A number of people in the music industry will be fielding
potentially uncomfortable phone calls over the coming
Tom Bower - fiercesome biographer of Mohammed Al-Fayed,
Richard Branson and, most recently, Bernie Ecclestone - has his
sights on one of our own, Simon Cowell.
He wants you to spill the beans.
Having spent an hour talking to him, what struck me was
still how under-served the music industry is in terms of serious
When it comes to data - particularly chart data - we are
superserved. When it comes to information - everything from Gaga's
meat dress to Cheryl's battle with malaria - there's more than any
sane person would want to read.
But when it comes to analysis of the fundamentals - why
some things work better than others, why some executives like Simon
Cowell succeed and others do not - we're far less clear.
Of course at a basic level, it's crystal clear: artists
are successful because more people like them. Executives are
successful because they somehow work out better than their
competitors which formula will work best.
But that's not hugely helpful: as to the whys and
wherefores, there's still a huge gap in understanding - and one
that's true of both film and games too.
Popular culture is always a meeting place and conflict
zone of art and commerce. Sometimes one is in the ascendant,
sometimes the other. Pop music began as anexpression of singles-led
commerce with Tin Pan Alley that was hijacked by the album-as-art
brigade of the Sixties and continued so til the 90s. Simon Cowell
is the ultimate expression of the revenge of commerce.
The resentment towards him expressed by the proponents of
pop music as art misses the point that after 10 years of falling
album sales, if commerce wasn't to the forefront, pop music really
would be stuffed.
(He's the man of the hour in more ways than one.
Terrestrial TV has been facing similar declines to music. His
great success has been in throwing a lifeline to two declining
businesses at once.)
It's true that few Cowell productions will enter the canon
of popular music - although Leona Lewis's Bleeding Love has a fair
claim - but that misses the point: were it not for the 3m or so
albums sold by X Factor and Britain's Got Talent contestants last
year, the market would have been down yet another couple of per
cent, and it's unlikely those sales would have been made up by
Caribou or Foals or These New Puritans, or other critical
Which brings us back to Tom Bower. You can't blame him for
wanting details of conflicts, secrets, potential scandal. He is
subject to the same commercial pressures as Simon Cowell. And it's
those elements which sell.
But wouldn't it be a more interesting book if he were able
to isolate the X-Factor which has really made Simon Cowell so