Pop Music Reunions: Yay or Nay?

With Daphne & Celeste (of 'U-G-L-Y, you ain’t got no alibi, you ugly' infamy) embarking upon a comeback tour, it’s official - every pop band that could possibly have gotten back together now has. From Blur to Blue, recent years have seen dozens of acts reforming with varying degrees of success. The Sex Pistols’ reunion shows now vastly outnumber the performances made in their mid-70s heyday; One Direction only broke up last year but they’re probably already counting the cheques from their inevitable 2030 comeback tour. It’s become a mandatory part of the musical life cycle: get together, have a few hits, separate, then get back together and do it all again. Lather, rinse, repeat.

There are plenty of reasons for this strange phenomenon. Some bands don’t quite achieve everything they’re capable of first time round, and want another crack of the whip. For others, life as a regular human being isn’t as much fun and they crave a return to the glory days. For some it’s a sheer question of cash - after all, a brief spell in the limelight can only fund so many years out of it (especially if a crash-land back to obscurity provokes certain, ahem, addictions). But while most of us enjoy a spot of nostalgia from time to time, it does seem a bit excessive that anybody who ever put their voice to record in the 80s or 90s is back bothering the charts again.

Of course, the golden rule of the entertainment industry is that if something works, you do it over and over again until everybody hates it. Just look at Rocky V, or the endless Real Housewives ofWherever shows. It’s easy to imagine label bosses saying ‘people flocked to the Spice Girls reunion, so why not Scooch?’ And admittedly, when it comes to people revisiting the soundtracks of their youth, there clearly is a market (even if those singing the soundtracks now have greyer hair and saggier jowls). Faded idols might long for a return to superstardom, but we as audiences are equally keen to go back to being the innocent, cheering fans we once were, back before we had to face the world without TLC’s cargo pants or Bez’s maracas.

So if artists and fans alike can relive their heydays, and record companies get to flog some resuscitated horses, surely everybody’s happy? Maybe, but that doesn’t mean that all comebacks are called for. The first season of ITV2’s The Big Reunion was a hoot, filled with 5ive punch-ups and tales of the animosity behind B*Witched’s perma-grins and fabriquéd denim. But when the second season starred the likes of Girl Thing and Adam Rickitt, you could practically hear the barrel being scraped.

some things - Smash Hits covers and shellsuits included - are better left in the past

It’s even worse when the original members aren’t all on board. Sure, Black Sabbath survived without their drummer, and Steps could conceivably continue without the artistic input of Lee Latchford Evans, but what about when S Club 7 toured universities as S Club 3? Having my favourite childhood tunes sang by just Bradley, Jo and Paul while plastered on Snakebites in a grubby SU was a depressing prospect. Times change and our tastes do too - no matter how fond the memories, sometimes the furthest we should venture into nostalgia is watching Top of the Pops clips on YouTube when we’ve drank too many ciders and think our flatmates aren’t in. Pop stars have to accept that you don’t always get a second chance, and some things - Smash Hits covers and shellsuits included - are better left in the past.

 It’s usually better to press on with new projects - think New Order rising from the ashes of Joy Division, becoming a distinct and equally significant band instead of just touring O2 Academies and hashing out Love Will Tear Us Apart for the 15000thtime. Anyone looking to claw their way back to the top with a traditional reunion, however, should view Take That as the Holy Grail. They are as big, if not bigger, than they were in the 90s, and the odd tax scandal hasn’t stopped them packing out Wembley with as many new fans as old. Looking at them, it’s clear that repackaging a Greatest Hits album or belting out old #1s isn’t enough. To achieve longevity and avoid tainting past success, it is crucial for artists to remain relevant. Barlow and co. recognised that smothering themselves in baby oil wouldn’t work now that the teenage girls who once went crazy for them have children and drive Ford Fiestas. They progressed from a boyband to a ‘manband’, earning credibility and making Rule the World the backing music to every inspirational sporting montage on TV in the process.

So yes, it’s fair to be cautious about yet more acts reforming. Even so, there’s always that faint, glimmering hope that it might work out. When it comes to our favourite bands, we’re like those couples who break up but always get back together. We can’t help wanting to give it one more shot, to see if we can’t re-kindle the old flame. 

Besides a reunion tour has got to beat eating wichetty grubs on I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here! any day.


More about the author

About the author

Harry Mason likes to call himself a freelance writer, even if his tax forms say he's technically a waiter. He graduated last year from the University of East Anglia, and writes predominantly about social politics and film. He looks forward to the day when he's able to grow a beard; until then, you'll just have to blame his so-called 'bleeding heart lefty views' on youthful naivety.

Follow Harry on Twitter.

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