From One Direction to Olly Murs: the indie underbelly of mainstream pop

Nick Hodgson has revealed he's been writing songs for Olly Murs. But it's not a skill to be sneered at – as Snow Patrol's Gary Lightbody, Ordinary Boys's Preston and Athlete's Joel Potts will affirm

A few months ago, I interviewed pop songwriter Wayne Hector – a man responsible for such chart toppling hits as Westlife's Flying Without Wings, Nicki Minaj's Starships and the Wanted's Glad You Came. As someone who has seen chart trends fluctuate over the years, Hector was an ideal candidate to comment on the changing styles of pop, comparing the styles favoured in the 90s to pop acts in the present. More specifically, he described the way in which pop acts now request a more "left-field" means of songcraft.

"Back in the 90s you could write about pure love. But now it has to have substance. Everyone wants songs to be slightly cooler. Bands still want pop, but it has to have some kind of edge," he said. "One Direction working with Justin from the Vaccines proves that they want to add a little bit of indie to their sound too. They have one more album to go [in order to] bring people along with them, and then they can get past that point, then they could mature."

By "mature", he of course means "grow beards" and by "indie", he's probably alluding to the kind of music made by Mumford & Sons, Maroon 5 or My Chemical Romance, rather than a 1989 Pastels B-side. A quick glance at the top 20 confirms his point too: both the Vamps and 5 Seconds of Summer – with their instruments and swoopy-haired scenester looks – are certainly more left field than the white-suited days of Boyzone and Backstreet Boys. But digging beneath the surface lies pop's alternative-influence: the indie-band songwriter.

Today it was reported that Nick Hodgson, who left the Kaiser Chiefs last year to pursue a more studio-based career, has began writing songs for Olly Murs, a job formerly embraced by Preston of the Ordinary Boys. "I've known Preston since the Kaisers supported the Ordinary Boys when we started out," Hodgson told the Daily Star. "He phoned to see if I fancied writing with them, and it was an interesting idea. We got a great song out of it. I hadn't met him before, but I liked Olly a lot."

Hodgson and Preston are just two of many former band members who have changed course following the weary demise of the indie guitar group. While the two weeks the Kaiser Chiefs have recently spent at No 1 may have been a bitter pill to swallow, Hodgson's switch in career is nothing to be sneered at: take Snow Patrol's Gary Lightbody, who co-wrote Something Great from the multi-platinum One Direction album Midnight Memories. Or Joel Pott, formerly of Athlete, who was called upon to write moody X Factor contestant Aidan Grimshaw's break-out single after leaving the competition, or Matt Hale from Aqualung, a man best known for the meandering melancholy of Strange and Beautiful, who collaborated on the debut album for pop-soul singer and Prince muse Lianne La Havas.

While the bulk of the global pop market is still penned by the likes of Hector, Max Martin or Rami Yacoub, the bubbling British indie underbelly of pop makes a lot of sense to me. The indie groups from the early- to mid-noughties may now be looked upon by many as bed-wetting weaklings with sensible shoes and not an ounce of anarchy, but it was also a time full of brilliant melodies in an innocent, uncomplicated way. I for one would be overjoyed to see some of that untapped market – perhaps Travis's Fran Healy, Kelly Jones from the Stereophonics, Badly Drawn Boy, either one of the Turin Brakes – crawling covertly back into the mainstream.


Harriet Gibsone

The GuardianTramp

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