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Elton John World News: Elton John attacks manufactured "packet cereal" bands and promo videos

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Elton tells BBC's Newsnight he regretted releasing a live greatest hits album

Sunday 24 February 2002 @ 19:39 - GMT

Elton said that he "squirmed" over the release of his recorded live version of his greatest hits, entitled One Night Only.

He told the BBC: "I shouldn't have done that album in a million years and I did and I regret doing it."

Elton Jalso attacked the music industry for creating "average and mediocre" manufactured bands.

Elton, who was nominated for two Brit awards, criticised music videos and likened bands such as S Club 7 to "packets of cereal".

And he added: "Nowadays record companies want the quick buck from the Backstreet Boys, NSync, Britney Spears, S Club 7s, from the Steps. They've always been around, I'm not knocking the music perhaps, but it's like packets of cereal.

"There are too many of them, too many of them are just average and mediocre. And I think it damages real people's chance, real talent, of getting airplay. It's just fodder.

"It has no distinguishing marks and a lot of it - you couldn't tell one from another, there's too much of it - much too much of it."

Talking about the pop video, he said: "If I was king of the music business and I would do one thing - I'd close down all the video stations and say let's just have music, can we?"

 

As many media links become quickly dead links, here is the full transcript from www.bbc.co.uk

This transcript is produced from the teletext subtitles that are generated live for Newsnight. It has been checked against the programme as broadcast, however Newsnight can accept no responsibility for any factual inaccuracies. We will be happy to correct serious errors.


Sir Elton John speaks exclusively to Newsnight 20/2/02

MADELEINE HOLT:
$1.5 million for a night like this. Not bad for a man a month short of his 55th birthday. This week, Sir Elton John topped the American charts for the highest grossing live performance, playing with Billy Joel. These days, only a handful of people can pull that off. In 35 years in the music industry, Sir Elton has seen it change dramatically, and, he believes, for the worse.

SIR ELTON JOHN:
Nowadays, record companies want the quick buck from the Backstreet Boys, from the N'Syncs, from the Britney Spears, from the S Club 7s, from the Steps. They've always been around, I'm not knocking the music perhaps, but it's like packets of cereal. There are too many of them, and too many of them are just average and mediocre. I think it damages real people's chance, real talent, of getting airplay. It's just fodder. It has no distinguishing marks. A lot of it, you couldn't tell one from the other. There's much too much of it. Much too much of it.

MADELEINE HOLT:
But the record industry is under more pressure now than ever. Latest figures show global sales of recorded music dropped last year by 5%, the biggest single fall. Sales of CD albums fells for the first time by almost as much. And overall sales in the biggest market of all, America, echoed the trend. The demand for short-term profits is intense.

SIR ELTON JOHN:
Nowadays, they think more about their quarterly earnings. There's no longevity, thinking, "We want this artist to be around in ten or 12 years". It's kind of heartbreaking, because you see most of the emphasis placed on instant success.

MADELEINE HOLT:
Sir Elton thinks the victims are the artists themselves.

SIR ELTON JOHN:
Where are those people going to be in two, three years? They're going to be on the scrap-heap because someone else newer and younger has come along, and the record company won't care about what's happened to that act that they've made a fortune out of. It's kind of disgusting really.

MADELEINE HOLT:
Not that the music industry has ever been exactly benevolent. But Sir Elton says when he started out, you had more of a chance to develop your talent. He played countless gigs before getting a contract. If his second album hadn't sold, he reckons his label would have stuck by him. Contrast this with the industry's latest, and highly lucrative, new phenomenon, TV talent shows where viewers choose an instant star. It's gone down in pop legend that Pop Idol attracted four times as many young voters as the last election, and some of the judges will make more money than any of the stars.

SIR ELTON JOHN:
For the guy who won it, Will, or Gareth or whatever, or Darius or all those people, I just hope someone's looking after them. They're on cloud nine at the moment, but in three or four years, what's going to happen to them? But good luck to them, they're probably very talented. I hope the record company looks after them and doesn't discard them.

