Andrew Johnston gives his 'expert opinion' on Simon Cowell's chart-topping foursome
I seem to have cornered the market in gigs no other reviewer will touch. In the past couple of years, I have covered New Kids on the Block, the Pussycat Dolls, Lady Gaga, Jedward, Westlife, Pink, Leona Lewis, Peter Andre and Shakira, as well as numerous dancing, ice and talent shows.
The latest addition to this list (well, it’s more of a rap sheet) is X Factor runners-up-turned-arena-hogging superstars JLS. If my 19-year old, Slayer-loving self could see me now, he’d beat me to death with my own notebook and pen. But the thing is, these cheesy pop shows are often hugely entertaining, when approached in the right spirit.
There is much to enjoy. The atmosphere is usually electric, there is no aloofness or pretentiousness (not amongst the fans, anyway, who wouldn’t know indie cool if it hit them in their orange faces), and the stage productions are never a million miles away from arena rock (indeed, I’m sure Kiss are currently considering ripping off JLS’s flying car stunt for their next tour).
JLS (it stands for Jack the Lad Swing; a naff name, but at least not as ignorant of music history as their original moniker, UFO) are officially the most successful group to come out of Simon Cowell’s reality circus. With four number-one singles, two top-five albums and now a nationwide arena tour under their designer belts, the London-Peterborough boy band are no longer just those lads who came second to Alexandra Burke in 2008.
So, it is no surprise that tonight’s first of four Odyssey Arena shows is completely sold out. To put this in perspective, Meat Loaf – he of the fifth biggest selling album of all time – barely managed one night at the same venue recently.
Aston Merrygold, Marvin Humes, Jonathan ‘JB’ Gill and Oritsé Williams make their entrance cruising above the audience in a silver sports car, singing ‘Outta This World’, the title track of their new album. Needless to say, the place goes nuts. In fact, the demented screech of the assembled 'tweenies' is so painfully loud that you wish Merrygold and Co would stop imploring people to ‘make some noise’.
JLS were clearly born to perform. With ramps, risers, loads of pyrotechnics and a stunning, see-through walkway that snakes out over the crowd, the high-energy, feel-good nature of the show is sullied only by the quartet’s repeated banter about 'finding an Irish girlfriend'.
Four buffed-up, bare-chested guys in their mid-20s teasing a sea of squealing under-16s with the promise of bringing them back to their hotel rooms is just one dodgy hard drive away from Gary Glitter territory.
Still, for these 9,000 impressionable souls, tonight is the greatest night of their lives. For the more cynical amongst us, the mawkish ballads and regrettable miming that pepper proceedings take some swallowing. On the throwaway pop scale, JLS are somewhere between Jedward and Westlife – nowhere near as dumb as the former, but not quite as slick as the latter. And that’s my expert opinion.