I'm with Harry Styles, One Direction should write their own songs

Plus: Something is forgotten in the state of Denmark and Orwell got there first on Wodehouse and Nazism

David Lister
Saturday 23 March 2013 09:04 GMT
One Direction have removed a social media request for fans to submit photos and footage of their tattoos after suggestions they were encouraging their young fans to have body art.
One Direction have removed a social media request for fans to submit photos and footage of their tattoos after suggestions they were encouraging their young fans to have body art. (PA)

This column on matters cultural has failed hitherto to mention a cultural phenomenon of our time – the boyband One Direction and their highest-profile member, the mover, shaker and dater Harry Styles. I will right that wrong, because Styles has come up with an interesting observation. The 19-year-old has been pondering the future, as 19-year-olds do, and has questioned whether the band can be sufficiently authentic without writing their own songs.

He has been reassured this week by Cathy Dennis, a key songwriter for Kylie Minogue and the woman behind one of Kylie's signature pieces, "Can't Get You Out of My Head." Ms Dennis, unsurprisingly, claims in a newspaper article that one can have a long and fruitful career in pop by using outside songwriters. She adds: "It will be expected that they will write their own songs at some point. Someone is going to say, 'hang on, the royalties coming in from just singing are not enough'. But if 1D started writing their own songs it could be the kiss of death... to emulate The Rolling Stones – you can't have that overnight."

She seems to think the desire to write is royalties-related, and, of course, you make a lot more money if you write the songs as well as sing them. But I'd credit Harry Styles with wanting a bit more than money.

Certainly, the history of popular music from Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra through Barbra Streisand and many, many others including Kylie, shows that if you can really interpret a song distinctively you don't need to actually write the thing.

But it does seem to me that in the main the interpreters have been solo artists. Groups, from the Sixties explosion of The Beatles, Stones, Kinks and Who via Britpop's Blur, Oasis and Pulp to Arctic Monkeys and a thousand others have a songwriter in their midst to give them not just a personal sound, but a personal mode of storytelling – the erstwhile chronicling of teenage angst by Pete Townshend, for example.

So I'm with Harry. I watched One Direction at the Brits, and their rendition of Blondie's "One Way or Another" only served to make me think of Blondie, and not just with sympathy. Even new songs by hired writers are unlikely to give them a consistent sound and story that can last years.

To be true artists, and to last, a band, whatever their manufactured origins, must write their own material. It lifts a band from being a well-drilled, sexually manipulative outfit to a creative body with artistic integrity. It gives them distinctiveness and puts them in the great tradition of British bands making a narrative and portraying the angst and excitement of their generation. By instinctively recognising this, Master Styles shows that he has a wise head on his young shoulders.

Right Ho, Nigel. But Orwell got there first...

Nigel Williams, the Golden Globe and Emmy winner, has written a one-off drama about PG Wodehouse's war years to be broadcast on BBC4. Williams's script will challenge the line that Wodehouse collaborated with the Nazis. "He was extremely naive; he thought he was just talking with his readers," says Williams.

I hate to break this to Mr Williams, but this isn't quite the revelation he seems to think it is. The idea that Wodehouse consciously aided the Nazi propaganda machine was described as "untenable and even ridiculous" by George Orwell in his classic essay "In Defence Of PG Wodehouse" – written in 1945.

Something is forgotten in the state of Denmark

There are, of course, two Danish actresses well known to British TV viewers; Sofie Grabol, who plays Sarah Lund in The Killing, and Sidse Babett Knudsen who plays the PM in Borgen. Quoted in this paper this week, Ms Knudsen said breezily that she hadn't actually watched any of The Killing, adding: "I'm a bit of a snob about television." None of it, not a single minute? This is quite remarkable. It's hard to find anyone in Britain who hasn't had a look at The Killing. That a leading Danish actress hasn't sneaked a glimpse at what one of her biggest rivals is doing is quite an admission. Or is Ms Knudsen making the point that she is simply too busy to watch Ms Grabol on TV? What's the Danish for "oooh"?

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