From pop to flop
The UK reality TV show, Popstars, was the first programme to document the making of a band from obscurity to pop superstardom. The aim was to create a pop ‘brand’ that would not only be able to sell albums and singles, but also a wide variety of merchandise.
Hear’Say was the end product – consisting of brand members Noel Sullivan, Danny Foster, Suzanne Shaw, Myleene Klass and Kym Marsh. Their first hit, ‘Pure and Simple’, released in March 2001, became the fastest selling single in UK music history, with sales of over 1.2 million copies. The first album, ‘Popstars’, also went to number one and a 36-date tour was sold out.
However, as the memory of the TV show started to fade, so did public interest. The strength of the Hear’Say brand suddenly seemed to be in doubt.
The band’s second album was a complete flop and they started to get heckled at public appearances.
As the band had been completely manufactured (none of the members had known each other before the TV show), relationships within Hear’Say soon broke down. As a result of constant bickering, Kym Marsh left the band at the beginning of 2002.
After she had left, the band made the mistake of holding a supposedly ‘public’ audition for her replacement only to employ one of their dancers, Johnny Shentall. This generated even more bad headlines.
Then, on 1 October 2002 a statement from their record company Polydor confirmed that the band was splitting. The statement explained ‘they felt they had lost the support of the public and Hear’Say had come to a natural end.’
The band members also told the media that they were tired of getting abuse from the public, which made their lives ‘hell’. Suzanne Shaw told The Sun newspaper that their pop brand fell victim to the fickle nature of fashion. ‘It’s like a pair of trainers: one minute they’re in and the next minute they’re out,’ she said.
So while the Popstars phenomenon continued to be a success, spawning shows such as Pop Idol and Popstars: The Rivals in the UK and American Idol in the US, the pop brand it created was on a downward slope almost from its conception.
Lessons from Hear’Say
- Hype can turn against you. At the start of 2001 Hear’Say was the most hyped band never to have released a single. However, the weight of the media interest soon turned against them to crush the brand.
- Have something to unify your brand. The Spice Girls weathered Geri Halliwell’s departure (at least in the short term) by rallying behind the ‘Girl Power’ banner, but as the Guardian reported ‘poor Hear’Say, only in it for the fame, didn’t have so much as a slogan to stand on.’