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No More Pussy

Fabricated pop groups are nothing new, but these Dolls are more than bad -- they're a threat

They may seem simply entertaining or innocuous when prancing around the TV screen, but behind the scenes the Pussycat Dolls are ushering in an unsavory new era in the business of music. Ostensibly a vocal and dance ensemble, the unapologetically manufactured group is seemingly everywhere now as the Pussycat Dolls brand has been franchised into a lounge, clothing line and cultural punch line. The constant exposure and subsequent mainstream success is no accident; a team of record company lawyers, promoters and hucksters has conspired to squeeze every last T-shirt, ringtone and dance step out of the lucrative group before the public finally reaches the point of over-saturation. It's no surprise, given that the record label literally owns the Pussycat Dolls.

Darryl Franklin, a lawyer who became familiar with the Dolls' contract during his tenure at Interscope Records, admitted during a panel discussion at this year's SXSW that the group is unique in that its members are actually salaried employees of the record label and, by design, completely interchangeable. He points out that this is far more corporate than other built-to-order bands like the Sex Pistols, New Kids on the Block and even the Monkees, and that the tradeoffs required for the quick, overwhelming success are creating a trickle-down effect that's already being felt throughout the music industry.

Kenneth Abdo, an entertainment lawyer who represents Anna Nalick, Vienna Teng and other up-and-coming musicians, doesn't think it bodes well. "Frankly, bands now have fewer options, and I don't know if it's going to get better," he says. "All these artists that want to be big stars don't really have any other choice. If you ever want to sell gold or platinum, you're going to have to go with a major label." He explains that while a successful artist may have a lot more leverage, a new artist most likely will need to hand over control of merchandise sales, Web sites and potentially song ownership in addition to the traditional right to sell physical CDs. This restriction of creative freedom and ability to act independently is the price new artists are paying in exchange for access to the unrivaled power of a record label to force success.

Abdo acknowledges that the Pussycat Dolls are at the extreme end of the spectrum, adding, "You cannot fabricate art -- it has to be real, and it's what will ultimately drive the business. There's always been room for manufactured groups, but it's a small corner of the whole music business." He also points out, "Someone's writing those songs, and someone's performing those songs. Those are both creative endeavors, and there are artists and audiences benefiting from that work." True, but never before has the separation between artist and promoter been so blurred and so ominously successful. -- Sander Wolf

Emo, Ubiquitous Emo

Emo is everywhere. Some Houston examples we found on MySpace include January's Promises, Untill February Falls, Febuary in Flames, February Fading, the Second Day of March, Across Five Aprils, August Ending, A Secret September, Autumn Burns Red, A Lesson in Autumn, Autumn's Run, November Heartache, December's Pandemic, A December Tragedy, A Deep December, Days in December, December Days, December Is Fallen, and Summer to Snow.

In fact, there were so many similar emo band names, we decided to cast our nets beyond the greater Houston area, and using MySpace's band search engine, we found hundreds more in the same gloomy, opaque vein. We even sketched some notes toward a scientific analysis of emo band nomenclature, but we quickly lost interest when the conclusion of such a study became glaringly apparent at the outset.

And that is this: Emo kids hate school. It's hard to find an emo band with a name like A Friday in June, because that's not a school day, but you will find many, many bands named after school months and days. Virtually all of them have names like (making a few up here) An October Monday, Last Tuesday's Directive, and A Sunday in Autumn -- Sunday of course being a holiday but also a school night and the saddest part of the week for all true-blue school haters. In my own school days, I remember regarding the ticking clock on the opening credits of 60 Minutes with dread and alarm; this was the signal that playtime was over, the weekend was gone forever, and the dread, humiliation and boredom of another week in school were at hand. I didn't know then that I was having an emo moment. Or should that be "emoment"?

And then there's December, which is the gloomiest, darkest month of the year, and also one in which school is in session for at least a couple of weeks. How deliciously melancholy! How sensitive to name your band after such an exquisitely wretched month!

With all of that in mind, we decided to come up with an emo band naming chart. Pick one from each column, and get yourself off to MySpace. In no time at all, you'll be on a 12-band bill with 11 other bands full of sensitive kids with long bangs and black clothes.

Column A (A, An, The);

Column B (Autumn, December, January, February, September, October, November, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday);

Column C (An abstract noun like "contingency," "deceit," "contagion" or "distrust," or any variant of the words "die," "fall," "ash," "end" or "burn."

And there you have it. Feel free to jockey all of the columns back and forth and to throw in a few "ofs." If you can come up with a more emo band name than A Sunday in Autumn, Wack will send you a home-burned CD of songs about how much school sucks. -- John Nova Lomax

(M)emo

To: New Employees
From: Emo-Rock Headquarters
Date: April 27, 2006
Subject: Corporate Guidelines

With all of the recent hires, we thought it would be prudent to review some essential company guidelines:

Your band name must include a day, a month, or a season, and try to have it "falling," "fading" or "broken." Please note that "Thursday" is taken, but you're welcome to go with something like "The Thursday Capitulation." Our research department highly recommends the use of "Sunday" and/or "Indian Summer."

Please leave the resonant singing voices at home -- we require a thin, high-pitched whine. You're welcome to offset this with screams/shouts from a second vocalist, but nothing too blood-curdling.

Attire-wise, hoodies, ringer tees, and Dickies-style clothing are all preferred -- the more you look like a gas station attendant, the better.

Guitarists -- we encourage angularity, but don't be afraid of standard melodies and hooks. Now is not the time to be too arty or adventurous.

The more angsty and confessional your songs, the better. Don't feel bad about lyrically lashing out at the girls who've hurt you -- females will still come to your shows and sing along to every word. Stick to these guidelines and you're certain to rise quickly up the corporate ladder! -- Michael Alan Goldberg

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