Last night I watched the first episode of a new series called The Big Reunion. The show takes six old pop bands and attempts to reform them. The first episode focused on the bands Liberty X and Five (or 5ive). Both sold significant numbers of records around a decade ago. The show followed the rise and fall of the bands, through from their original record deals to their demise. In the next show we will see them actually meet up and perform. The format seems to focus on two different pop bands each week. There were quite a few trails in the first episode for the upcoming reunions of Honeyz, BWitched, 911 and Atomic Kitten. The show uses talking heads alongside archive footage to tell the stories of the problems and simmering tensions in each band. In other words these shows provide a retrospective backstage account of the lives of these pop stars. At the time this backstage was concealed by the marketing power behind these acts. They are now prepared to revisit what went wrong and the personal differences they had with other band members.
Watching this show reminded me of some of the work on the sociology of precarious forms of labour. There are a few people writing about the precarious nature of contemporary work. But it reminded me in particular of a special issue of the journal Theory, Culture & Society on precarious labour in the cultural and creative industries that was edited by Ros Gill and Andy Pratt. The Big Reunion TV show provides a historical account of just how precarious this type of work can be. The stories of the decline of these bands show how brutal and rapid the system can be. It also illustrates the sense of insecurity, competition and anxiety that Gill and Pratt suggest are typical of these precarious forms of labour. The stories of the individuals in Five and Liberty X were littered with this sense of anxiety. This anxiety, combined with the demands of the music industry, led to the collapse of these bands and the precariousness of this form of work.
Of course, pop stars provide some of the more visible illustrations of how precarious work is in the creative and cultural industries, Gill and Pratt are more concerned with the thousands of people who work in the background in various forms of media work. But The Big Reunion provided some insights into the aspects of the work of a pop band that are not often on show. In particular it highlighted how precarious this work is and the affects of this precariousness on the members of these bands (with physical and emotional affects being prominent). In particular the depictions of the decline of the bands provided insights that are not often visible but which usually get glossed over. So although these might seem to be quite trivial documentaries there is some sociological insight built into the format.