CONOR MAYNARD is playing it far too safe to really challenge Justin Bieber, drowning his rebellious teen idol charm in anonymous boy-band slush
CONOR MAYNARD: CONTRAST
It was only a matter of time. In these days of commercial downturn, when record companies need a sure thing more than ever, and at a point when the huge success of One Direction has proven, if there was any doubt in the first place, that teen, tween and pre-teen girls still love to scream their lungs up at fresh-faced boys standing in the vicinity of a pop tune, it was inevitable that someone somewhere was going to drum up the British Bieber.
Brighton teenager Conor Maynard is that test subject. Like Justin Bieber, he was discovered via performance videos posted on YouTube, which he recorded in his bedroom, using SingStar microphones taped to his bedpost. As his viewing figures increased, he added behind-the-music clips which he called “Conorcles”. His growing legions of fans have already been dubbed the “Mayniacs”. Maybe they will end up fighting the “Beliebers” on the Brighton beachfront, mods and rockers-style. Don’t underestimate the intensity of a partisan fanbase – nor the value of a cheesy pun – in the teen pop market.
Maynard is 19 – though he looks much younger – and does appear to have natural boy-next-door charm. Unlike the toothsome Bieber, he looks like he might actually have answered back to his parents at some point in his life. As a child, he acted in Dream Team, a Sky kids’ series about a youth football team. He discovered he had a talent for turning heads the first time a girl responded favourably to his singing. Shrewd boy.
Earlier this year, he beat Lana Del Rey to the MTV Brand New for 2012 title. Big things are predicted, not least by writer/producer/R&B bigwig Pharrell Williams, who has declared that “this kid will change the face of pop music”. Really? Still, it would be wise to brace oneself for the likely ubiquity of Conor Maynard, especially given the current crossover success of The Wanted and One Direction in the United States.
Where those two acts have exported a distinctly British boy band sound, Maynard is playing the Americans at their own game – just check out the video for his current single, Vegas Girl, filmed in the US with an American girl as the love interest. His debut album features an impressive roll call of hipster R&B and hip-hop talent in songwriting and production roles, including the aforementioned Williams, as well as contributions from pop dance production houses Stargate and British outfit The Invisible Men, who are well practised at delivering the requisite hit sound of the moment.
Consequently, Contrast pitches itself squarely at the teen equivalent of the hip-hop and R&B market. Opening track Animal throws snippets of hip-hop, R&B and trance pop production at an inadequate song and so it goes for much of the album which, like many a teenager’s seduction techniques, superficially makes the right sounds but can’t quite follow through.
Turn Around, written by R&B star Ne-Yo, skirts coyly round Eurodance territory without committing. The relief is that Maynard doesn’t play that card elsewhere. His voice is sufficiently anonymous that he could come from anywhere. While there are playful moments on his debut, he lacks the anecdotal character of his fellow Brighton teens Rizzle Kicks. Instead, both his singles to date, Can’t Say No and Vegas Girl, place him firmly in the R&B club pop tradition of Justin Timberlake.
Lift Off, the first of the Pharrell tracks, is a brighter, more melodic undertaking from the off, with a fleet-footed tune and elements of classic disco. Williams’ other contribution, Glass Girl, is a would-be tortured, bitter ballad about infidelity, intended to pack some emotional heft but not helped by the puny processed rock guitar, an awkward reference to the Glastonbury festival and his enunciation of the title which sounds like he is singing about “Miss Glasgow”.
Better Than You concerns the game-playing in a relationship, though there is not much genuine vocal interplay between Maynard and guest vocalist Rita Ora. Another One is anonymous boy -band filler fluff about partying which at least has the honesty to admit “all this candy makes me sick but I’m still going to have some”. Pictures, written by up-coming R&B singer Frank Ocean, features falsetto in search of a tune.
By this point, it is clear that Maynard could have mounted a pithier charm offensive. Still, this is a pleasantly accomplished start with a heap more attitude than anything One Direction have released to date, while Maynard himself manages to appear cheeky enough to slip in a few naughty lyrics when the parents aren’t listening, yet still wholesome enough to bring home for tea. In teen pop terms, that’s be a result.