Mick Jagger turns 70 today – which begs the question, where have all the front men gone?

Whatever happened to the charismatic, effeminate, mysterious frontman?

Today, the most charismatic front man in Britain turns 70. Yes, Mick Jagger, the epitome of flamboyance, has reached the big 7-0. Yet despite his rapidly advancing years, in terms of his natural ability to entertain, Jagger remains head and shoulders above anyone.

How depressing. Of course, one can still enjoy and treasure Jagger. As his Glastonbury performance demonstrated, he remains a force of nature, a man whose bravado borders on the offensive. However, he is 70, and the fact that he is still the best we have to offer only serves to expose the current dearth of young front men.

And it is not just Jagger who the front men of today have failed to eclipse. Icon after icon of decades gone by, the likes of Bowie, Mercury, Cocker and Morrissey are in no danger of being surpassed. So why are young, male, lead singers, just nowhere near as exciting, as magnetic, as alluring as they used to be?

First, and rather ironically, the very existence of these musical giants from past decades has handicapped today’s batch. The constant comparison of modern day performers to past legends by aged music journalists has served only to pigeonhole every promising young artist into a particular type. If you're Jake Bugg you’re the "new Bob Dylan", if you’re the Strypes you’re the "new Beatles", if you’re the Palma Violets you’re the "new Libertines", or the "new Strokes", not a new and exciting artist in your own right.

This has created a very rigid set of front man ideal types which constrain how today’s front men can act, perform, and even dress. You are either an Elvis, a Bowie, a Morrissey or another artist, with every attribute that accompanies that type. There’s no freedom to chart a new course, no license to break the mould.

Lead singer of the Vaccines, Justin Young sums this up. He and his band emerged in 2010 looking exactly like what they were: an exciting, frenetic, pure, naïve, electric guitar-toting rock band. They looked like they’d cut their own hair, bought their clothes in charity shops, and knew a thing or two about old French movies. They were charismatic. 

However, then they became an ideal type. After constant comparisons with the Ramones, and what appears to be Young’s own personal obsession with the New York City foursome, they ditched their very primitive, raw, artsy look and adopted the uniform of a traditional rock band. Now dressed in double denim, the Vaccines appear to be actively pursuing the "new Ramones" label, a far less intriguing prospect than they had originally promised.

Yet in truth, for several reasons, modern day front men can never really fulfil these ideal types anyway.  Most prominently, thanks partly to the aggressive macho posturing of the likes of Liam Gallagher, front men have lost touch with their feminine side. Performers like Jagger always had something so intriguingly androgynous - an effeminate edge. Whether it was Jagger’s penchant for dresses, Morrissey’s gladioli, or the whole Bowie package, past front men’s femininity added a certain flair.

Compare that to the likes of the Arctic Monkey’s Alex Turner, who with his current quiff, snake skin boots and denim jacket looks like a mechanic at a wedding, or Kasabian’s Tom Meighan, who actually unveiled the new England away shirt in 2010, wearing it a live show in Paris. How macho. How straight. How boring.

Yet aside from questions of artistic direction and individual flair, the business of music and in particular, the rise of illegal downloads, must also take some of the rap.  Free music has reduced the amount of money up-and-coming artists can make as a result of selling records. Consequently, the tour bus has become the prime source of income, as bands jet set around the globe for months on end. As a result, music is now a game for the dependable, a game for those who can be on time and ready to perform every day. The unpredictable, reckless, mischievous performers would no longer survive.

Moreover, the exposure that the internet brings removes so much of the mystery that charisma often relies upon. You can now find out everything from an artist’s school to their formative musical influences, preventing performers from creating an aura of uncertainty, that alluring and exciting sense of intrigue that so many before have had.

To go back to the Justin Young example, upon the release of his first Vaccines album, all you had to do to remove his rock-star ruse was Google him. His previous exploits as Jay Jay Pistolet, a soft-spoken, priory-bead wearing, folk singer, were then revealed. His cover was blown, the intrigue was lost, and his charisma was dashed.

