Whatever Happened To Mystique In Music?

Lana’s teased the world into a cold sweat, The Weeknd won’t do interviews, WU LYF are revealed as normal. Where does that leave music’s sexiest ingredient… mystique?


“These days you can see fucking Johnny Borrell in his pants going through the bass parts, and that just strips away the magic. Everyone just wants more and more information. All the fantasy’s gone out of music, ’cos everything is too fucking real. It makes people seem too human, whereas I was brought up on Marc Bolan and David Bowie, and it was like, ‘Do they actually come from Mars?’


The words there, in 2006, of then-noted-internet-phobe Noel Gallagher. People scoffed at the time, called him a granddad and a luddite. But as we head into 2012 – even he now armed with an iPad – it seems you cannot move online for people fretting about the death of mystique, and a lot of the time it’s people who only months previously were gleefully lifting lids. The Guardian for example: in April they were “outing” WU LYF after less than 12 gigs and one single as puppets of a renowned creative agency head; by the end of the year they were – in the face of the brutally swift and efficient online demystification of the girl on this week’s NME cover – bemoaning “what is pop if not a theatre of dreams in which David Jones from Brixton can reimagine himself as a gay alien?”

They were not alone in their Lana/Bowie analogy. Village Voice: “Imagine a ’69 internet reacting to David Bowie’s breakthrough with ‘Space Oddity’ – a single as mannered, languid, and beguiling as ‘Video Games’, and a performer as in love with artifice and with plenty of past to dig up. Would his career have benefited from blogs tearing apart his inconsistency and torrents bundling his hit with ‘The Laughing Gnome’?”

Answer? He would have done what the trailer park-berthed Lana Del Rey had no choice but to do when quizzed about being plain ol’ Lizzie, daughter of a “domain investor” whose adopted identity – or “rebranding”– was the work of a committee of suits, or WU LYF were forced to do when their bandanas were prematurely forced off. He would have protested that he was just a regular guy, who likes dressing up and making music.


Infographic – The Rise Of Lana Del Rey

It is, for those who like a bit of old-world mystique with their music, a now-very apparent problem. At present, everyone – everyone – in music journalism is trying to secure an interview with The Weeknd. He is ignoring the requests, probably because he knows that all he is going to be asked is, whether lines like “Bring your love, baby, I can bring my shame/Bring the drugs, baby, I can bring my pain” are really him, or just pretending. Likely of course, he is pretending, and when he does do an interview – which he will – he will be pressed endlessly on snippets of found info about his normal former life and just go, “Look, I’m just a regular guy who likes dressing up and making some music.”


Remember how much more exciting Burial was when he wasn’t just another beanie-hat-wearing anono-dude crate-digger? Even he, in a “rare” interview, said, “I love old jungle and garage tunes, when you didn’t know anything about them, and nothing was between you and the tunes. I liked the mystery; it was more scary and sexy.” That was in 2007.

But it’s way too late to go back, of course. It’s a part of the process. An old interview with the mum of The Vaccines’ Freddie Cowan about the £2.5m house he used to live in; Brother formerly playing in an emo band; Tyler, The Creator being revealed as having gone to a very nice school indeed; The Drums’ shady past in super-corporate indie types Elkland; Fred from Spector being the son of a guy auditing the Queen’s accounts. Nowadays it is standard interview practice to demystify.


No-one pre-2004-ish got their past dredged up too much, and even if they were pressed could sidestep it – as Pete Doherty did in the first NME Libs feature – with a blasé “the past is such a web of shadows and lies, it’s difficult to pinpoint exact dates.” All that stuff about living in brothels? It would have been replaced by the boring, dredged-up truth by the time ‘What A Waster’ had been released. Doherty would have been asked over and over until he cracked into the regular guy schtick:

So Pete, why did you say you were a rentboy when really you had a temping job in an office?

And it’s getting harder and harder, so people are resorting to more extreme measures. It’s got to the point where some music industry type rang me the other day, and said he had some band that were gonna “blow my head off”. I asked what they were called. He said he couldn’t tell me. I asked him to send me some tunes, even if anonymous. He said he couldn’t. I asked where they were from, he told me some far-fetched nonsense, which sounded amazing. I asked him to play me a bit down the pho… OK, you get the idea. It ended with me eventually getting a little bit excited, and him saying I could come and watch them practice soon.

I will, but really, how fucking good are they gonna have to be to live up to these concocted expectations? Better than any band who are (probably about) a dozen gigs into their “career” ever has been before, that’s for sure.

This article originally appeared in the January 28th issue of NME

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