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Public-school pop bests rock ’n’ roll rebels

London, March 31 (Reuters): Rock ’n’ roll once spawned a flood of working-class heroes who raged against The Establishment — but not any more.

From The Beatles floating on a cloud of dope to The Sex Pistols mocking the monarchy, it was once all about rebellion.

“I hope I die before I get old,” sang The Who before smashing their guitars to smithereens.

Now, from Coldplay to Dido, from Busted to Will Young and Sophie Ellis Bextor, Britain’s pop charts are dominated by the genteel tones of the middle classes. Plummy voices are us in the hit parade.

So what’s going on'

Pop critics point to the rise of easy listening stations.

“These stations dictate what goes into the charts,” said Peter Robinson, pop critic at NME (New Musical Express). “This is BBC Radio 2 housewife territory. That is now the most popular radio station in Britain.”

And he argues that rich kids handle fame better. “Their lifestyle is already pretty affluent so the influx of money will not send them bonkers,” he said.

Sociologists believe the gentrification of rock is all about those rich kids wanting a slice of the action in popular culture. For Britain’s elite private schools are no longer the monastic bastions of privilege they once were. Following Daddy into the city or the army is no longer the automatic choice. Pop’s instant fame is an irresistible magnet.

Chris Martin, lead singer of Coldplay, once used to think “Gosh, I’m just some public schoolboy with my house colours. I’ve got a degree. I’m from a middle class family. I’ve got no story.” But look where he ended up. Martin married Hollywood A-list star Gwyneth Paltrow while Coldplay landed a clutch of coveted Grammy music awards.

Busted offers an intriguing mix in the English class system.

Charlie Simpson, who went to fee-paying Uppingham School, might as well have been from another planet when fellow band member Matt Jay first heard him. “To be honest, I’d never met anyone that posh,” Jay recalls. “I thought only the Queen talked like that.”

Charlie, whose great-grandfather was head of the Royal College of Music and is buried in Westminster Abbey, complained: “It’s funny how people perceive public schools. They think everyone who went to one is going to be arrogant.”

Sociology professor Chris Rojek, author of a book on Britain’s celebrity culture, is fascinated by what he calls “the gentrification of rock.”

“Those with a rich background no longer go into the professions. Sex, drugs and rock ’’ roll are very attractive to public school boys who dream about this,” he said.

“It is not just about money. They have money. What they want is the cachet of being in popular culture. It has replaced elite culture which is now very infra-dig and passe,” he said.

But he complained: “The music is all very passive. It is just there. I think the working classes have lots more to complain about. Theirs is the music of vengeance. Middle class rock stars are tormented by their success and wonder if they deserve it.”

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