All in all, a concoction of trends have made today’s front men boring descendants of the musical geniuses we so miss. Unless we can end an obsession with the past, and ideal types of front men, unless we can once again find front men with an extravagant femininity, unless we can put money back into the record industry, and simultaneously keep musician’s own past away from the prying eyes of the internet, by the time Jagger reaches 80, we may still be in need of a successor. Better not hold our breath eh?

 

Is Jagger, at 70, still better than most other front men? Photography: Getty Images.
Photo: NRK
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Skam, interrupted: why is the phenomenally popular teen drama ending before its peak?

The show has been building towards high school graduation – but now it’s ending before its lead characters finish school.

“Have you heard they started their bus already?”
“No!”
“One month into high school – and they started their bus.”

This Skype conversation between Eva and Isak comes early in the first episode of Skam. The phenomenally internationally successful series follows teenagers at a high school in Oslo. The “bus” they're discussing is a key plot point and concern of the students' lives. That’s because, in Norway, graduating high school students participate in “russefeiring” – it’s a rite of passage into adulthood, a celebration of completing high school, and a farewell to friends departing for university or jobs around the country.

Students gather into groups, give their gang a name, wear matching coloured overalls, rent a big car or a van, and spend late April to mid May (17 May – Norwegian Constitution Day) continuously partying. They call it the “three week binge”. It’s a big fucking deal. 

Skam, with its focus on teens in high school, has therefore spent a lot of time thinking about “russ”. The show, which is set at the exact same time it airs, has followed its four main characters Eva, Noora, Isak and Sana (who each have a season of the show written from their perspective, a la Skins), as well as all their friends, from their first few weeks at school in September 2015. In other words, preparations take years, and we’ve heard a lot about the plans for their russ bus.

In season one, Eva has fallen out with her best friend, and is hurt when she hears she is moving on and has formed a new bus, with new friends, called Pepsi Max.

We meet one of the show’s most prominent characters, Vilde, when we see her trying to get a bus of girls together. The show’s five main girl characters, Eva, Noora, Vilde, Chris and Sana, become friends because of her efforts: they bond during their “bus meetings” and fundraising attempts. They flirt with a group of boys on a bus calling themselves “The Penetrators”.

The latest season follows Sana’s struggles to ensure the bus doesn’t fall apart, and an attempt to join buses with rivals Pepsi Max. The joyful climax of season four comes when they finally buy their own bus and stop social-climbing, naming themselves “Los Losers”. Bus drama is the glue that keeps the show together.

But now, in June 2017, a whole year before the characters graduate, Skam is ending. The architect of the girls’ bus, Vilde, has never had her own season, unlike most of her friends. Many assumed that Vilde would have had her own season during her final year at school. Fans insist the show’s creator Julie Andem planned nine seasons in total, yet Skam is ending after just four.

The news that Skam would stop after season four came during the announcement that Sana, a Muslim member of the “girl squad”, would be the next main character. The show’s intense fandom were delighted by the character choice, but devastated at the news that there would only be one more season. “I can’t accept that this is the last season,” one wrote on Reddit.

“I'm so shocked and sad. It’s honestly just...weird. It doesn’t make sense, and it’s not fair. It’s not fair that we’re not getting a Vilde season. Most importantly, it’s not fair that we’ll never get to see them on their russ, see them graduating, nothing. It seems like such an abrupt decision. It doesn’t serve the storyline at all.”

No one has given a concrete reason about why the show ended prematurely. Ina, who plays Chris, said in an interview that “we all need a break”.

Some fans went into denial, starting petitions to encourage Andem to continue with the show, while rumours abound suggesting it will return. 

Many speculated that the show simply became too popular to continue. “I think that the show would have had six seasons and a Vilde season if the show didn’t become popular outside of Scandinavia,” one wrote. “I think the pressure and the large amount of cringy fans (not saying that some Scandinavian fans aren’t cringy) has made making the show less enjoyable for the actors and creators.”

