People Making Music TV: We Did Your Research For You
In the lead-up to new (and likely dreadful) BBC series 'Sounds Like Friday Night', we asked some strangers what makes not-shit music television.
Photo by Andrew Weber
There's no good music telly anymore. Yeah, there's Later… with Jools Holland but everything else is gone now and has been for a while. Take Channel Four's Popworld, for example, which died when Alex Zane replaced Simon Amstell back in 2007, or BBC's Top of the Pops which now only exists in your dad's wet dreams. MTV is still around, of course, but its original purpose (to provide music television) lies in ruin beneath a mountain of reality show nonsense – no wonder there are plans in the US to bring TRL back. In short: a not-shit music TV programme void is yet to be adequately filled.
Presumably to address this issue, BBC One announced a new series called Sounds Like Friday Night which will launch next Friday (27 October). As well as providing "topical entertainment and fun sketches" the hosts – both from radio: Greg James on Radio 1 and Radio 1 Xtra's Dotty – will guide viewers through "a smorgasbord of the very best in live music". This raises two very important questions: how funny are most non-comedian musicians and does the world need this? Either way, it's about to redefine music telly, apparently.
But is this really 2017's only answer to the fading presence of worthwhile TV programs about music? We asked the youth of today what they think would make a non-shit music show, since they're the market the BBC are gunning for anyway. You're welcome, TV execs.
I always like it when there's actual music on music programmes, but I also enjoy weird tasks like on Takeshi's Castle or that Hole in the Wall thing that they did on the BBC. You know, where they had a moving wall coming towards them with very specific pose-shaped holes, and if you didn't pose correctly you'd fall into the water below? That was quite fun. I'd like to see something like that, something that's a bit cheesy. As an idea music shows are kind of cheesy already, by default. I don't think there's any way of avoiding it, you've got to lean into the cheese.
My family is from Italy and so I've watched a lot of Italian TV over the years and there's this one Italian gameshow called The Trap Door. Essentially it's like Britain's Got Talent but if the audience don't like the act, they can vote for a trap door to open up beneath them and they fall into a pool. It's great. They'll be like halfway through doing their thing, and then they'll just fall in. That's the only the point of the show – it's really wild. I'm definitely making a UK version and it's going to be called "Pop-Splash".
I've been thinking about this a lot recently. NME TV, which used to be on channel 365 on Sky, was ace. They debuted new music videos and would have bands on to chat too. I think unsigned bands are the way forward for interesting music TV, getting new music out there. A lot of artists take themselves too seriously though. It would be funny f you had a band on stage, and you threw covers at them, but they're not allowed to prepare so would have to just be like, "okay, shit!" and give it a go. It would be well-known songs but they'd have to basically try and riff it, work it out and play it live. People could phone in or shout out covers. I think it would really expose the amateurs. The acts would have to be unsigned though. If they performed well, and the audience loved them, they'd be allowed to pitch their new album and try and sell it, but if they're not, they'd have to leave. You could do it with DJs as well. Give them records they've never heard before and get them to mix it live.
A show that explores music from around the world would be cool. We generally hear the same stuff a lot of the time and there are artists around the world doing really amazing stuff that we just don't hear about. Like, what's happening with music in Sri Lanka? Does Alaska have a rave scene? I don't know, but I'd like to know.
Seeing what is underground and emerging in different countries would be really interesting. Also, what sub-cultures are there? I know for example in certain Asian countries punk is really taboo, and people go to rehab camps because they're punk. Here in Britain, the idea of punk has become quite lame and dated, but it's interesting that elsewhere it's really what they're about and they're willing to sacrifice their own freedom for it. I find that really fascinating, like why and how music does that to a person? That's what my show would be about.
I really enjoy long interviews with artists. Not the "what's your favourite colour" type, but the longer, more in depth ones. I like those. Zane Lowe's with Kendrick recently was very, very good. You get to find out other stuff, different perspectives, what goes on behind the music. I think that kind of stuff is cool. But for a primetime TV spot, it can't be long form. It has to be more of a live performance format, and to pull people in, artists could release exclusives on the show. Like, "your favourite artist is going to play a new song from their new album and you can't hear it anywhere but here!" That's how people will tune in, it would become a place where artists would want to go.
My cousin listens to an absurd amount of Jordan Rakei and she's apparently in the top of however many listeners in London, so we got invited to an exclusive Rakei Spotify session – which was great. That kind of thing would definitely work. We were like, "Wow this is important, he's not going to do this again". It has to have that "I need to watch this" vibe because otherwise everyone will just ignore it. Personally I'm always mindful of what value I gain from watching something. You know, did I hear new artists? New music? Find out something I can go and interact with afterwards? It has to have a value I can come away with.
My favourite stuff is probably some of the old-school MTV shit where they followed around hip-hop artists, so I'd like to see more of that on TV or perhaps something more abstract and surreal. That's what I loved about MTV: the visuals were amazing. But to be honest, if I was doing my own show, I would like to see a collection of artists come together and have a roundtable discussion. For me, I'm quite interested in the production process behind music, so I would love to see more stuff where they talk to producers or artists about how they technically make their songs.
I think the way pop music is going at the moment it would do quite well if you had someone like Metro Boomin hosting. He produces a lot of Travis Scott stuff and is one of the main exponents of the trap sound which, for whatever reason, is the mainstream right now. I love that kind of music for its melodic sensibility, but the lyrics are quite reductive and it's quite simplistic; it's all about materialism and chasing girls and escapism essentially. I find it hard to connect to in that sense. Then again, if you write many of Bob Dylan's lyrics on a piece of paper, they don't seem to mean much.
As told to Patrick Heardman.