A series dedicated to explaining Britain's manufactured celebrities to an American audience.
If recent history has taught us anything (other than how seismically upsetting it is when nepotism mars the hitherto incorruptible profession of acting), it’s that achieving fame as a lovable British pop star typically entails a grueling journey through the glitzy Cowellian panopticon of the talent show circuit. Frankly, we should all mentally prepare for a future where every important public role, from political leader to evening news anchor to royal progenitor, is assigned via staged auditions and tear-jerking assurances that you really made that song your own. So it is genuinely inspiring—life-affirming, even—to witness a young artiste bravely bucking this trend. Pixie Lott, a 21 year old from Essex, is a singer who has earned her household name status entirely separately, as she likes to mention whenever the opportunity arises, from “X Factor” type shows. “I like the whole creative control thing,” she once helpfully explained, “and wanted to work my own way up.”
It was this pioneering spirit, along with her talent, her moxie and the backing of the world’s biggest record company, that enabled Pixie to prevail, and in June 2009 she became the first non-talent show-spawned female solo singer to go straight to number one with her debut single. That chart-topping song, “Mama Do,” a sub-Amy Winehouse paean to the thrills of sneaking out at night to meet a boy, showcased a pleasant enough voice, and Pixie’s long blonde hair, girl-next-door prettiness and cutesy style made her instant paparazzi fodder.
But to be brutally realistic, in our cutthroat global economy pretty girls with pleasing singing voices and fierce ambition are ten a penny. What sets Pixie apart is a unique weapon that inarguably cemented her cultural dominance: a surname with an obvious utility for headline puns. On any given day, British newspaper readers might learn that "Pixie Shows Lotta Class" or, conversely, that there’s a "Lott Of Pix On Display" or perhaps even that "Pixie's Not Ready For A Lott of Responsibility." Showbiz aspirants devising a stage name, do take note. (Pixie’s given name, by the way, is Victoria; she was nicknamed Pixie by her mother because she was “such a tiny, cute baby who looked like a fairy.”)
To acknowledge Pixie’s unusual advantage is not, however, to downplay the years of preparation that her apparent overnight success involved. The story goes that as a 14-year-old stage school pupil, she saw an advertisement for an open audition to become “the next pop diva.” Her rendition of two Mariah Carey songs clinched a management deal, and within a year she’d signed to Island Def Jam after singing in a hotel room for L.A. Reid, an illicit rendezvous passed off to her school as a dentist’s appointment.
Tantalizingly for all concerned, it took another three years of intensive grooming, song writing and media training—and a switch to Universal Records—before Pixie was finally deemed ready for her showbiz coming out at age 18. “It was so frustrating,” she has said of her pre-fame years. “I was just chomping at the bit.” Readers of a certain age might wonder why such insufferable reflections weren’t expressly vetoed in the “How To Seem Spuriously Relatable To Your Fans” portion of Pixie’s media training. But even a 1990s-born Philip Larkin would probably be writing adolescent poetry about how legit annoying it is when the fame that’s your birthright hasn’t manifested in a timely fashion.
In advance of Pixie’s official launch, a masterfully-orchestrated campaign of online video diaries, free music downloads, TV performances and a heavily-trafficked MySpace page introduced the new chanteuse to her soon-to-be-adoring public. If interviewers noted that her responses to their questions seemed rather canned—she’d never had a proper boyfriend, never been tempted by drugs, just wanted to set a good example to young people—no one could fail to be impressed by her chirpy professionalism and dedication to the career she’d longed for since she was four years old and watching Britney and Christina on TV. “I’d see them starting their careers so young,” she reminisced, “and I’d say ‘why can’t I do that?’” (Though the response that springs to one’s lips is “because then you too will wind up a damaged and tragic figure addicted to booze, Popeyes and hair-extension glue fumes,” please join me in praying to the ghost of Michael Jackson that Pixie’s path leads to more exalted realms.)
As for the music itself, reviews of Pixie’s debut album, Turn it Up, were predictably mixed. While the Sunday Times hailed the record as “superior, infectious, expertly tailored pop,” the Observer dismissed it as “cloying and cliché-ridden.” Nevertheless, Turn it Up went double-platinum, selling more than a million copies in the UK. The follow-up, Young Foolish Happy, was released in November 2011 and so far has only gone gold, with around 100,000 copies sold. The NME was perturbed to find that, entirely contrary to expectation, some of the songs on “Young Foolish Happy” are “quite good,” triggering “a sense of moral and cultural confusion, rather as if you’d caught yourself lusting after an ironing board.”
Disappointing record sales and damningly faint praise aside, our beloved young songstress remains a ubiquitous media presence, thanks to news gatherers’ unwavering commitment to supplying a constant diet of Pixie news, no small challenge given her squeaky clean image and disinclination to do anything even vaguely controversial. There’s the occasional charitable outing in support of a children’s cause ("Pixie Cares A Lott About Bullying"), but otherwise we’re obliged to make do with scoops such as last week’s startling revelation that Pixie, in common with the rest of the British populace, likes curry, as evidenced by her visit to an Indian restaurant. A similar barrel-scraping sound echoed through the nation when several paragraphs of a recent Sun showbiz column were devoted to a slight change in Pixie’s usual hairstyle, a change that did not, in the reporter’s painstaking analysis, become her.
