Entertainment & Arts

JLS: The boyband with brains

Image caption JLS have just scored their third UK number one with The Club Is Alive

Learning lessons from pop groups of the past, JLS have taken full control of their career.

Number one singles, private jets, celebrity girlfriends, screaming fans, sell-out tours. The life of a boyband can seem pretty attractive.

But there's one recurring problem: Where does all the money go?

In 1998, The Backstreet Boys sued their manager, Lou Pearlman, complaining they had been paid a meagre $12,000 (£7,910) per member per year.

It was later discovered Pearlman had been paying himself as a sixth member of the band, on top of the money he was making from record sales and merchandising.

They came to a confidential settlement but a few years later, Pearlman's next project, 'N Sync, made similar claims.

Image caption Music impresario Lou Pearlman was sued by several of his bands

Justin Timberlake said the band felt they had been "financially raped by a Svengali".

By 2008, Pearlman had been sentenced to 25 years in prison for running a Ponzi investment scheme, swindling investors and major US banks out of $300 million (£198m).

His is an extreme example - but it's not uncommon for boybands to find themselves short-changed.

Bros sold millions of records in the 1980s, but when they split, they were bankrupt.

"We were ripped off and we were naive," Matt Goss told The Sun newspaper earlier this year.

Take That, meanwhile, were famously paid just £150 pocket money a week during their 1990s heyday.

"Are you serious?" asks a shocked Oritse Williams, one fourth of chart-straddling boyband JLS, on hearing being told this (possibly apocryphal) fact.

The 22-year-old, recognisable by his ever-present trilby, has made sure his group will not be left out-of-pocket on their pop journey.

He studied event management at London's Metropolitan University, learning how to deal with agents, promoters and, crucially, budgets.

Bandmate Aston Merrygold explains how it has paid off.

"We're very involved in running our business. We don't let our management get that involved in the money. We don't let anyone dictate that."


Instead of spending their salaries on fast cars or expensive holidays, he says, all four members of JLS are house-hunting at the moment.

Recent tabloid reports suggest they're also looking to invest in a restaurant.

"We're trying to be sensible," Merrygold says.

Lord Sugar would be impressed with the entrepreneurial zeal with which JLS have set up their empire.

They formed in 2007, blagging rehearsal rooms, and badgering stylists and photographers to work for free.

"We didn't have a lot of money," recalls Marvin Humes, the tall, muscular lynchpin of the band.

"A couple of us were working odd jobs here and there - but it was tough."

Williams picks up the story. "It's about creating your own opportunities. We used every avenue we could find.

"We used to do a capella sets. Four songs by ourselves and one with a backing track.

"And people would always say, 'oh, you're the a capella boys'. They would remember us.

"Once we started wearing bright colours, people remembered that too. It's about having a point of difference."

It was, of course, the X Factor that made their name. But the band never looked completely comfortable with their song choices and their squeaky-clean pop makeover.

After coming second in the final, they established a safe but respectful distance from Simon Cowell, signing a record deal with Epic, rather than his Syco imprint.

Image caption JB, Oritse, Marvin and Aston (L-R) will play their first arena tour this Autumn

Staff at the label speak glowingly of the band, using words like "genuine", "easy-going" and "charming" in a way that suggests these are rare qualities inside pop HQ.

It can't hurt that JLS sold 1.2 million copies of their debut album in seven months, and have almost finished the follow-up.

"We're working very, very hard," admits Humes, "but we see this as a career. We have the odd day off here and there. Not many. But we like it that way."

American Ambitions

The hard grind seems to be paying off. The Club Is Alive, the first single from the new album, went straight to number one at the weekend.

The chorus is built around a vocodered rendition of The Sound Of Music, which balances precariously on the line between genius and major annoyance.

Surrounded by R&B beats and stuttering club synths, it sounds unmistakably like JLS.

Some critics have branded the band's sound "Raveballad" - but they have their own definition.

"It's called Jack The Lad Swing," says Williams. "It's how we got the band name. It was a genre of music we were trying to create before we were even on the X Factor."

Inventing an entirely new category of pop is a lofty ambition for a boyband but, as you may be aware by now, JLS are after global domination.

They have just returned from the US, where they released former UK number one Everybody In Love, as a calling card.

It failed to dent the main "Hot 100" charts, but did make a lowly entry, at number 38, in the mainstream airplay chart.

"We had no expectations when we went out there," says Williams, putting on a brave face. "We're establishing ourselves slowly."

Image caption The band took second place to Alexandra Burke in the 2008 series of X Factor

Putting their business heads back on, the group insist they haven't lost focus on their key market.

"We've got a good thing here," says Williams. "Our base is here and this is definitely the main focus... For the moment."

And what's the next step in the JLS gameplan?

Well, when I mention their failure to release a showstopping ballad, the quartet cast a few meaningful glances towards their publicist.

"All I can say is 'no comment'," deadpans Williams.

"I especially can't talk about what we've recorded this week. On Saturday."

And will this non-existent song be aiming for Christmas number one?

"Are you working on the JLS team?" asks JB. "You seem to know more than us."

"Christmas?" ponders Merrygold. "Or Valentine's?"

"Watch this space."

The Club Is Alive is out now. JLS's second album is due in the Autumn.

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