The traditional image of the pop star as the working class hero has its origins in the 1960’s. In the explosion of pop music that signified a step change in post war social and cultural development. Bands such as the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and solo artists such as Tom Jones and Lulu are cases in point. These were authentic musical artists who came many from the regions and the “labouring classes” and broke free to challenge the status quo. Today the image of the pop star in the music for free era is just as likely to be that of the middle class James Blunt or Mumford and Sons.
The reality is a little more complex than traditional view would have us believe. Many in the 1960’s were from a middle class background. John Lennon went to Art School and Mick Jagger to LSE. They had to some extent, pretend to be working class.
The argument has taken on a new angle with a debate over the pop music’s changing social dynamics. A recent issue of The Word music magazine claimed that most artists in the UK charts were either privately educated or from high profile stage schools. It drew a direct comparison between the Top 40 one week in October 1910 and the same week in 1990. This uncovered that nearly 80% of artists in 1990 went to state schools
The 1980’s pop producer Pete Waterman believes that the results highlight and uncomfortable truth, that strings are frequently pulled in the music industry. Previously you could find a job because you knew about music today they want a CV. Is the same true of bands trying to make it? Those who think so point to privately educated artists such as Lily Allen, Chris Martin, Florence Welsh and Laura Marling.
But perhaps the public-state school debate is the wrong way to analyse the current music industry. In the era of YouTube music many new acts are past pupils of either the Brit School in Croyden or the X-Factor. Others argue that guitar based rock has ceased to be commercial enabling other genres to move into the empty market. The business models have certainly changed with the emergence of free music online and a greater emphasis on live music.