Hence, on the rare occasions that Pixie goes off-message, it’s a jubilatory day in tabloid land. One memorable divergence from script occurred when she aired her trenchant views on the “TOWIE” gang, who live in her family’s neighborhood of Brentwood and are, in Pixie’s considered opinion, getting far too big for their britches. “The last time I went down to Sugar Hut they didn’t treat us very nicely,” she revealed, referring to the popular nightclub owned by cast member Kirk, “so I’m never going back there again.” Big mistake, Sugar Hut—huge! Because while Pixie’s older brother, Stephen, was asked to join “TOWIE,” it seems our Pix might have put the kibosh on the idea. “There is no way I would be in it,” she sniffed.
Still, those desperate for deeper glimpses into Pixie’s stardust-sprinkled lifestyle shouldn’t lose heart, because her own reality show might well be on the cards. “It would be so much fun to have my own show,” she said in November. “I’d love to give fans a chance to see what I get up to behind the scenes. The cameras might bother me—it’s definitely easier living life without everything being filmed all the time. I’d just try and carry on as normal.” She shouldn’t find the process too difficult: after all, coming to terms with the relinquishment of privacy is a milestone that fate has already thrust upon her. Waxing philosophical about the stars of yesteryear in an interview, Pixie blamed social networking for the unromantic ordinariness of today’s celebs: “I long for the days of Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn, stars who had real glamour and mystique… you wouldn’t be reading their Twitter updates every two minutes.” But could the world keep turning in the bleak absence of a Pixie Twitter feed? Probably not, she ruefully conceded: “my fans would be really upset if I stopped tweeting. So I guess a loss of mystique is the price I’ve had to pay.”
In a poignant bid to salvage some privacy, it’s said that Pixie sometimes wears a brunette wig when she wishes to go “out for a big bender.” As a Deep Throat source identified only as “one of Pixie’s mates” told the Daily Star, with her trusty disguise she can “neck shots at the bar and have a great time without being bothered by fans or paps.” Marilyn, who also liked to go incognito with a dark wig, would approve, although she’d recommend chasing those shots with a couple of barbiturates.
Pixie has also carved out enough of a personal life to enjoy a serious relationship. For the past 18 months she’s been dating an age-appropriate young man named Oliver Cheshire who, you’ll be relieved to hear, is attracted to the girl, not the celebrity. Pixie shared that she was at a Vivienne Westwood fashion show when they were introduced, “and I said, ‘Hi, nice to meet you,’ and he said, ‘Hi, what do you do?’ and I was like, ‘Oh, I sing sometimes.’” Is it just me, or can you literally feel the sparks flying across time and space?
Oliver, a model, is currently fronting a high-profile ad campaign for department store Marks and Spencer, featuring chiseled abs-displaying swimwear and underwear shots ("Pixie’s Boyfriend Oliver Cheshire Takes a Lott Of Clothes Off"), establishing him as an bona fide objectified heartthrob in his own right ("Pixie Lott Has A Whole Lotta Luck"). But Pixie shouldn’t waste a second feeling insecure, because that ancient and venerable taxonomy of human worth, FHM’s Sexiest Women in the World list, has just placed her at number 12, up from 31 in 2011! And she’s in august company: topping the list are friends to this column Tulisa and Cheryl, at numbers 1 and 2 respectively.
The mighty FHM honor notwithstanding, Pixie’s fan base is predominantly young girls and, in keeping with the mildly disturbing vogue for pop singers to give their fans a collective pet name, Pixie’s are “Crazy Cats”—adjudged by the Popjustice Readers’ Poll to be the worst appellation of its kind, ahead of Lady Gaga’s “Little Monsters” and Jessie J’s “Heartbeats.” The feline theme—Pixie and her fans often wear cat ears and painted on whiskers, and signify their online allegiance thusly =^..^=—may well be a calculated strategy to enhance her “kawaii” appeal in East Asia. If so, it’s working: she’s hugely popular in Japan, Singapore and Korea, and has collaborated with Korean boy band Big Bang. (If you’re not familiar with the musical and, more importantly, sartorial stylings of the Kings of Kpop, well, you haven’t lived.)
Obviously, it’s great to be big in Japan, but it’s even better to break America, which is Pixie’s passionately stated objective. So far, despite writing a song with Joe Jonas and one for Selena Gomez, Pixie hasn’t troubled the US charts nor toured stateside, and is now keen “to give it a shot.” There was an appearance in an American teen film, Fred: The Movie; regrettably it went straight to DVD, but Pixie intends to take on more acting roles, and to that end is repped by talent agency CAA. It’s hard, though, to imagine Pixie’s Estuary vowels and sweet but unremarkable persona making any kind of an impression in Hollywood, where she’d likely be seen as just another generic blonde, albeit one with an awesome collection of headbands. But that might be to underestimate the girl who seems genetically programmed to live, eat and breathe showbiz. “I’ve loved every minute of it,” she said of her life in the spotlight, “and I want it to last forever.” So, whoever is casting the next blockbuster trilogy-cum-Hemsworth brother vehicle, you could do a lot worse. And by “do a lot worse,” I of course mean “Miley Cyrus.”