I’m currently obsessed with Jedward, aka John and Edward Grimes, the Irish twin bro pop duo. I don’t think they’re particularly well known in New Zealand, so here’s their basic story:
They auditioned for the UK “X Factor” show in 2009, age 17. They weren’t very good singers, but the judges saw a certain spunk in them and somehow they ended up in the final 12 and made it to week seven before being voted out. The highlight was their highly entertaining version of Britney Spears’ “Oops!… I Did it Again”, complete with the “Titanic”-inspired dialogue.
Post “X Factor”, they toured, released an album of covers and had a couple of hit singles. In May they represented Ireland at Eurovision with their first original song “Lipstick”. They came a very respectable eigth place, but – more importantly – had won the hearts of teen girls all over Europe.
A second album followed – this time with all original songs. In August they appeared on UK Celebrity Big Brother, and seemed to be the only housemates who were always having a good time instead of lying around smoking, moaning, paranoid.
So with this in mind, I present ten things I like about Jedward.
Note: I’ve included lots of links to videos. While they’re not terribly explicit, a couple are probably on the NSFW border. But if you do have the sort of workplace where you can watch saucy YouTube videos, call me.
1. Planet Jedward
One of the best moves – and I think this came from their management – was the concept of Planet Jedward. It’s the world that John and Edward live in, and it’s a joyous world.
Their music is full of up. Their Eurovision performance is packed with energy and exuberance, but yet everything they do is like this. There is no off switch. There is no “being on” for the crowds. Why walk when you can cartwheel?
And on Planet Jedward, the fellows are resilient. They go with the flow, expertly absorbing all criticism and owning it. An example from their recent, hilarious stint on UK Celebrity Big Brother – after failing to clean up the kitchen after being instructed to do so by Big Brother (they slid around in olive oil instead), they were punished by having to dress up like babies, which they actually relished. Goo-goo ga-ga.
As it happens, I’m fans of another couple of musical twins – the Jarman brothers of the Cribs and the Deal sisters of the Breeders. But where Ryan and Gary and Kim and Kelley are very much their own person, the distinction between the Grimes brothers is initially less clear.
They dress identically, have the same haircut, usually styled in the same way, and at first glance, they can be pretty much indisguishable from one another.
But stick around long enough and the differences become clearer. John has a huskier voice. He’s slightly more aggressive. Edward has a softer voice and is more artistic. And they do look different from each other. The consensus amongst Jedicated fans is that John is the sexy one and Edward is the cute one.
And their twinness means they’re always playing off one another, their mutual company giving them endless excuses to muck around in the way that not many people can do on their own or even with a friend.
But the best thing – there’s two of them!
John and Edward are restless. When they’re interviewed, they talk over the top of each other, interrupting and branching off on the craziest tangents (which actually start to make sense when you’ve lived on Planet Jedward a while). It’s not uncommon for even expert interviewers to find themselves trapped in the vortex of chatter, but the best interviewers just accept that things are different on Planet Jedward. When they’re in full Jedward mode, they are joy. Here’s a brilliant interview with Alan Carr.
The energy continues when John and Edward are alone. They make lots of little videos mucking around in hotel rooms and/or involving water (the magic of wetness!). The piece de resistance is this video which involves four minutes and 22 seconds of such activities as discussion of Emma Watson’s hair, lipsynching to Avril Lavigne’s “What the Hell”, toothbrushing, pillow-fighting, shower-dancing, and bed-jumping.
4. Sex and Sexuality
Officially John and Edward like girls, but they don’t have girlfriends because it’s hard to have a girlfriend when you’re famous. There are gay rumours, but pretty much every young-dude pop singer gets that, and some even play up to it.
The pair are famously virgins, doing an Irish-Catholic version of the Jonas Brothers’ vow of abstinence. But, you know, they’re 19-year-old guys.
