MUSIC / Ooo, I wanna be like you: You're never alone with a clone. In America vocal harmony groups are busting out all over, here it's pretty boys who can sing. Joseph Gallivan reports

LIKE science fiction, the world of pop seems to have heartily embraced the concept of cloning. In the US now the charts are stuffed with vocal harmony groups - black quartets and trios which seem to be modelled on the massive successes of En Vogue and Boys II Men. Just take three light-skinned black girls who once sang in church and put them in tight dresses and sneakers, add one swingbeat rhythm track (they're calling it the new Jill swing, after the new jack swing) and some poppy lines about desire and, hey presto, you've got Jade, Jomanda, or SWV. Or TLC. Or Nuttin' Nyce. Similarly, take four lithe youths with tortured souls, sensual lyrics, and boxer shorts that peep out over their jeans to match their over-the-top gospel harmonies, and you have Jodeci, Shai, or Silk. Or UNV.

There's a mania for replication at the moment. UNV, SWV . . . the names have a cyborg perfunctoriness, but the technique works. The lush single from SWV (Sisters With Voices) 'I'm So Into You' sold 500,000 copies in the USA and crossed the Atlantic to become the cool record of last spring. Lead singer Coko sounds like Minnie Mouse hitting puberty, but the real fascination lies in the fact that so many artists are putting their vocals and their looks first, and the hell with pretending that playing an instrument looks interesting. (When En Vogue's Maxine says she's left her 'base' on the bus, at the start of Funky Divas, it only takes a minute to realise that she's actually talking about her foundation rather than her Fender Jazz.) This love of glamour and melody is typical of the backlash against the anonymity of so much dance music, particularly house. Silk is a case in point. They were found singing a Boyz II Men number, a cappella, at a Fourth-of-July barbecue by writer / producer Keith Sweat, and came from nowhere (well, Atlanta) into the US Top 10 with their CD Lose Control (Elektra). Their style gets a little hysterical at times as they seek to outdo each other in the sincerity of their protestations, but the R&B market in the US cannot get enough of it.

In the UK things are slightly different, since pop music is nothing like so R&B-dominated, but the urge to clone is still strong. White rap acts such as New Kids On The Block were looked upon as the golden geese for three solid years, and bands such as East 17 (guided by Bros's old manager Tom Watkins) moved firmly into their teenie market. The latest success story is Take That, the pretty boy quintet nominally from Manchester, but with a well-scrubbed look and sound that is designed to appeal to the idealistic suburbanite in everyone. They began the hard way, hacking round the country doing personal appearances at secondary schools and gay clubs, playing their sugary love ballads anywhere that would have them. Some 700,000 copies of Take That and Party and seven Smash Hits awards later, Take That are the ones supplying the ideas to the rest of the industry.

Ian Levine is known for having produced for a lot of the second-division Motown acts when Berry Gordy took off for Los Angeles, and for having practically invented the rushed, percussive variety of disco music called Hi-NRG which dominated the early Eighties gay scene and led directly to house music. However, he is, at heart, a soul fan and a song man, and Levine worked with Take That on three of their Top 10 hits. Rather grumpy at the way 'they then went off and pursued their own musical direction', he sums them up thus: 'Take That are five dancing boys.'

The boys have now drafted in Steve Jervier and his brother's trendy production team, the Ethnic Boyz, to work on their next CD, which is due out in October. The Jerviers are more used to working with black British soul acts. 'I was quite surprised,' says their vocal arranger Mark Beswick. 'Take That were actually quite good at holding their harmonies. Their influences were more pop - lots of major chords - than those we normally work with, but they do have recollection of some R&B artists. I'm just trying to take them in a new direction, and getting them to work on their unison parts. I bring out background vocal parts and melodies from a song that other people might not hear, sing them, and get them to sing them back. We're heading to a more Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes sound.'

Levine, however, has a new project in hand, another band who are going for the image-first-music- second strategy, called Bad Boys Inc. First you see their poster reproduced 10 times down the side of the gasworks, then you hear their single on Top of the Pops. They look suspiciously like a chip off the Take That block, and make a similar noise - crisp vocals, lots of horns and bright synth sounds over the familiar cantering bass and drum. But Levine talks about Bad Boys with the pride of a man who is about to make his money back, and some.

'For years I've wanted to find a group that would hark back to the quality days of the Temptations and the Jackson Five, one that would have longevity,' he says, echoing Beswick. 'I found three good- looking kids who had the talent but we needed a lead vocalist. I auditioned several hundred, went to all the talent agencies and clubs like Singers, and finally found Richard. It was a disaster. They hated him and he hated them. So I started again, and eventually we found Matthew (Pateman). I think he's going to be a great singer, he's got a voice as good as George Michael.' Pateman certainly sounds like he's sung 'Faith' a few times in his car.

Levine goes on: 'To teach them their parts I brought in Billy Griffin, who wrote 'Love Machine' and took over from Smokey Robinson in the Miracles. I wanted them to have that real sound of black America, complex like doo-wop, like the O-Jays. We want to bring good songs to impressionable teenagers, but ones that you would want to sing to yourself again in five years' time. We're looking at the difference between 'I'll Be There' and 'When Will I Be Famous?' This is not an outfit like Let Loose or Worlds Apart.' Bad Boys Inc look the part. Like Take That, they are banking on two strong forces in the chart market: teenage girls and gay men. Another new outfit, Men United, know all about that. They see themselves in the Erasure and Pet Shop Boys tradition - except one of them's straight and they're both handsome.

Clearly, the ground to be captured is, as ever, the catchy pop song sung by youths who look good. The European acts Ace of Base and Two Unlimited have both had 600,000-selling singles in the last year, so the one-off market is still there. The current trend is to fill the creative vacuum with as many similar groups as possible, made up of as many similar-looking kids as possible. At this level of the pop world, the industry will try anything. Fortunately for them, some people will buy anything.

(Photographs omitted)

Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film Ridley Scott reveals truth behind casting decisions of Exodus
Arts and Entertainment
An unseen image of Kurt Cobain at home featured in the film 'Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck'
filmThe singers widow and former bandmates have approved project
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
Arts and Entertainment
George Mpanga has been shortlisted for the Critics’ Choice prize
Arts and Entertainment
Roisin, James and Sanjay in the boardroom
tvReview: This week's failing project manager had to go
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Image has been released by the BBC
Arts and Entertainment
Will there ever be a Friends reunion?
Harry Hill plays the Professor in the show and hopes it will help boost interest in science among young people
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
A Van Gogh sold at Sotheby’s earlier this month
Arts and Entertainment

MusicThe band accidentally called Londoners the C-word

Arts and Entertainment
It would 'mean a great deal' to Angelina Jolie if she won the best director Oscar for Unbroken

Film 'I've never been comfortable on-screen', she says

Arts and Entertainment
Winnie the Pooh has been branded 'inappropriate' in Poland
Arts and Entertainment
Lee Evans is quitting comedy to spend more time with his wife and daughter

Arts and Entertainment
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano.
filmSinger, actor, activist, athlete: Paul Robeson was a cultural giant. But prejudice and intolerance drove him to a miserable death. Now his story is to be told in film...
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

Arts and Entertainment
Look out: Broad shoulders take Idris Elba’s DCI John Luther a long way
tvIdris Elba will appear in two special episodes for the BBC next year
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

    Christmas Appeal

    Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
    Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

    Is it always right to try to prolong life?

    Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

    What does it take for women to get to the top?

    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

    Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
    Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

    Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

    Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
    There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

    In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

    The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
    UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

    UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

    It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
    Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

    Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

    It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
    The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

    Staying connected: The King's School

    The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
    Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

    Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

    Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up