Thursday, 31 January 2013

What the slam dunk da funk was that about?

I guess, when done right, reunions can be a lucrative business. There's the ticket sales, repackaged greatest hits and merchandise to consider. Then, if you're lucky, a reality TV gig, as the camera crew waits patiently to discover which of you will be the first to pull a knife. We've seen it with Take That, the Spice Girls and Steps - all of whom reformed with varying degrees of success. The lads emerged as better band than they were first time round, the Spices proved that all that 'solidarity of sisterhood' stuff was just lazy sloganeering, and the Steps reunion was a masterclass in passive-aggressive recriminations.

So I guess we shouldn't blame ITV2 for trying to get in on the action, or for hedging their bets by reuniting six fractured groups in a single show. There's certainly an abundance of material to work with, as the six bands in question have got enough issues between them to sustain a couple of years of Jeremy Kyle.

What they don't seem to have, depressingly, is any kind of enthusiasm for music. Money, drugs and unscrupulous record producers are what we're really here to talk about. And it's a real shame, since it effortlessly validates all those people who turn their nose up at pop music as a cynical marketing exercise. By the time one of the girls from B*Witched admits "We were just a product," I'm slapping my forehead so hard I need to fashion a bandana out of a tea-towel in order to mask the bruising.

Despite all this, we've got Andi Peters to talk us through it, stumbling through a relentless barrage of laboured puns, as if he'd rather be back in the broom cupboard talking to a hand-puppet. Also, every tenth word is interrupted with a DRAMATIC THUNDERCLAP to subtly suggest that there may be trouble ahead. Five minutes in and already it's clear that this is going to be a mash-up of the Smash Hits Poll-Winners' Party and a depressingly melodramatic VH1 Behind The Music marathon.

So which "iconic music acts who once had the world at their feet" are we going to be rediscovering? Over the next few weeks we can look forward to being reacquainted with 5ive, Liberty X, Atomic Kitten, 911, B*Witched and The Honeyz. Andi tries to get us excited by reeling off some admittedly impressive sales statistics, but in spite of the numbers, this doesn't feel like a momentous pop happening. None of these were ever music groups in the conventional sense - it's almost as if they were formed simply to give Cat Deeley something to introduce on a Saturday Morning. And while there's never a shortage of 'I'll do anything in front of a camera' drama, whenever Kerry Katona's involved, it's hard to imagine that anyone's going to wear out the record button on the Sky remote when we get to The Honeyz' big night.

The format of the show is simple. Each week we'll catch up with a couple of the reformed groups, then we'll see them getting ready for a massive one-off concert at Hammersmith Apollo. Along the way, we're promised recriminations, shocking confessions and horse tranquilisers. Oh, and if you've ever looked in the mirror and pulled at the loose skin on your face in an attempt to look younger, this show will make you feel like Dorian Gray. Some of these guys are barely in their early thirties, and yet they look more like they're waiting for Michael Apted to pop round for the next episode of Seven Up.

The story of 5ive is a story of excess, tension and Simon Cowell's love of the audition process. Five young lads were recruited through the trade press, stuck in house that could have been on the Brookside estate, and encouraged to make as much trouble as possible. With a selection of Swedish power pop under their belts, the lads went from strength to strength, despite the fact that the group's token hard-case apparently wanted to knock their lights out. As it happens, J has decided he wants no part of the group anymore, leaving the rest of the lads to either recruit a new member or commission a designer to see if he can knock up a new logo for a group called 4our. The years haven't been kind to the group - cheeky chappy Abz has turned into the Childcatcher, and Richie moved down-under to perfect his wide-eyed Boy George impression. Cheeky Essex chappie Scott marvels at their early success: "Number one and number two - you do the math." Erm, three? Although they managed to knock up millions of sales and even opened the Brits alongside Queen, tensions within the band reached breaking point. Sean felt too sick to continue, so he was replaced with a cardboard cut-out for the next video. Maybe it says something about the boys' inherent star quality, but I swear it's the first time I actually noticed he only existed in two dimensions.

Liberty X's own story has a similar range of highs and lows. To be fair, they didn't get off to the best of starts, as the people who failed to make it into Hear'Say. Imagine taking that to your therapist. Weirdly, as we watch the highlights of their journey on the original Popstars, I find myself more interested in whatever happened to Nicki Chapman. After the initial disappointment of being labelled 'The Flopstars,' our plucky wannabes declared their intention to form a band on the Lorraine show, and were quickly snapped up by Richard Branson. Unfortunately, the songs were shit, Michelle got addicted to slimming pills, and Kevin was downing three double vodkas just to handle the rigours of CD:UK. The highpoint of their career was obviously their first number one, since Just A Little Bit was a bona fide pop classic. The problem is, it was hard to warm to them as a group. The boys couldn't have been more generic if they were made out of Lego, and the girls always had a slightly menacing edge to them - if they weren't on Top Of The Pops, they'd be in a shopping precinct somewhere, throwing chips at a PCSO. By the time their record sales dried up, they were like a Icelandic bank or a dog that keeps pissing itself. These are their analogies, by the way, I'm just paraphrasing. In the end, they called it a day at the Wiltshire Crime Stoppers concert. "We're just glad that our last performance was at such a great event" they lied through their veneers.

Since the heady days of pop stardom, both groups have gone their separate ways, and tensions are running high in both camps about how they'll get on when they finally reform. But let's face it - no-one's really tuning in to see if Kevin and Tony from Liberty X can still grin through their embarrassment. We want to see what happens when Kerry Katona has to pretend to do something for a living. As always with these acts, music is the last thing on anyone's mind.

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