This was to be a lesson in popular culture, as much as a lesson in pop gigs. There were no check shirts or beards in sight, just hoodies and pink jeggings. Steve Lamacq was nowhere to be seen, and I stood alone in bewilderment at who all these people were, whilst my companion was being recognised my twitter followers she’d never met. This was gonna be tough.
Following an introduction by some guy with a microphone and an appalling grasp of the English language, Jessie J (real name Jessie Cornish), arrives on stage at London’s Scala to a relatively subdued crowd that have waited just weeks to see her. Obsessive fandom this is not, at least not yet. Her sudden appearance as 2011’s certified pop star means that most in the room had probably never heard of her before her YouTube performances started gathering interest and the major label cog began turning in November last year. She’s a big deal already, but the general public hasn’t been told yet as, in their eyes, she’s yet to earn the right. The hype has raised expectancy levels sky high, and it shows. As King Henry VII infamously said in 1497, “Bring it on, Cornish.”
J is born for the stage, and fills it effortlessly. By rights she’s Billericay’s town cryer, but she’s brimming with such personality and raw talent that Essex has been left far behind. The backing music is exactly what’s expected and required; a sparse, forgettable wall of hooks and synths meant for an arena that hasn’t arrived yet, with 4 glamorous others playing to a backing track. None of this matters though, because J’s voice is the star of the show, and is undeniably fantastic. It swoops and dives around the impeccably catchy melodies, several of which have the chance to be huge hits.
Between song banter is hilarious, deflecting attention away rather than absorbing it (a tactic that will keep her sane on her journey to stardom). But when J strays to more serious matters, it’s evident she has nothing but clichéd advice to offer. But so what? She may have nothing to say, but at least she has a way of saying it. This critical attribute so bereft in UK artists such as Ellie Goulding (in attendance tonight because nobody told her this lesson can’t be learned) is what sets lasting pop stars apart from the disposable ones.
But assuming you have a voice and some songs, it’s all we need. It’s too easy to dismiss the music for its lack of originality, the songs for their predictability, or J herself for the complete lack of depth and sincerity to her singing voice. Dismissing pop for not being genuine is to attack it’s inherent beauty, akin to dismissing indie for being self-involved, hip-hop for inflating ego’s, dance for its predictable euphoria, or R’n’B for being, well, shit (warning – generalisations present).
Pop doesn’t want to focus inward. Pop exists for the listener to live their life through the music by planting their own joys, hopes, insecurities and anxieties to it, which is far easier to do when offered a blank emotional canvas. If you prefer music to offer something, this isn’t for you. But if you want music that can miraculously mean the world to a room full of strangers within 3 minutes, then Jessie J will be your best option this year.