Many of those growing up in the 90s and 2000s will be familiar with the phenomenon which was the manufactured boy or girl band.
Plucked from obscurity, individual artists would be assembled into a band by dollar-eyed music executives (or TV talent show execs) keen to make a quick buck.
It was a time when it seemed like fame was accessible to anyone. More than 2.6 million Aussies watched as 2,500 hopefuls auditioned for singing sensation Popstars in 1999. The show led to the birth of the band Bardot.
Based on an original concept created by Bardot band member Belinda Chapple, Paper Dolls is an eight-part scripted drama for Paramount +, following the meteoric rise and fall of fictional manufactured girl group: HARLOW.
Never far from the watchful eye of the cameras, fans, and critics, HARLOW is born out of the music reality television show Pop Rush, redefining pop culture in the process. However, the five young women must navigate the dark side of a glamourous industry determined to commodify them.
As a singer and performer in real life, Emalia, who plays Izzy, has first-hand experience of what it’s like trying to balance the needs of the industry with the needs of the individual artist.
“You always meet people who have a different idea of how you should sound and how you should present yourself and look,” she says.
“I’ve experienced people telling me that I should lean more into the sex appeal. I’ve told people I’ve had people that have told me that I’m I leaned too much into the sex appeal as it is and that it detracts from my seriousness. As an artist, you get opinions from all sides”.
Young stars are particularly at risk of being manipulated she says.
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“I think when you’re young like these women in our story you’re much more prone to that. Those opinions and the manipulation behind it, and it can be difficult to kind of find your view and who you are. And it takes time”.
As manager of the band, you could say that Thomas Cocquerel (who plays Teddy) is one of the people manipulating the girls, however, Cocquerel says it is more complicated than that.
“I think there’s, there’s part of him that is the abusive manager. So he is working with this talent, and he’s the student in that situation and is manipulating them and doing what he can to save his own skin and create a world-class pop group”.
This situation is something he felt familiar with from his own experience in Hollywood.
“I’ve seen things that definitely inform how I play that character,” he said.
“I know what representation can be like and how, you know, how can you really be pushed and pulled in ways that they’re not really comfortable with.”
There is another part of Teddy who is simply a “cog in the wheel” however, he says.
“It suits him and he’s treated like talent too, he is flown in like the talent to work with these girls and to create something. He’s got pressure on on both ends which made him interesting to play with and explore”.
Despite the heavier themes of the show, producer and network executive drama and comedy at Paramount, Sophia Mogford said the intention was not to be preachy.
“We’re not there to tell a message we’re telling a story. It’s more an explanation of a period of time when this shit did go down and it was thought of as normal”.
“But it’s not preachy in any way. It’s just a story with some wonderful acting, and some very dark themes and dark times. Some of the great stuff is the great music and some great fashion”.
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