O2 Academy, Oxford
20th July 2011
Reality TV stars, cultural icons and generational spokespeople N-Dubz, who have been around for a decade and churned out three albums, are surely too big for Oxford now. They’ve even got two dancers, slightly incongruous behind the main personalities. Tough-as-nails porcelain doll Tulisa needs to lay off gargling tar but skips her way around her vocal duties with nonchalance, in both crowd-pleasers like Strong Again and slower ones like Love Sick. Fazer (cheesiest line: “could all hands in the building report to the sky”) has got the best “swagger” and out-Tinchys Tinchy on their versions of Number One and Spaceship. And Dappy spends a lot of the gig waving around a hat – an over-ear style he claims he no longer wears – to whip up excitement for a chance to win a backstage audience with the band. Meanwhile, their surprisingly tight musicians blast out an unexpected 80s synth rock breakdown during one of the four (four!) costume change breaks. (My favourite costume is the Kryten-style body armour, incidentally.)
The Bay City Rollers ended up being glam “for the kids” – descended from something a lot more credible – and N-Dubz seem to have become “for the kids” too, making grime, one of the genres they fall into, more accessible and commercial, however preposterous a great proportion of the population might find them. Chances are they’ll eventually inspire more nostalgic ridicule than devotion (the self-referential lyrics might date badly, for one thing), but they’ve managed relative longevity for a band largely beloved of those of a tender age (“NDublets”), so who knows what way the national mood might swing after their impending eighteen-month hiatus.
Despite their notoriety, there’s still more charisma in one of Dappy’s hats than the entirety of Matt Cardle, and at least they’ve bothered to engage their audience and choreograph a show to suit. They’d no doubt be mortified if a certain demographic of the “haters” actually did like them; that’s not what they’re aiming for, and they’re doing very nicely at not achieving it.