It’s not unusual for artists to pull out something special for the London night of their tour. A rarely played song in the encore, a one-off piece of merch, even a cameo from someone they once did a song with. In working-class hero, Sam Fender’s case, very few would have envisaged that we would mark the occasion by inviting Francis Bourgeois to pop some scooter tricks and have a crowd surf. Careering his way through ‘Getting Started’ before handing over his GoPro to Fender himself, Bourgeois has once again gone viral, seemingly forging a new position for himself as pop’s biggest mate.
At this point, the TikTok Trainspotter barely needs introduction, but more recently, he’s been making shrewd crossover moves along his own career track, making the most of his lucrative cultural moment. There was the Gucci shoot, the day out with Joe Jonas, the ‘chance’ meeting with Rosalia on a Kings Cross platform, and now this, cruising his way to two and a half million views. Shrewdly utilising the marketing genius of collaborations, he is tweaking his content outside of trains, drawing ever closer to a career as a true pop cultural entity. If he keeps it up, he’ll present a new kind of music press figure, not asking questions so much as pumping out profitable meme content.
The only thing better than being a popular comedy persona is finding guests who are truly willing to play along with you. Having apparently hit it off at this year’s NME Awards, the Francis-Fender Wembley stage invasion seemed like a simple act of matey spontaneity, but if it was a purposeful PR move, it’s one that has well and truly paid off. Already big on TikTok thanks to ‘Seventeen Going Under’’s viral moment, Sam Fender’s audience has been trending much wider on this album campaign, in both size and age range. Such swelling popularity has meant that he sometimes has to face a less engaged audience (see recent footage of him having to call out a in-crowd scrap during particularly sensitive song ‘Spit Of You’), but it has also allowed to show more of his fun side, balancing out the heavy messages that frame both his music and long-read interviews. For the next few months at least, I expect to be haunted online by the image of Fender’s Bourgeois-ed face, photoshopped onto unofficial merch and used as reaction memes. Knowing his willingness to play ball with these light-hearted opportunities, calls are abound for him to feature on Francis’s next trainspotting video, or to appear on Amelia Dimoldenberg’s YouTube channel, Chicken Shop Date. A cheeky parmo perchance?
In terms of content and presentation, the similarities between Francis Bourgeois and Amelia Dimoldenberg are striking. There are obvious observations of class and privilege to be made in their respective come ups, but their content is undeniably clever, subverting cringe and deadpan quirk in order to create humour. Amelia’s success predates the pandemic, but it’s fascinating to see how much she has grown since it; presenting at the BRITs, hauling in bigger and bigger brand deals, even maybe securing herself an actual for-real boyfriend in once-guest Aitch. With his gaggle of new musical mates, Bourgeois appears to be heading in a similar direction. Could a full YouTube series be on the cards? It wouldn’t take much to imagine him in a full ‘Trainspotters on Tour’ documentary, following artists around and causing scrupulously polite havoc backstage.
During the pandemic a great many of us burrowed down into our hobbies; crafting, reading, music. Often, we latched onto things that felt niche or notably specific, captivating in ways that might be difficult to explain to somebody else. Whether it was trainspotting, stamp collecting or obsessing over the America’s Got Talent performance of BTS’s ‘Dynamite’ every single day for a month (yes this was me, highly recommend), the pandemic made professional fans out of us all, fanning the flames of our most comforting enthusiasms. In both Amelia and Francis, we are presented with impeccable pastiches of the superfan, thriving professionally because of their awkwardness rather than in spite of it. When Bourgeois gleefully wheels onto arena stages or Dimoldenberg shares her chicken nuggets and demands to know if the guest fancies her, the walls of normal pop ‘journalism’ are broken. We see artists being silly, and in an age of super glossy editorials and meticulously tight-lipped junkets, it’s strangely refreshing.
So what does this mean for the traditional pop press? Fortunately for our sake, Bourgeois’s content doesn’t offer a full (rail) replacement; longreads and serious features are likely to stick around for a while yet as the best way to really get to know an artist. But as the content train gets ever busier, you do have to respect those who find a way to carve out their own path. GoPro or no, the near future looks a lot like having fun.