The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Spice, minus tantrums

London, April 23 (Reuters): The debut single from Britain’s newest pop band is selling fast, but young fans of the group will find it impossible to get their autographs.

Even meeting them would be difficult — for the girls who make up the VBirds are just cartoon characters.

Created by the Cartoon Network and music label EMI, the VBirds already have a record deal, a television show and a line of associated merchandise. They are the ultimate manufactured pop group.

“This is a group that doesn’t exist as such,” said EMI spokesman Tony Barker of the four colourful “teenagers”: Boom, Bling, Wow and D:Lin. “The great advantage of having an animated girl group is you don’t get the problems and tantrums you do with a real-life group,” he said.

Manufactured bands — from The Monkees to the Spice Girls — are nothing new in a music industry always stalking the next sensation, but with the VBirds the concept is being pushed to its limits.

A group of producers working in Birmingham came up with the idea, the Cartoon Network turned the VBirds into a television programme and then EMI — home to the Rolling Stones — was brought on board to market the music.

The group’s first single — “Virtuality” — was released in Britain this week. Further singles and an album are planned for later in the year.

“Their basic sound is a mix of Urban and R&B, but we may adapt or change their musical style because we don’t have an act to argue with us,” Barker said.

“It’s important that the VBirds are believable so the girls who provide the voices and the musicians behind the songs will remain anonymous. As soon as you start revealing who’s singing behind the scenes then it takes away the mystery,” he said.

Designed for a market already waist-high in manufactured bands, EMI and the Cartoon Network, an AOL Time Warner company, are banking on technical wizardry, strong songwriting and a heavy dose of irony to set the VBirds apart.

A spokesman for the television network said the band would tour and play “live” by being broadcast onto giant screens.

He described the stories behind the cartoon shows as a blend of everything from the medieval epic Beowulf to “Star Wars”.

“The girls are exiled from their planet because they refuse to play on pop music farms, but are trapped on Earth in a dance machine and need kids to keep listening to them or they’ll die,” said Richard Kilgarriff, one of the show’s creators.

The not-so-subtle subtext won’t be lost on a down-and-out music industry that has watched global sales fall for years thanks to rampant piracy and a protracted economic downturn.

EMI, who hit the jackpot with the multi-million selling Spice Girls in the 1990s, has recently been the centre of takeover rumours and would love the VBirds to fly up the charts.

Detractors may curse the popularity of manufactured music, but the VBirds’ creators shrug off the criticism.

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