Your first introduction to pop music is always a special one, but a one you need to be particularly careful with; for as most parents tell their children, anything dripping with a sugary taste, and dressed in fancy colours, may not always be the best thing for you.
Serving as a metaphor, the word ‘pop’, and it’s sugary addictions, can be looked at in two ways with tonight’s show; in the blue corner we have a past winner of X-factor, Ben Haenow, a man who got to take home all of pop’s most prestigious prizes, and in the red we have a collection of fans who have found pop for the first time and are currently enslaved to it’s dopamine rushes.
With no intention of dropping out, or going through the motions, 2019 finds Haenow moving away from 2014’s ‘here’ to 2019’s ‘there’. Having fulfilled obligations, danced with the devil, and paid off the mortgages, Haenow seems to have asked himself some serious questions about what winning pop culture’s most sticky award meant, and most importantly, if that’s what he wanted in the first place. And it turns out it wasn’t; he wanted the sugar-free, organic, version all along.
Deeply soulful, and using his voice as the main weapon of communication, Haenow tonight turns off the infectious distractions pop music can provide, removes the programmed synths, and takes us into his grown-up, acoustic, very adult world. No longer about success, money or fame, this is all about self-respect and having some fun; something clearly evidenced in his impactful, Presley-esque, delivery of his older material ‘Forgive & forget’ and ‘Second Hand Heart’. ‘Make it back to me’, delivered without it’s usual piano line and instead focused around Haenow’s vocal, is particularly impressive and must break every heart in the room.
Yet whilst he plays with the arrangements of past hits, it’s in his choice of covers where Haenow reveals his true past influences and future direction. Covers of Prince’s ‘Purple Rain’, Gnarls Barkley’s ‘Crazy’ and Envogue’s ‘What’s it gonna be’ demonstrate not just a love for grown-up, adult, content but also a deep love for r&b and soul; it’s a different type of stickiness Haenow takes his audience to with these songs proving that pop clearly wasn’t dangerous enough.
The red corner leave tonight with their share of pop moments; they get their favourite hits, they get their fill of great melody lines, and they get Instagram Story moments. But what they’ve also had is the sense of danger and sexuality which comes from soul and rock n’roll. If pop music is an important step in our musical development, then Ben Haenow has provided the perfect gateway drug. Maybe the benefit of pop being so shiny and new is that it leads to greater rewards. Tell your parents not to worry.