Thursday, 3 May 2007

Who's the Alien now?

Once upon a time, when Top of the Pops was a weekly must-watch programme on UK television, that is, during most of its forty-year reign, it fell to the nation’s parents to rubbish all pop stars who dared to be different. Whilst this could translate to be different in attitude, musical ability or singing prowess, it generally meant different in appearance. Think Arthur Brown, Roy Wood, Toyah or Boy George. Let’s face it, what was great fun to us kids was the subject of stern disapproval from our elders.

But hindsight is a funny thing and here’s an example of why this is so. Remember watching David Bowie doing ‘Starman’ in 1972? Don’t worry, it’ll be along in a moment if you don’t. All the usual factors that were to provoke older generation outrage are present and correct in this scenario. Bowie is virtually unrecognisable dressed up to the hilt in his gender unspecific ‘Ziggy Stardust’ costume with orange spiked hair and complete facial make-up over Harlequin clothes and stacked boots. He even puts his arm around Mick Ronson in a manner guaranteed to raise blood pressures the length and breadth of Britain.

Now have a look at the area just behind Bowie. There, captured on video for all time is a creature more terrible than any Bowie reincarnation – a member of the studio audience. Only this member of the studio audience, an adolescent boy, is sporting an array of colour un-coordinated clothing including a gruesome rainbow hooped tank top and maroon wide collared shirt. He also has one of those trying-to-grow-a-sensible-haircut-a-bit-longer hairstyles and is involved in trying to dance in rhythm without the necessary coordination.

But let’s not be too hard on the boy, it could have been me at that age, because it is now that the awful realisation dawns – everyone in the audience looks equally dreadful. And this applies to any period from 1964 to 2004 you care to name – not just the early 1970s. Music programme audiences are almost universally comprised of fashion victims of the first order. Dreadful hairstyles, pinafore dresses, padded shoulders, afros, you name it and there they are.

What hindsight shows us is that Bowie just looks like Bowie and his look, being outside of conventional fashion, now looks strangely timeless despite being regarded as worryingly avant-garde at the time. Looking back from the comfort of today, it is the members comprising the studio audience that look horribly dated and embarrassingly anachronistic. In other words, the roles have been reversed and it is now the pop stars who look normal and the rest of us that deserve derision. Now, is that a girl or a boy?

No comments: