Notes on a pop debate

28th September 2007 at 01:00
The good, the bad and the ugly - Helen Brant explores the pros and cons of manufactured bands.

This year I tried something I had learnt from an RE teacher. She often had debates in her lesson and I wondered how this could be applied to music. So during a Year 9 lesson on pop I asked the question: "Are manufactured bands a good thing?"

At the time, classical singer Paul Potts had just won TV's Britain's Got Talent and a couple of youngsters argued that he had a good singing voice but would never make it on The X Factor because he was "too ugly". They linked "manufactured" with looks, which was both a plus and a minus, and programmes like The X Factor were a big factor in their arguments.

I divided the classes into for and against the question and in each one, the "against" team won. This surprised everyone because they had all been glued to The X Factor and Pop Idol. They argued that the songs were not heartfelt if they were not written by the group and that manufactured bands were more about looks than talent and had little staying power in the music industry.

Those in favour of manufactured pop said it gave a chance of fame to people who may not have had the opportunity to create their own bands, they brought old classic songs back to life and looked better. They also agreed it was cheesy and fun and good for karaoke.

This is a side to music youngsters don't usually think about. Music at secondary level tends to be more about hands-on creativity than thinking about why and how music is what it is.

Looking at manufactured bands, pupils could see how and what influences their choice in music. Why do some pupils love Mika while others would rather listen to 50 Cent? Why did they all know the lyrics to S Club 7 songs? Why did they all agree that Paul Potts is amazing even though not a single pupil admits to liking opera?

It is interesting to watch pupils' ideas and arguments change and to see those who would otherwise be trying desperately to play a simple tune on a keyboard become passionate and interested in music and its foundations.

Helen Brant is a music teacher at Royds School, Leeds

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