One Direction Hysteria Is 'Mishigas,' Says Legendary Manager of The Jackson 5

Shelly Berger, 75, who managed the popular Motown bands The Supremes, The Temptations and The Jackson 5, says new bands like One Direction are just pop singers that play 'stuff that girls love.'

Danna Harman
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Danna Harman

Fans of the boy band of the hour, One Direction, are waiting with bated breath for August 25th –that’s the date the young English-Irish pop stars’ new perfume “Our Moment,” is to debut. A web site devoted to the scent, as well as a video featuring the five teenagers promoting the product - which has gone viral - are stoking the anticipation.

Shelly Berger, 75, the legendary manager of Motown bands who, in the early 1970s managed another very famous group of five teenage singers - a group generally considered to be the very original boys band - The Jackson 5 - is none too impressed.

“What is this mishigas?” sniffs the Brooklyn born Berger, adding that back in the day, printing up band t-shirts and posters was considered a little over the top. Bringing in a fragrance consultant, he notes, was truly unthinkable.

These days, it’s practically required.

“We wanted to show fans what we like, smell-wise, on girls,” band member Niall Horan, 19, announced at the perfume’s launch party earlier this month - a comment which immediately was tweeted, by the band’s social media team, to One Direction’s 10 million twitter followers. What will the ($31- $59 dollars a bottle) “Our Moment,” smell like? “Like a summer’s day,” another band member, Harry Styles, 19, confided, also via twitter.

“Back [in the 70s], the kids we were working with went into show business because the only thing they wanted to do in life was perform,” bemoans Berger, who was introduced to the nine year old Michael Jackson and his older brothers, all straight out of Gary, Indiana, by Motown founder Berry Gordy in 1969.

“I got a call from Gordy, who told me he had signed a new act and I needed to come over to the recording studio that very night and hear them sing,” recalls Berger. Soon Berger - who was managing Diana Ross, The Supremes and The Temptations at the time - was shaking hands with the youngsters. “Show him what you can do,” Gordy instructed.  “And then Michael proceeded to sing - Smokey Robinson’s ‘Loving You’ - and I practically fell off my chair,” says Berger.

Talent however, was just the beginning of their success story, he continues. “We practiced hours upon hours upon hours. Sometimes eight hours in the studio at a go,” says Berger.

“The kid [Michael Jackson] had a hunger to be the best – and was willing to work as hard and as long as it took,” adds Gordy, 83, who has just produced the Broadway hit “Motown, the Musical,” based on his life story.  

“It was all about the music,” says Berger, who continues to manage The Temptations. “Merchandizing was either non existent or an afterthought in the 60s. Maybe you would get a program book for five bucks and that was that. Or, if you were the Beatles, you might put out some photos, or a poster.”

But Gordy, Berger and others looking after The Jackson 5 were actually among those who would change that: Capitalizing on the youth-oriented appeal of the five brothers, Motown licensed dozens of Jackson 5-related products for the young fans: from the famous J5 Heart logo to stickers, patches, and coloring books.  

But a fragrance?  “Too much,” cringe the old timers.

“These days, what with social media… the whole fan thing has taken music, and fans in a whole other direction,” says Gordy. “It is a different story.”

“There is a lot of mediocre talent out there now, being fashioned into bands and manufactured into success by the managers and producers,” says Berger.  Who is he talking about? Backstreet Boys? Nsync? Jonas Brothers? He wouldn't say.

And the jury is still out on One Direction, a band made up of five young men who were discovered separately by the British televised singing competition The X Factor in 2010, and have since turned into a multi-million dollar business empire. The group has sold 10 million albums, 19 million singles, topped the charts of most major markets - and generated enough teenage hype and hysteria to have even Jackie Jackson himself, the second of the Jackson kids, who is 52 today, compare the two groups.

Jackson even suggested in a recent interview that he would be interested in writing some songs for One Direction to record.

The Jackson boys, one of the biggest names ever in popular music, who sold 100 million records in total are still in a league of their own. But the Jacksons were active from 1964 through 1990 – meaning One Direction, formed less than three years ago, could, potentially, still give them a run for the money.

But will they? Berger has his doubts. “These new bands are more about the right look, and their shows are filled with lasers and explosions,” he argues. “The Jackson 5 could get up on stage and knock you off your feet without any of that.”

Jake Berger, Shelly’s 10 year old grandson, is a One Direction fan: He knows the lyrics to most of their songs, downloads their new music onto his dad’s iPhone, and can imitate all their dance moves. But still, he admits, his grandfather is right. “The Jackson 5 sang the blues and funk and are seriously talented,” explains the young man. “ One Direction are just pop singers, playing stuff that girls love.”

English boy band One Direction at the Teen Choice Awards.Credit: Reuters