dance hit “Glad You Came,” along with other electropop influenced tracks for the group, “Lightning” and “Gold Forever.” He also produced Cobra Starship’s “You Make Me Feel…” and upbeat pop hits for The Saturdays and JLS. Already one of the UK’s most successful songwriters and producers, it will be interesting to see if Mac brings his signature sound to more artists as the boyband craze heats up.

Will Rami Yacoub, Carl Falk, and Steven Mac join the ranks of Max Martin, Dr. Luke, and RedOne as go-to pop producers? Although they’ve proved they can bring the heat for boybands, I think it will depend on who else they work with in the meantime. Both Yacoub and Mac are established and have been paying their dues in the industry for years. However, if history repeats itself, One Direction and The Wanted only have a few albums left in them before they embark on solo careers or fade into oblivion. Although Max Martin was racking up the hits with the Backstreet Boys and *NSYNC, he branched out to work with Britney Spears. With boybands making a comeback, the market is ripe for a new female popstar. “Call Me Maybe” proves that female pop will sell, but Carly Rae Jepsen is 26. In order for one of these producers to follow in the footsteps of Martin, their next step is to find a new teen queen that can have some longevity after the boyband bubble bursts. The question is, which one of them will do it?

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Filed under Producers, Songwriters

WHERE HAVE ALL THE GIRL GROUPS GONE?

Last July, I asked, “Where have all the boybands gone?” Nine months later, I think we know the answer to that. Now, I’m left wondering, what about the girls groups?

Pop girl groups usually come off as trampy (The Pussycat Dolls), cheesy (Spice Girls), or a unique combination of both (Danity Kane). That’s not to say they don’t have their place, but they’re much more of a gamble. As long as there are hormone-crazed teen girls, boybands have a market. However, girl groups have to work harder (and make some changes) for that same kind of adoration.

There are a few ways for an ordinary pop girl group to become, well, CrazySexyCool. You can go only go so far with lifting your leg in the air and singing “I’m hotter, more famous, and richer than you” songs. Take, for example, Destiny’s Child and TLC. Both groups were built on female empowerment. From “Independent Women” and “Survivor” to “No Scrubs” and “Unpretty,” they made themselves relatable to female fans. Destiny’s Child and TLC prove that good things come in 3s. Although it took Destiny’s Child a few times to figure that out, three members allows for each to have an identity and not get lost in the shuffle. While boyband members can get by on looks, it’s essential for girls to be able to relate to female group members. Combining pop with R&B also gave Destiny’s Child and TLC some edge. Sure, they had their matching outfits (thank you Tina Knowles) and choreographed dances, but the music was good. Although One Direction has its faux pop/rock and The Wanted is riding the electropop wave, I think the next great girl group will follow in the footsteps of The Supremes, En Vogue, TLC, and Destiny’s Child, with a fusion of pop, R&B, soul, and hip-hop. This will also allow for multi-format radio support–another key to girl group success.

I think the market is ready for another girl group. But, it has to be done right. The perfect girl group is empowering but relatable, sexy without being lewd, and edgy rather than cheesy. Oh, and talented. So, let’s keep partying like it’s 1999 and bring back a girl group to compete with the new batch of boybands.

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Filed under Comebacks, Future