From Katy Perry playing a brace-wearing teenager who accidentally throws the party of the decade in her video for ‘Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F)’ to vintage T-Swifty hit ‘You Belong With Me’, in which she plays a bookish clarinet player who bags the hottest boy at school with her wit, charm, charisma and talent, relatability has been a recurring trope in pop music for years.
And I’m not against it. It’s fun to imagine chart topping titans singing into hair brushes in their bedrooms: just like us, but far more talented. It’s always nice to see a human side of an arena-baiting powerhouse full stop: when we saw the aforementioned Taylor Swift mushed on painkillers and sobbing over a banana after laser-eye surgery, it was a surreal insight into a person who we rarely get to know on an everyday level, most of the time.
And when the world learned that Rihanna “loves” the British pharmaceutical chain Boots, we all lost our shit. The idea of somebody like Rihanna – who surely glides through the mortal world on grill-defying stilettos – snapping up a meal deal and some throat lozenges was just too good to be true. Once fans spotted a Sainsbury’s bag for life propped up in one of her Instagram stories, it was game over for all other productivity that day.
.@fentybeauty is officially taking over the UK! I’m here to announce our brand new partnership with @BootsUK !! Look out for us at locations from MAY 10th !! I’m so excited, I love Boots and I love my UK fans!!! Get ready for #FENTYBEAUTYxBOOTS !! 🇬🇧🇬🇧🇬🇧 pic.twitter.com/1ojLL98fzb
— Rihanna (@rihanna) May 3, 2019
Being skeptical for a second, and relatability is increasingly used as a marketing ploy elsewhere. A brief glimpse into the more mundane aspects of a superstar’s life is usually great fun: purely because it’s strange and disconnected from who they are on stage. But in the case of Ed Sheeran and Rag’N’Bone Man, who have both successfully built their careers on being the regular guy who hit the big time, that playful tension just isn’t there.
James Bay has managed to forge an entire persona around having – or not having – a hat. Lewis Capaldi has committed hard to taking the piss out of himself as his life’s calling, so much so that he named his debut album ‘Divinely Uninspired To A Hellish Extent’. Actually, Calpadi can have a free pass for this one – the friendly and mocking undertones of his previous ‘faux-beef’ with Noel Gallagher makes me want to buy him several pints, and I bet we’d have a really nice time at the pub.
But on the whole, down-to-earth relatability is not what I want from my favourite pop stars. Give me over-the-top ridiculousness and extra antics any day. I’m talking about trained gymnast and pop powerhouse Normani somersaulting several consecutive times without breaking a sweat, before casually doing the splits and busting out vocal acrobatics, simultaneously.
Or take Lizzo, bursting out into an extended burst of jazz flute in the middle of her own show, before yelling “BITCH!” into her instrument’s mouthpiece to hammer the point home even further. Show me overblown music videos with the ambition of an entire heist thriller crammed into a couple of minutes (props to you, Kesha). You can keep your acoustic ditties about supermarket flowers and liking Nandos: I’d much rather witness FKA twigs whirling incredibly sharp swords around her own head mid-performance, after painstakingly learning the martial art of wushu over several months.
Part of the magic of pop is how it transforms things: the very best can make light appear from dark places. With a banger like ‘Irreplaceable’ by your side, the fact you’ve been sobbing into a pile of snot-covered tissues for approximately five hours suddenly feels like a situation that can eventually be handled. Try running for a bus that you’ve almost certainly missed with ‘Survivor’ by Destiny’s Child blaring through your headphones, and I’ll guarantee that you’ll feel like one of Charlie’s Angels within the first four bars. No matter what steaming, stinking turd life sends your way, having a bash at the choreography from ‘Baby (One More Time)’ will improve things tenfold, even for just a few minutes.
On a very good day, my greatest talent is knowing which end of the Jubilee line stops nearest the platform exit, and I don’t need that drab, distinctly mediocre energy in my pop music. Instead, I want Mariah Carey visibly grimacing while pretending to nibble a Walkers crisp like a ‘normal person’ and getting paid £9mi in the process. I want P!nk swinging upside down from a trapeze while singing ‘So What’ and Grace Jones hula-hooping for ten minutes straight while inexplicably wearing a strap-on. Keep your authentic relata-pop: I’ll take high in the sky silliness over ‘down to earth’ any day.