Watch out Rihanna, Catherine Bennett wants your crown. A new pop star, created entirely from the imagination of a 9 year-old girl, has arrived to challenge the overt sexualisation of the bikini-clad singers who dominate the charts.
Bennett is a bright, slightly clumsy, bike-riding, museum worker who has made time in her busy working life to write her own pop songs and star in her own music videos.
But her every move is directed by Taylor Houchen, from St Ives, near Cambridge, who instead of being presented with a new pop idol manufactured by a Simon Cowell television show, decided to create her own.
Nine year-old Taylor sought to create a credible, likeable superstar as an alternative to the sexualised and commercialised music programming so often targeted at tweens.
However Bennett also had to be a fun personality, who could attract millions of social media followers, or “C-Beasties”, as Taylor has dubbed them.
Collaborating with leading pop producers and a styling team that worked for Girls Aloud , Bennett has been brought to life in the form of Bryony Kimmings, a performance artist who happens to be Taylor’s aunt.
The Arts Council has given financial backing to the project which aims to produce a new kind of positive role model.
Working to Taylor’s brief, Bennett sings catchy electro-pop songs which avoid sex, love and money. Instead she sings about polar bears, friendships and in “Apathy”, the first video posted on YouTube, she urges young people to get involved in social issues.
As her “manager”, Taylor has decreed that Catherine can only be regarded as a success if she achieves one million YouTube hits, builds a Facebook and Twitter army, makes three celebrity friends and appears on the Ellen DeGeneres Show.
“I wanted Catherine to make children believe that anything is possible and that music can be about having fun,” Taylor said. “I am so excited when I get to see CB now as she has come to life. This project is fun and it makes me happy.”
Kimmings has debuted Bennett on the live stage and is taking the character on a tour of schools, where she asks the pupils what kind of pop star they would like to see. Taylor introduced Bennett on stage during a session on “activism” at Yoko Ono’s Meltdown South Bank festival.
Kimmings, who has previously performed shows at the Soho Theatre about her experiences with alcohol and sex, said: “I was watching music videos with my niece and a lot of those depicted girls in clubs like Rihanna, with lyrics far too racy for young kids.
“I asked Taylor ‘what would be a cool way to make an alternative pop star role model?’ Taylor created everything. What should she sound like, what would she sing about, what should she do for a living, what should she wear.”
Taylor’s pop team worked to a brief of “songs sung by Lily Allen, written by the B-52s and produced by Gorillaz.”
Kimmings added: “We don’t want to force a political agenda down people’s throats. Catherine doesn’t wear a bikini in the video, not because it’s wrong to wear one but to put a message out that there is an alternative. “
Taylor’s tastes may be a little more refined than most girls her age – Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds has replaced Katy Perry as her new favourite artist – but she hopes that Bennett will connect with a mass audience. Profits from download sales will go to charity and Bennett is telling fans ‘Don’t buy a T-shirt, make your own’.
“Taylor wants one million plays,” said Kimmings. “And she really wants a copycat pop star to emerge. I can’t be Catherine Bennett forever.”
On her website, Bennett asks fans to sign up to a campaign urging Lego to create more toy sets “depicting women doing ACTUAL jobs… the ones they do in real life. Toy companies often think they should busy themselves with making all girls want to be princesses!”
Bennett has won the backing of Julian Huppert, the Cambridge MP. “This is an excellent project designed to change the way young children look at the world and hopefully help them to put celebrity culture into context,” the Liberal Democrat said. “Our children should be allowed to enjoy their childhood, building their self-esteem and retaining their innocence free from the constant bombardment of commercialism.”