We’ve all witnessed the one-hit wonders: bands or artists who make one successful pop single, and then disappear immediately into obscurity. Sometimes, the success is a fluke, driven, say, by a novelty feature; or by being chosen for a television advert, as has happened more than once. But, on the other hand, sometimes the hit can be a hit because it’s a great pop record, and the reason they have no more hits is that they never make such good music ever again.
However, there’s another, similar phenomenon which doesn’t have a name. That’s when a band or artist has a big hit and then does not disappear immediately into obscurity, but goes on to have a successful career at some level without ever making any good music ever again.
This concept has occurred to me in the past, but I was reminded of it recently by a couple of newspaper articles about the Ting Tings, one a pre-album-launch publicity interview, and one a review of said album.
Strictly speaking, the Ting Tings don’t fit my definition, because they actually had two successful singles, the first of which, “That’s Not My Name”, was Number One in the UK charts. The follow-up, “Shut Up And Let Me Go”, peaked at a respectable number six. It was rapidly downhill after that as far as the singles charts were concerned, although the album containing the first two hits also got to number one.
The two hits were not great pop singles, in my opinion, but they were OK. (Even though SUALMG was very, very similar to “This Is Radio Clash”, except for more inept guitar playing.) The chart hits got the band onto festival bills in the Summer of 2008, some of which were televised, giving me a chance to witness them in action. And it was obvious that they weren’t any good. The odds of them making any more chart hit material seemed remote.
Any record company with the slightest clue about music would have quietly dropped them after 2008, but they’re signed to Columbia, (owned by Sony Corporation), who have funded them for the last four years to make a new album. That brings me back to the newspaper articles I mentioned. The first was clearly a put-up job by Sony, designed to present the Ting Tings as new, subversive and relevant to yoof culture. In fact, what I got out of it was that they are obnoxious, self-obsessed idiots with no detectable musical talent. Admittedly, I thought most of that previously anyway.
And when the album came out, the one review I read gave it a predictable two stars, so I don’t expect it to go platinum or anything. But hey, maybe Columbia will keep paying them for another four years; it’s some kind of a career.
Lack of sales success isn’t in itself a defining attribute of the one-hit zombie band. It’s perfectly possible for an act to follow up a good successful pop single with a string of bad successful pop singles. Let me present Exhibit A: the Spice Girls. I don’t care what anyone says, “Wannabe” was good pop. (I know it gets kind of flabby in the chorus, but it’s back into the main riff quickly enough to get away with it.) Everything else was rubbish, but they still sold records.
I’d contrast the Spice Girls with Girls Aloud, who managed to follow up their first smash success with several other good pop singles, before they too sank in a sea of over-emotional ballads churned out on the production line.
Another one I love to hate was Franz Ferdinand. Again, there was a hit, “Take Me Out” in 2004 — catchy, well-structured, lyrics that appealed — and nothing subsequent came close: all bland, guitar/synth rock. Remarkably, the band is still going, and are working on a fourth album. The world awaits with bated breath.
Well, that’s my suggestion for the terminology: the one-hit zombie, the band that is musically dead but is still walking around. I’m hoping it will catch on; there are a lot of acts it could be applied to.