The all-singing, all-dancing male heartthrobs are fast becoming a thing of the past. For this week's edition of your favourite pop column, Douglas Greenwood asks: has the vulnerable male ego forced lads to make 'real music' instead?
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I want to make something clear: the acoustic guitar has single-handedly ruined pop music for men. Today, I look around and pray that the remnants of our favourite male pop stars are still lying around somewhere, waiting to be resurrected into a next generation Bieber or Timberlake. Someone who’s well versed in the art of killer choreography. Someone who can proudly don a headset microphone and an outfit they absolutely, categorically did not choose for themselves.
Nowadays, men seem far too fragile to embrace the camper side of pop. With the exception of the queer pop elite (thank fuck for artists like Troye Sivan, MNEK and Years & Years’s Olly Alexander), most men are not going through a musical maturation in the public eye: they enter, whining about their past woes while playing acoustic guitar tracks so painfully mundane they bore the masses into liking them. Having flare, in the modern age of the male pop star, has all but disappeared.
This year’s gaggle of ‘hot new artists’ – the likes of Lewis Capaldi, Tom Walker, Sam Fender – are hardly revolutionaries when you look at what the world seems to expect from the male pop stars of the past half decade, when Ed Sheeran, Jack Garratt and James Bay suddenly sprouted up. They brought with it a kind of reliable and inoffensive blueprint that everybody – from children, to mothers, to grandparents – could buy into. Commercially, this gaggle of straight white men are seen as the most viable commodities; there’s no need to go through that crowd-winning, glitzy and exciting – if far more divisive – pop star phase anymore, when you can be scooping awards and love from industry gatekeepers from the moment you step on the scene.
So where to now? Are we just accepting that the world doesn’t want another early 00s Timberlake? Or can we find it within ourselves to give one more of that crowd a chance?
For one, we need to diversify the state of mainstream music as it is: let those aforementioned queer voices step forward a little more, and champion male musicians of colour who, historically, have had far more interesting things to say and far better ways of saying them. America’s last remaining great male pop entity seems to be Bruno Mars: a man whose definition of cool is far more alluring than the stoic wankery of Britain’s current crop. He’s a showman with a solid voice – where’s our version?
It’s our responsibility to find it, but embers of that far more intriguing template are rising up. A modest pop lad who has the capabilities of making it big, young Londoner Moss Kena seems to exist outside of that straight-laced, sentimental gaggle of guys, and is making a name for himself by tapping into his greatest asset: his voice.
A killer falsetto; a penchant for R&B and house beats; co-signs from artists like Kendrick and Toddla T – what Moss Kena has earned by rejecting the expectations for blokes in pop music today is his own lane that could see him doing incredible things in future. He has a new single out on Friday called ‘Be Mine’ that is – and I don’t say this lightly – an absolute fucking bop. He could, in theory, be the successor to Sam Smith, only with less balladry and more Calvin Harris-y electro-pop bangers. Pay him dust and I will ensure you feel the repercussions.
So yep, with lads upon lads laying on the cloying emotional crap through wailing vocals and acoustic guitars, living embodiments of ‘Anyway, here’s Wonderwall’, isn’t it time that we take a step back and figure out what the fuck is happening to our male pop stars? It’s our duty to push for colour, eclecticism and daring new stars who can proudly rock a headset mic. We want them. We need them.