Andem has stayed mostly quiet on her reasons for ending the show, except for a statement made via her Instagram. She recalls how very early on, during a season one shoot, someone first asked her how long the show would last:

“We were standing in the schoolyard at Nissen High School, a small, low-budget production crew, one photographer, the sound engineer and me. ‘Who knows, but I think we should aim for world domination,’ I said. We all laughed, ‘cause I was obviously joking. None of us understood then how big Skam would turn out to be. This experience has been completely unreal, and a joy to be a part of.”

Skam has been a 24/7 job,” she continues. “We recently decided that we won’t be making a new season this fall. I know many of you out there will be upset and disappointed to hear this, but I’m confident this is the right decision.”

Many fans feel that season four has struggled under the burden of ending the show – and divisions and cracks have appeared in the fandom as a result.

Some feel that Sana’s season has been overshadowed by other characters and plotlines, something that is particularly frustrating for those who were keen to see greater Muslim representation in the show. Of a moment in season four involving Noora, the main character from season two, one fan account wrote, “I LOVE season tw- I mean four. That’s Noora’s season right? No wait, is it Willhell’s season??? What’s a Sana.”

Others feel that the subject of Islam hasn’t been tackled well in this season. Some viewers felt one scene, which sees Sana and her white, non-Muslim friend, Isak, discuss Islamophobia, was whitesplainy. 

One popular translation account, that provides a version of the show with English subtitles, wrote of the scene: “A lot of you guys have been disappointed by the latest clip and you’re not the only ones. We do want to finish this project for the fans but we are disappointed with how this season has gone.” They announced they would be translating less as a result.

The final week of the show has been light on Sana. Instead, each character who never received a full season has had a few minutes devoted to their perspective. These are the other girls from the girl squad, Vilde and Chris, and the boyfriends of each main character: Eva’s ex Jonas, Isak’s boyfriend Even, Eva’s current fling “Penetrator Chris” and Noora’s on-off boyfriend William.

It’s understandable to want to cover key perspectives in the show’s final week, but it can feel teasing – we get a short glimpse into characters' home lives, like Vilde struggling to care for her depressed mother, but the scene ends before we can really get into it. And, of course, it takes precious time away from Sana in the show’s final minutes.

Some were frustrated by the characters focused on. “Penetrator Chris” is a particularly minor character – one fan account wrote of his scene: “This is absolutely irrelevant. 1) It sidelines Sana 2) It asks more questions 3) It doesn’t answer shit. This isn’t even Sana’s season anymore and that’s absolutely disgusting. She didn’t even get closure or ten episodes or anything.

“Sana has been disrespected and disregarded and erased and sidelined and that is fucking gross. She deserved better. Yet here we are watching a Penetrator Chris clip. How ironic that it’s not even called just “Christopher” because that’s all he is. “Penetrator Chris”.

It’s been a dramatic close for a usually warm and tight-knit fan community. Of course, many fans are delighted with the final season: their only sadness is there won’t be more. One of the largest fan accounts tried to keep things positive. “I know people have mixed feelings about Skam and who deserves what in terms of screentime this season (etc),” they wrote, “which I totally understand.

"However, everything has already been filmed, so there is nothing we can do about it. I think this last week of Skam will be much more enjoyable for everyone if we focus on the positives in the clips ahead. Skam isn’t perfect. People are allowed to disagree. But let’s go into this week being grateful for everything Skam has given us.”

Some fans choose to look to what the future holds for the show – an American remake. It will keep the same characters and plotlines as the original, and Andem may be involved.

Few think it will be a patch on the current show, but some are excited to have the chance to watch it teasingly as a group regardless. It seems unlikely that the US remake will compare in terms of quality – not least because the original was so heavily researched and tied to Norwegian culture. But for fans struggling to let go of Skam, it can’t come soon enough.

Anna Leszkiewicz is a pop culture writer at the New Statesman.

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