One of the advantages of being unemployed is whilst I am totally uninspired to write anything or even think very much, I have far more time to keep in touch with popular culture. Now that the 7-year old in my house has returned to work I can sit down over my lunch break (even though I am out of work, I try to keep to a routine that resembles being in a job) and watch television. Despite having something like 50 channels to choose from, the lunchtime programming seems to be packed with people bemoaning the eating disorder they are suffering or shouting at people in a studio when DNA results reveal who was the father of a particular child. These are probably important things in people's lives but I find I can only watch very little of this kind of programming before getting stressed and/or depressed myself. The alternatives are shopping channels advertising stuff I would not buy if I even had any money and the news, which I usually know off by heart by the time it gets to the middle of the day, having had the very few stories on the list thrust at me from the moment I have woken up on radio and the internet (it is always fascinating when you travel around continental Europe to see how much more news they get on television than we do in the UK. I have counted it up and we seem to have 4-5 stories at national level and 3 at local level, whereas they are likely to get 12-13 stories and probably 6 at local level and often have a regional level of programming between that). So, what am I left with? Music video channels.
The consequence of this is that now rather than simply hearing tunes on the radio I get to see the videos as well. A lot seem to be soft porn like in nature or in the case of the Number 3 'hit' by DJ Ironik featuring Chipmunk and Elton John, 'Tiny Dancer (Hold Me Closer)' out-and-out erotica with lesbians in black-and-white collared and leashed. The one that has made me laugh most though, is the video by Tinchy Strider featuring N-Dubz, 'Number 1' which reached that position in the UK charts. It is at Number 40 having been in the charts for 20 weeks, but Strider (born 1987; graduated this year with a BA in Moving Image & Animation) has followed up with another Number 1, 'Never Leave Me' a rather mawkish hit featuring Amelle Berrabah, so is clearly hitting the mark with his records. 'Number 1' is successful as a pop hit, very catchy, with energy whilst being romantic at the same time 'from my homey to my only' is going to appeal to teenagers of both sexes.
The thing that makes me laugh is the contribution of N-Dubz member, Dappy, the stage name of Dino Contostavlos (born 1987; son of the late Byron Contostavlos, member of 1970s one-hit wonders, Mungo Jerry). In fact he looks like a young version of comic actor, Dr. David Schneider (train guard in 'Mission Impossible' (1996), star in slapstick series 'Uncle Max' (2006) as well as numerous comedy series with Armando Iannucci and Steve Coogan; he is a black belt in judo). Schneider's larger-than-life facial features are suited to the comedic roles he plays but are less suited to Dappy's supposedly cool rapper image in the video. Added to this, the ridiculous hats he wears which may be a trade mark, but just make his rather pale, comic features look even more foolish.
I accept that image is not everything and N-Dubz have won a MOBO (Music Of Black Origin) and a Silver Clef award, but you think with the money that was presumably spent on the 'Number 1' video, Dappy could have gone in for a bit of restyling. As well as the ridiculous flappy-eared hats (that I have heard his mother say she bought for him and wears himself), in the video he wears a 1970s red-with-white-piping track suit for much of the video and walks around as if he was mimicking men walking on the Moon, looking pretty uncomfortable and utterly lacking in rhythm or style. I feel sorry for the man, but he has the last laugh, even if he achieves nothing else in his life, he has topped the British charts, something I will never do or even come close to. I just wish he could get an a gram of style or cool in him. some ways, Dappy reminds me of Rick Astley, a British pop singer who had some hits in the 1980s mainly on his rich voice, but when performing really lacked the style and grace, I suppose you could call it, that marks out strong performers especially if you are recording music that falls into the MOBO arena.
Reflecting on this, though, it almost seemed that in Dappy, as if the nerdy guy from your school class had come good. The trouble with terms like 'nerd' and 'geek' is that they suggest that there is some intelligence behind the uncool exterior and with Dappy I do not feel that is the case which is why I settled for 'dork'. All horrible Americanisms, but I could not find a UK version that fitted. Thus, Dappy embodies all those young men who stand in front of the mirror and think they will be a pop/rap/rock star and attract all the ladies, yet, of course, due to popular demand (topping Channel U - satellite, urban music channel - for long periods) he has actually got that kind of break, even appearing in a Channel 4 series 'Dubplate Drama'. Unfortunately it probably means that many more young men looking like Dappy and with his lack of style but without his talent, will think they can reach Number 1 and will be exploited/disappointed. I am not saying Dappy should not succeed, I am just saying he should try to look more like a star than some guy hanging around at the bus stop.
P.P. 05/11/2009: I suppose not all 22-year old men get to perform in an award-winning group, but somehow Dappy seems to have achieved this whilst having a cool by-pass. He still resembles teenage boys hanging out in shopping centres looking moody and thinking they are the coolest people on the planet without realising that in fact they are dorky and seem rather silly. Dappy does not seem to have caught on to the fact that just asserting that you are the trendiest thing on the planet does not make that true and he needs to pay attention to how he presents himself. Presently he comes across as a weird hybrid between wigger, Ali G. played by Sascha Baron Cohen (as in the movie 'Ali G Indahouse' (2002)) and Kevin, the teenage DJ played by Harry Enfield (as in the movie 'Kevin and Perry Go Large' (2000)). My dismay at Dappy was only reinforced by reading an interview with him in 'The Guardian' of 24th October. I include some extracts from the interview to emphasise my points (capital letters indicate shouting):
Interviewer: Hello Dappy! If your new album was a person, who would it be?