MADELEINE HOLT:
In Britain, Sir Elton's comments aren't entirely at odds with some senior thinking in the music business. The new head of Britain's only major record company, EMI, has said the industry is failing because it lacks big global stars. Instead, it's turned music into a three-minute commodity. EMI is right to worry, it has issued two profit warnings in the last six months, and blown millions buying Mariah Carey out of her contract. Sir Elton has one solution.

SIR ELTON JOHN:
If it was me, I'd ban every single video being made by a new band. I'd get them on the road, put the money that's put into making a video, because it all comes out of their royalty statement anyway, at the end of the day. Put it into their equipment, put it into putting them on the road, playing second on the bill to people who are, you know¿ That's how I started in America.

MADELEINE HOLT:
Breaking into America is a British problem. In the mid '80s, British stars took 32% of the market. That's now fallen to 0.2%. Why?

SIR ELTON JOHN:
To break America, you've got to do what Craig David has done, you've got to do every radio station, you've got to get up at 7am and do 12 radio stations. You've got to do go there and play, you've got to do everything, like I did in the first five years of my career.

MADELEINE HOLT:
Robbie William's latest album, "Swing When You're Winning", spent seven weeks at number one in the UK, but wasn't even released in the States.

SIR ELTON JOHN:
Robbie is clever enough to know that if he wants to break America, his next album has to sound more beefy, more American. They just play their own bands on the radio.

MADELEINE HOLT:
It puts some perspective on tonight's annual celebration of the British music industry, the Brits. Sir Elton was up for best male solo artist and best video, alongside Robbie. He takes an active interest in the current scene. He buys records every week, and knowing how much he enjoys shopping, perhaps he is partly responsible for one good bit of music news. Sales in Britain are up more than 5%. But much of that growth is down to greatest hits collections. Four years ago, they made up one in ten of the top 100 best selling albums. That's now one in four. Even Sir Elton was forced, two years ago, to record a live album of his biggest hits.

SIR ELTON JOHN:
I squirmed and kicked and screamed, and then I had to do it. It was successful, it sold over two million copies world-wide. It is the record company eyeing Christmas and thinking, "We're going to make a quick killing here, so let's put the pressure on". I shouldn't have done that album in a million years, and I did, and I regret doing it.

MADELEINE HOLT:
At a concert in the US three months ago, sir Elton kicked up about the music industry. He said he was sick of it, and was giving up. That's all, he said, until now.

SIR ELTON JOHN:
I said I was retiring because I was having a bad night on stage, but there are some nights where you think "Is it bloody well worth it?". And then, of course, it is, because I just feel that I do have a duty to speak out, and say it is about time some of these younger acts were nurtured and given the time, but there certainly is the talent out there. There is as much talent out there now as when I was doing it. It's just that people aren't prepared to nourish it, cuddle it like a baby, breastfeed it, and put it into childhood and adulthood. It doesn't happen very much any more, and it is terrible.

MADELEINE HOLT:
Sir Elton seems more passionate about the music business than ever. Will that keep him at the heart of it, or is it time to find some distance?

SIR ELTON JOHN:
I shall carry on. I think, and this is the first time I've said it publicly, my Achilles heel in the last few years when making records is that I have had pressure from record companies to make singles, have singles on albums, and so you follow. I am influenced by so many sorts of music, but I try and copy things or just say, "Oh, I'll try something like this". Therefore, you don't stay true to yourself, and I have probably been guilty of that. I will put my hand up and say so. I am not going get the airplay that I did when I was 23 or 24 and I could do no wrong. But I still feel so young at heart that I expect to, and it's just not realistic. In a way it's a relief. It's like, it's over, Elton, you had 31 years when you had a record in the American top 40 every year. That can't realistically happen any more.

MADELEINE HOLT:
But it's not over quite yet. He's carrying on with a gruelling touring schedule until July. When he does choose a quieter life, it may be good for Sir Elton's creativity, but it can only be bad for an industry experiencing its worst decline in 20 years. For his millions of fans, he is a genuine pop idol, apparently working double time to keep the money rolling in, while the one- hit wonders come and go. Maybe Elton had it right 30 years ago.