When is a band not a band? That is, generally it would be thought that a group of people get together and decide that their individuality will contribute to a collective undertaking that will be known under a given label, or name. They don’t lose their individuality. But their performances with others are subsumed by the work of the band. It can become the case that except for fans the name of the collective is known while those of the individual members aren’t. So if a member or two happens to leave the band only to be replaced by others, it very well may be that the “band” continues to exist much as it did before, although for those who are fans the absence of the performer(s) may be enough for them to consider the band disbanded.
In some cases it is thought that there are individuals within a band—considering the band as a collective—who are more instrumental to the existence of the band as a whole than others may be and so as long as they are part of the performance, the band continues to exist.
An abiding example of this is “The Who.” The band began in 1964. The members were Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend, John Entwistle and Keith Moon.
Albums the band released include:
- My Generation (1965)
- A Quick One (1966)
- The Who Sell Out (1967)
- Tommy (1969)
- Who’s Next (1971)
- Quadrophenia (1973)
- The Who by Numbers (1975)
- Who Are You (1978)*
But in September 1978 Keith Moon died. Kenney Jones replaced him. Oddly, or appropriately, Jones was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame—as a member of the Faces/Small Faces.
The band kept performing and recording. Then in June 2002, John Entwistle died. Entwistle was replaced by Pino Palladino.
Consider: The Who became what is considered to be The Who not merely as a result of Townshend’s playing and writing and because of Daltrey’s pipes and performance. The drums and the bass played a fundamental part of the sound that people became familiar with.
Yet there seems to be an idea that because Townshend and Daltrey were up front, their continued existence and participation are the things that would make a post-Moon and Entwistle organization essentially what it had been before, that the performances are of The Who, not “The Who.”
Isn’t it conceivable that starting in October 1978 and certainly July 2002 that the remnants of The Who, when performing or recording, should have been more appropriately titled Who2 or something of the like? Whatever it was it was not the band that formed in 1964.
But is a band more than a brand? If you have a box of Tide you probably think of it as, well, Tide. And it is Tide. But it isn’t the Tide that was invented in 1946. The formulation is different but the brand name remains the same.
To treat members of a band as being fully replaceable is to really not have a band so much as a brand.
A prime example of this is a band founded in 1977 in Puerto Rico, Menudo. It was recently announced that the band now consists of five new members, ages 10 to 15, which means that it is likely that their parents weren’t born when the first iteration was organized.
Throughout Menudo’s run there have been 38 different members.
Is Menudo a band or is it a brand? Do the new members of the band have anything in common with the original members of the band?
Now there is an organization known as the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. It has been in existence since August 1847. That’s 176 years ago. Today there are 360 members of the choir. Obviously, none of them were members of the original. Yet the troupe is considered to be, in effect, what it has always been even though it is unquestionably completely different.
From a purely functional level, the music executed by The Who, Menudo and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir is what it has always been when considered as groups, not as the consequence of a group of individuals banded together. (Arguably the most famous member of Menudo was Ricky Martin—and he didn’t join the band until 1984, which begs the question of whether replacements can actually not only make a band different but better.)
Soon, possibly, this may become a moot point.
A couple months ago a new South Korean girl group, MAVE:, released its first music video, which when viral on YouTube. This, of course, is not unusual for K-pop groups. Siu, Zena, Tyra and Marty sing and make choreographed moves that evidently make them appealing to millions of listeners.
But here’s the thing: MAVE: doesn’t exist, if existence is predicated on humans. Rather, it is the virtual creation of a Korean tech corporation, Kakao Corp.
MAVE: will never have to change. The performers will never age.
So the question of “what is a band” is something that doesn’t apply to them (it?) because it doesn’t. The “being” isn’t, at least not in the tangible, physical space where there are drug overdoses, heart attacks, arthritis and wrinkles.
*While there were more recordings, I put the end there because although the old saying has it that “half a loaf is better than none,” I think that half a band isn’t the band.
Video: [MV] MAVE: “PANDORA”