Dappy: Ah! RAMBO! Because it's adventurous and it's exciting and it's everywhere and it's RRAOOW! [raw] It's a big adventure and you can sing along to every tune. That's my point.
Of course, Rambo is a fictional character, played by Sylvester Stallone, featured in three movies, beloved of teenage boys, for reference see 'Son of Rambow' (2007).
I: You v. Blazin's Squad. Who'd win?
D: Us v Blazin' Squad? WHAT? Are you mad? We'd muller them! We'll trample all over them in any way there is! You mean musically?
I: No. In a fistfight.
D: A FISTFIGHT? What? Woo? WHAT? Us lot against them lot? Really? That's what the Guardian is asking me? We'll bury them. WE'LL BURY THEM. We'll make them look small. We're animals, we're animals. We're from the hood innit. From the H-O-O-D. We're respectable people, we're humble. But we'll BURY THEM.
In this aspect Dappy is being very bullish like many young men. Like many wiggers (white youth aspiring to be black) he pretends that he comes from a much tougher background than he actually does. This is actually often the case when you see interviews with black American rappers. Many of them taken back to their childhood districts say 'oh, it was much worse when I was a kid' when the pictures show they came from a working class, but far from rundown district. I recognise credibility in rap music comes from showing how far you have come and how tough you are, but Dappy is unable to pull this off in the way that a 140 Kg American rapper might. His attempts continue with:
I: In your song you say that you've got love for the slums. Why? Aren't slums a bit rubbish?
D: We class slums as like SLUMS, the GHE-TTO, the bad bit of town that people don't like to walk down. They made me who I am today. They made me clean up and humble.
Dappy was being interviewed in Haselmere, an expensive bit of Surrey that even on £35,000 per year I cannot afford to live in. He was brought up in an equally rich area in London, St. John's Wood. Having lived in Mile End and Poplar, I know his perception of the 'ghetto' though correctly characterising it as a place where people get trapped, is far from the reality of urban living. Dappy's very juvenile approach appears in other answers, making him sound 13 rather than 22:
I: What does the N in N-Dubz stand for?
D: North. North-West W, then we cut it down to N-Dubz [the 'dubz' bit from 'double-ewe' i.e. 'w']. You get it? You get it! YAY! That's really amazing! Now you understand what it means. You were in the dark before.
Fascinatingly, Dappy's explanation makes it less interesting than before. People assumed 'Dubz' had some relation to dub music or dubbing and that whole culture and that the N was some classification of that, now we find it simply comes from the postcode of where they lived. Of course, they are not the first group to use their address in their name; East 17 the 1990s boy band took their name from the E17 postcode of Walthamstow where they lived. It is astounding how much the Post Office has contributed to popular music in Britain!
I: Lastly, what's the secret to being cool, Dappy?
D: Come and meet us and, trust me, a couple of hours later you'll leave and you'll be straight up gully man, you get me? Spend an hour with N-Dubz and you'll go back thinking crazy stuff, how about that? Not BAD crazy stuff. You're gonna enjoy it. Simple as.
I suppose you have to admire the young man's self-confidence but he seems to have his head so far up his own backside that he thinks he is a) cool, b) God's gift to the population, so sleek and sophisticated that his presence bestows cool on anyone in his presence. Such self-obssession and arrogance may be a pre-requisite for being a rapper but it is likely to come before a very sharp fall to the ground. Do not take this man as a role model! My advice to him would be: get a life!
P.P. 22/01/2010: This man reaches knew heights of moronic behaviour. He had been part of a government anti-bullying campaign in November 2009. However, he showed his true, nasty side this month when he texted a 22-year old woman, Chloe Moody following a text she had sent to the Radio 1 Chris Moyles show on which Dappy had appeared. She had called him 'a little boy in a silly hat'. His response was to get her number and text back 'Your [i.e. you're, spelling is not a strength for Dappy] gonna die'. Not content with this he continued texting: 'U sent a very bad msg towards N Dubz on The Chris Moyels show yesterday Morning and for that reason u will never be left alone!!' Then he called her a 'fucking chicken', and 'U dum fucking dickhead u can call me names over the radio but when I call u direct u chicken out u punk! nana fucking niiiii, Dappy.' This shows both his juvenile attitude and even setting aside the nature of textspeak, it shows a lack of imagination. Most alarming is his assumption is that in response to a mild criticism he could make a series of insulting remarks especially a threat of stalking and death.
Interestingly, his behaviour shows up the basis of the problems that the UK is facing with bullying. There is an assumption that the natural response to even mild criticism should be threats of violence. Naturally the campaign BeatBullying has dropped him and has broken of all contact. It is clear that he had not taken on board any of its messages and clearly had simply attended the events in its name because a publicist thought it would be good for his profile. We are not going to truly tackle the UK's casually violent culture if influential young men think it is alright to threaten to take people's lives. Perhaps BeatBullying should take Dappy in for analysis to see what makes him behave in that way. I cannot really see him remaining famous (as opposed to notorious) for long if he keeps shooting himself in the foot behaving in the way that the campaign he has supposedly subscribed to, seeks to stop.