Jedward’s audiences are tween and teen girls and adults, so they cleverly tread a fine line between the two audiences, both innocent and sexual; not a boy, not yet a man. In one of their YouTube clips, Edward rides a toy car, and it’s really cute. Then he looks at the camera and says, “Wanna beep my horn? You wanna beep it?” Judging by the dozens of comments, the majority of Jedward fans would very much like to beep Edward’s horn.
John and Edward have a certain kind of androgyny. They’re both beautiful boys, and that’s a look that’s always worked well in pop. The lads seem simultaenously bisexual and asexual, but are maybe more accurately Jedsexual. They can play up to the “Hey, girl/boy, maybe I can be your boyfriend” fantasy, without actually having to go there. Their total lack of self-consciousness and certain naivety means they brilliantly get away with doing heaps of cool stuff that would normally come across as really really gay. There’s no attempt to lad them up to not appear too camp. They can even pose for a devastatingly hot photo shoot for GayTimes magazine, without even having to worry about alienating their girl fans.
But even if there were some solid evidence that the pair were “straight” and/or “gay”, that still wouldn’t suddenly clear everything up. They’re still living on Planet Jedward, were sexuality doesn’t matter. It’s quite nice there.
And then there’s this clip, a fan-made compilation of various seductive glances and pouts from YouTube. Either way, the pair have got something that people dream of.
The brothers are Irish, and largely speak with Irish accents with a slight American tinge. It’s not a full-on American accent, but just a few vowels show up that aren’t Irish. And they’ll talk about their “mom”, even though they still call her Mammy.
But I think back to when I was 11 and used to do reenactments of “Entertainment This Week” with my school friends, complete with bad American accents because it sounded cool. And my inner monologue is usually American accented (or Estuary English).
When most Irish musicians who break into the mainstream do so with a really big “I’M IRISH” flavour to their music, it’s refreshing when someone comes along who’s willing to acknowledge they’ve grown up immersed in American pop culture in suburban Dublin and not in an enchanted glade where the little people dance.
The lads have pale Irish skin – like me! And right from the get-go, manager Louis Walsh advised them to stay away from the spray tan. Fake tans are high maintenance and never quite look natural – especially on pale skin.
This makes me really happy, because over the years, I’ve had pressure from people to not have pale skin. Like there was somehow something wrong with me for not being tanned. I spent too many years as a teen attempting to tan, before I realised it was something I just couldn’t do. All-over pale is much easier. Girls Aloud popstress Nicola Roberts has taken a similar stance, celebrating the beauty of natural pale.
There’s an idea that tanned skin looks better on camera (I used to work on a TV show that had its presenters get regular spray tans), but yet the magic of natural skintones is whenever John and Edward stand next to someone with a spray tan, the other person looks orange.
But it’s not just about skin tone. It’s about, you know, being proud of who you are and what you’ve got. And, frankly, this means more to me than any no-sex/no-drugs stance.
Some people wail, “Jedward can’t siiiing!” And, well, when they were on “X Factor”, they were definitely the weakest singers. But as “X Factor” progressed, and indeed beyond it, their singing technique improved, but mainly through repetition and rehearsal. With a scarily punk attitude, they refuse to formally improve their craft.
On their albums, their vocals are polished, autotuned, but no one’s pretending that’s how they sing all the time. The lads regularly post roughly recorded videos to YouTube of them energetically, sweetly singing their own songs and their favourite pop tunes. Their strengths and weaknesses are laid bare – and their fans love them for it.
But John and Edward’s talent – their skills that pay the bills – isn’t just singing. They’re very entertaining, with genuine stage presence and that elusive, er, X-factor that can’t be learnt.
They also have a remarkable talent as models. As well as both being absolutely beautiful (and this is a large part of their pop appeal), they can channel the malarky into suave, and actually do Blue Steel without forcing a duckface. And they can pretty much look good in anything, which is a skill that few people have.
