This would never have been my first choice for a night out in London but, thanks to some free tickets and access to a corporate box, it seemed to offer some potential in terms of teaching the kids something about ‘pop concerts’ and I’m always keen to let them experience ‘live’ music wherever possible. Predictably the show did nothing for me, neither JLS themselves or their music are to my tastes, but many of the lyrics and harmonies in their songs could be picked up pretty easily so I found myself singing along, if only to encourage the children to enjoy themselves and see music concerts as pleasurable experiences.
Having just finished teaching my current undergraduate group about aesthetic theory, including Pierre Bordieu’s theory of ‘distinction’ and Theodor Adorno’s dislike of all that is mass produced and ‘standardised’, it seemed the perfect ending to this first semester. In the grand scheme of things the music of JLS hardly seems likely to bring about societal improvement, or challenge current political ideologies. However, my conclusion here (and in trying to adopt an optimistic perspective) was that if music like that of JLS can at least capture the attention of younger audiences and encourage them to listen to lyrics and appreciate musicians as messengers, then acts like JLS might at least perhaps pave the way for subsequent and more substantial artists (lyrically and musically) to have a more transformative effect upon their audiences and make more deep rooted impressions later in life.
Failing that, I would have to conclude that many of those alongside me in the audience at the O2 are destined to appreciate music in the guise of Adorno’s ‘Jitterbugs’ or ‘Radio Hams’, failing to challenge that which they hear and merely responding passively to music through bodily reflexes, getting carried away by pretty much any sound at all. But such accusations seem a little harsh, particularly in relation to younger audiences who seem unlikely to still be listening to JLS in five years time. Indeed learning how to respond to music like ‘Jitterbugs’ or to listen passively like the ‘Radio Ham’, to escape the realities of everyday life, certainly brings its own pleasures which we should not deny. Rather than labelling audiences in such restrictive terms as those applied by Adorno then, it would perhaps be better to acknowledge that there can be no music of ‘distinction’ without the existence of its very opposite and that ultimately even passive listening is perhaps better than not listening at all. Farewell JLS, we came, we saw, we heard (but we really wanted to be listening to something different)!