Popular music definitely benefits from a focus in individual artists and groups, but often times music documentaries unnecessarily depict their fans as monolithic.
I love music documentaries, and recently, I watched Long Hot Summers: The Story of The Style Council (2020). While the group does not have the biggest discography, what they did produce is some of my favorite music. Like any good documentary, Long Hot Summers places the group within a context. It took time to explain Paul Weller‘s transition from The Jam, which had a more punk and mod ethos, to the melodic soul that would come to characterize much of The Style Council‘s sound. It also places The Style Council in opposition to other groups of the time. The coverage of The Style Council’s participation in Band Aid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas” philanthropy track and subsequent performance at Live Aid depicts the group as the odd group out when compared to other popular 1980s British groups. Some of the guests for the documentary also made low-key condescending comments that The Style Council’s more more real than some of the more commercial acts, who they see as more superficial.
However, what Long Hot Summers and other music documentaries on pop music tend to do is suggest that audiences are monolithic, only liking the group that forms the focus of the documentary. One question I had coming away from Long Hot Summers was whether The Jam fans ever became The Style Council fans. We know how some people feel, given the lyric in Tears for Fears’ “Sowing the Seeds of Love,” where they implore us to “kick out the Style, bring back the Jam.” But does this hold true for others? I mean, my favorite The Jam songs include “A Town Called Malice” with its combination of featured baseline and organ and “Beat Surrender” with its catchy chorus. I have several The Style Council favorites where they incorporate jazz and soul influences, including “Internationalists,” My Ever Changing Moods,” “Homebreakers,” “Walls Come Tumbling Down,” and “It’s a Very Deep Sea.”
In other words, why don’t we ever consider audiences that cross genres and are fans of multiple genres and multiple artists, even those who seem to be very different? Instead of looking for differences that separate audiences to prove the uniqueness of a group, we could look at things that link audiences. I first encountered The Jam back in the 1980s when MTV had British groups on heavy rotation. But I was (and still am) a huge fan of groups like Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet and others who are considered as radically different from The Jam. I like that whole spectrum.
If The Style Council represents Weller’s exploration of soul and funk, then that would link him to other groups who were also drawing on similar soul and funk sounds but produced really different music. In other words, several British groups of the 1980s draw on soul and funk and sound radically different, but the similar influences can create a fan base in common. The reality is that while the music industry continues to bifurcate pop audiences, music listeners will still listen to what they want and develop their preferences in different ways.
The Myth of the Pop Music Silos by Crystal S. Anderson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.