In the UK and Ireland, the duo have a number of television projects too. And even if the whole pop star thing doesn’t work out – most pop groups get about three years of massive success, if they’re lucky – they’ve got enough going for them to stay afloat in other fields for years.
“Never heard of them,” the old person cries. “They’re just famous for being famous.”
Except there is no such thing as ‘famous for being famous’. Everyone who is famous is so for a specific feat, talent or skill. It’s just that some of these talents are things that many people don’t necessarily value in others (but would like to have themself), like being attractive, living a fabulous life, or just being a really interesting person.
The Grimes brothers have always wanted to be famous (though on their own terms), even practising signing autographs, perfecting their pop star signature. There’s a remarkable clip of the pair performing the Backstreet Boys’ song “I Want it That Way” at a high school talent show. Their voices are wobbly, they get the lyrics messed up, but by the end of it, the teen girls in the audience are screaming with delight.
Hey, if you can make a hall full of girls scream, why not pursue that as a career? Singing and stage craft can always be improved.
Jedward have released two albums. The first, “Planet Jedward”, was their post-“X-Factor” recording, consisting purely of cover versions. There are moments of pop magic, but generally it’s not so remarkable. The production particularly disguises their individuality, but full points to the person who sneakily decided to start the cover of “Teenage Kicks” with the opening riff from “Pretty Vacant”. Oh, yeah, and they also manage to sing the “Give no head, no backstage passes” line from “Rock DJ” without it sounding like it’s about blowjobs, and yet also exactly about that.
The pair’s second album, “Victory”, is a million times better. They have good songwriters on board, and good production that brings out John and Edward’s different voices. The album is full of pop gems. It reminds me of being 12, and how a good pop song can make you feel like everything is wonderful.
Four songs on “Victory” deal with themes of love and fame, both from the perspective of being a fan of a celebrity, and also falling in love with a civilian. The brothers’ number one crush is Britney Spears, so I figure she’s a inspiration behind all of these tunes.
But the songs I like are the sexxxier tunes with killer choruses like “DISTortion“, upcoming single “Wow Oh Wow“, the horribly named but totally brilliant “Techno Girl” and the sheer genius of “Pop Rocket“, a song that is either about sex or music, depending on what takes your fancy.
“Victory” reminds me of the joy of pop, albums with photos of the artist on the cover, that are structured around singles, and have filler tracks.
10. Social Media
I recently attended a mini music conference called Going Global, where music industry people from overseas gave New Zealand musicians advice on getting bigger. One thing that kept coming up was the need to engage with fans via social media, and examples were given of various buzz bands who do relevant tweets. Apparently some musicians are reluctant to do social media; they want to focus on their art and not have to interact with their audiences, dammit.
Well, this is what Jedward do. They have a Twitter account, @planetjedward. They mention their Twitter account in virtually all interviews they do, even on media like the BBC that doesn’t really approve of plugging. On Twitter, they post updates from their travels, photos, news and make brilliant tweets like this:
Hi, we are Jedward. We can make your girlfriend scream louder than anyone can just by hitting her follow button on Twitter
That’s true, you know.
John and Edward will spend an hour doing an entertaining live broadcast showing them opening fan mail, lipsyncing or seeing how many pieces of chewing gum they can stuff in their mouth. There’s no manager standing over their shoulder telling them what to do or say or to call it a night. It feels like they have a genuine connection with their fans, and really enjoy doing stuff for them and with them.
This is the really great bit: when the lads reach milestones in Twitter followers, they post videos to celebrate and reward. The 200,000 follower mark got a video of Edward frolicking in the ocean, while 300,000 followers got the bros dancing to their song “Pop Rocket”… in their underwear. OMJ! They’ve recently hit 400,000 and the fandom is buzzing with anticipation as to what that video will be.
See, beardy indie bands. That’s how you do social media.
So, I celebrate the joy of Jedward. Two dudes working hard, making money, having a ton of fun along the way, and making the girls scream.