Busted want you to know: They’re pop, not plastic.
The London-based trio, currently on a sold-out stadium tour of Britain, may be freshly scrubbed moppets whose melodic punk-pop thrills fans. But don’t call them a boy band.
“We hate being called a boy band, because it comes under a shameful category,” said 18-year-old guitarist-singer Charlie Simpson. “There’s a lot of bands that used to be called pop, in the ’60s and ’70s, that were great bands.
“It’s all manufactured now,” Simpson said by phone from a hotel room in Manchester. “There’s businessmen sitting in offices thinking, ‘How can we make more money here?’ And that’s not what music is about.”
Busted, British pop darlings who plan an assault on the United States later this year, place great importance on being real.
Despite a rapid rise to teen-idol fame — they have sold more than 1.5 million albums and had three British No. 1 singles within two years — the members of Busted insist they have slogged in the musical trenches.
Their official biographies stress their “real band” credentials — stints in failed groups with names like Sic Puppy; after-school song writing sessions; a want ad that united handsome, private-school educated Simpson with James Bourne and Matt Willis.
Sweet as pop
The trio stress that they play their instruments and write their own songs — catchy confections whose punchy, chiming guitar chords call to mind a slightly sweeter Sum 41 or blink-182.
Lyrically, they extol the virtues of flight attendants (”Air hostess, I like the way you dress) and bemoan the turmoil of young love (”Are you sure that you’re mine/Aren’t you dating other guys?”) in bouncy couplets.
It has proved to be a winning formula. Busted’s self-titled 2002 debut and last year’s follow-up “A Present for Everyone” each spent several weeks in the British top 10 album chart. In February, the band picked up two prizes — best British breakthrough artist and best pop act — at the Brit Music Awards (the equivalent of the Grammys) where they delighted some and appalled others with a performance of The Undertones’ punk classic “Teenage Kicks.”
The choice of song points to Busted’s ability to snag a broad fan base. While the bulk of their fans are enraptured tweens, many adults have hailed the band as a refreshing return to pure pop.
“Busted,” one critic noted recently, “are the band that it’s OK for everyone to like.”
“When we first started out, we never shied away from success,” said 20-year-old Bourne, Busted’s chief songwriter and the member least troubled by the pop label. “Part of the thrill of writing for me is I want as many people as possible to hear it.
“The Beatles were the most successful band ever, right?”
Bourne is a lifelong Michael Jackson fan unapologetic about his commercial instincts.
“I’ve written alternative songs before, and it’s a hell of a lot easier,” he said. “There really are no rules when you’re writing alternative.
The rules of pop“When you’re sitting there and you’re one or two albums deep, and you’re in a record deal and your third album has to do as well as your first and second albums, then there start to become a few rules,” he said. “And that’s more of a challenge.”
Yet Simpson, the band’s strongest vocalist and chief pinup, seems uneasy with the pop label; rumors of his unhappiness in Busted abound and are routinely denied. He fronts an indie rock band, Fightstar, cites the melancholy late songwriter Elliott Smith as an influence and lists alternative, lo-fi and emo as his preferred genres.
“What I listen to is quite different to what Busted does,” Simpson conceded, “but we all share common ground of Blink 182 and stuff — the American pop-punk scene, basically.
“The American pop scene is a lot better than the English one,” he added. “There’s a lot of crap here, really.”
Busted are due to release their first single, “What I Go to School For,” in the United States in May, followed by an album and a summer tour.
They know that big British pop acts have fared badly across the Atlantic of late. Crooning colossus Robbie Williams? A stateside flop.
The 20-year-old Willis, who once played in a Green Day cover band, concedes the prospect of tackling the U.S. market is daunting.
“The artists we see come across from America are amazing,” he said. “They are real stars — Pink or Usher or Justin or someone — you can just tell; they’ve got an aura about them. They were born to be stars. That’s quite intimidating in some way.
“But I’m just looking forward to having a laugh.”