After the Pogues and U2, there came the female voices of Sinéad O'Connor, Enya and the Cranberries. But what next? It was the boys' turn (well, mostly), and the money-makers have been having a field day.
Around fifteen to twenty years ago, the Irish music scene, particularly in the capital, Dublin, flourished. But out of several bands destined to mould the future of Irish music, U2 were really the only band to make it. It wasn't through any lack of talent that other hugely talented bands rose and fell just as quickly. The times were changing. At the end of the eighties the "rave", house and hip-hop cultures took over, brought in on the back of the drug culture imported to the British Isles from the States. As a result, the live music scene received its death blow. U2 had already made it worldwide, and Sinéad was up there, too, but for most of those who hadn't, it was the end of the road.
With the current economic boom Ireland is experiencing, there has been an increase in demand for live music. The nightlife, dominated by clubbers throughout the last decade, has now witnessed something of a rejuvenation; people of all ages have more money to spend, and they don't all want raves! It's a blessing, certainly. But it is one mainly for the opportunists in the music business, who are flooding the market with manufactured bands. We are, of course, talking about the Boyzones, the Westlifes and the Samantha Mumbas, created with the help of a magician with a couple of million quid in his hand and a wave of his wand.
Samantha Mumba said in a recent interview, "When I was about nine or ten I wanted to be a pop star. Britney [Spears], Christina Aguilera, Jennifer [Lopez] - they need a bit of competition, and I'm up for it! They're American, blonde and blue-eyed. I'm black and I'm Irish and I have a completely different attitude." That's an admirable attitude.
Only two years ago, Mumba was modelling and singing in product launches. In July 1999, she met Louis Walsh, manager of Boyzone. From there, her success was inevitable and rapid. But she claims she is not someone else's product, "told what to sing or what to wear. I have a lot of involvement in who Samantha Mumba is." She has even sacked three stylists - wow! "I do have a lot of control. As for the music, I co-wrote it. I have as much input as I want into who I am." Do we believe her?
And the future? "In two years' time, I want to be on my second album, touch wood. In ten years' time? God! Hopefully a gorgeous usband [Ronan Keating, perhaps?], kids, recording studio... I'd be happy with that."
As would anyone. So far, Mumba's story has been a good one. Not so with Boyzone, who are, alas, no more. Recently, members Keith Duffy and Shane Lynch had an unsuccessful attempt at a single. It failed, and they have since been dropped by the label. Ronan Keating is the only member to have really come out of the Boyzone experience without injury, which just goes to show that all these manufactured bands are just a means for someone to make a fast buck. But Ronan is determined to hang on to this roller coaster for as long as he can.
"I love it," he says. "I want more, I want it all. I want to be the biggest solo-artist I can be. The biggest in the world. To break America. To have a very successful solo album and, please God, many more after that. I feel better about myself now than I ever did in Boyzone. Now, instead of five voices making decisions there's just me." Ah, so now he gets to sing all the best parts! "But of course I get fed up with the music business. It's a crazy business, a scary business, a cut-throat business. It's a continuous fight to stay on top." That's what they all say, and it's true. But Keating is determined to stay on top, despite the demise of his former band members. He also has more than a hand to play in the current success of Westlife, the handsome heartthrobs who he co-manages with Louis Walsh.
As far as the contemporary Irish music scene goes, the Westlife dreamboats definitely rule. Boyzone, Westlife, Mumba and so on have all made money. But who will be remembered? Maybe just Ronan Keating. Of course, Westlife are still very young, and maybe we shall be buying their compilation album, Three Decades of Westlife, in Christmas 2030! For the moment, they'll just have to be happy with their bank accounts and good looks. Immortality must wait.
by Tom Galvin