In My Car I’ll Be The Driver

There is, if you didn’t know, a new musical incarnation of the Pussycat Dolls–the Hollywood cabaret act that’s been drawing attention outside L.A. in recent years for their notable guest stars: Gwen Stefani, Christina Aguilera, Carmen Electra, etc. They’ve recruited at least one singer in hopes of cracking the pop music market. She is flanked by seven to twelve dancers/backup “singers.” I can tell you quickly why they have no hope as a musical act:

There’s too many of them. They can’t all fit in one car.

That’s an element that their handlers may have overlooked. You need to be able to get the entire group in one car because one of the elements that makes a band interesting is the tension implicit in who drives the car in the video. Without that, we will never see the Pussycat Dolls as a proper group and, consequently, we won’t care.

The dynamic between the public leader (often the lead singer) and the private leader (often the lead guitarist or songwriter) is always evident in the choice of driver in a video. The driver of the car in the video can tell you whose band it is. Take the Go-Go’s, for instance. It’s Belinda’s band; she drives the car. Oh sure, Jane sits there pouting, thinking, “I wrote all the songs and when you guys get out to splash around in the fountain, I’m going to sit here and sing the bridge to prove it.” But it really doesn’t make any difference what Jane does; Belinda is driving the goddamn car.

Even if you haven’t seen the band in a car in a video, you know who drives the metaphorical car. Debbie Harry drives the Blondie car. Suggs drives the Madness car. Tom Keifer drives the Cinderella car. Rob Halford drives the Judas Priest car. In all of today’s pretty-boy “rock” bands that sport numbers in their names, the lead singer drives no matter what. He’s the prettiest boy. Hootie even drove the Blowfish.

The Spice Girls drove a spaceship specially fitted with two steering wheels so that both Scary and Ginger could drive in their “Spice up your life” video. (But in their earlier “Say You’ll Be There” video, Ginger takes the wheel.)

NWA have to ride around in the back of a truck because they can’t agree on who drives.

In all these cases, being the driver represents being in control. Just as often, though, being the driver is a class distinction. Sometimes the actual leader is just too important to drive himself around. In the case of AC/DC, Brian Johnson drives because he’s acting as chaffeur to Angus.

David Lee Roth–the clear leader of Van Halen–doesn’t drive the car. He gets driven. Usually by a little person in a tuxedo. That’s how tough he is.

And sometimes, it’s even more complex than that. In Oasis, Noel drives. Liam likes this because he thinks it means that he is too important to drive while Noel likes it because he knows it means he’s in control.

Richie Sambora and Jon Bon Jovi ride horses.

And very occasionally, the who-drives-whom dynamic will tell you something about a solo artist. Is it any wonder that Dr. Dre drives Eminem around?

Pop groups in England and Europe can get by with lots of members (e.g. S Club 7) because they only worry about getting them into a subway car. After all, most European cars couldn’t comfortably hold a trio.

So maybe in Europe, the personality-free pop of the Pussycat Dolls will go over a storm, but here in America we like our pop groups to be able to fit into a reasonably-sized convertible. Or at most, a pink Hummer.