In the future, everyone will murder a boy band member.

 The most popular boy band in 2050. Pic by Sacha Bryning.

I’ve just spent a few hours trying to get over a tricky speedbump in the writing of CrimeForce: LoveTeam, so I feel like now might be a good time to ease back and reflect slightly.

First of all, what is CrimeForce: LoveTeam?

In simple terms, it’s a participatory performance lecture by Jordan Prosser and myself which uses a scenaric futures lens to look at the future of pop music (specifically, the future of boy bands) and the future of the justice system. We’re about to launch the first major public outing of the work at Nesta’s FutureFest in London this July, with Nick McCorriston on board as our future-pop composer and DJ, and Sacha Bryning illustrating our storyboards.

What actually does any of the above paragraph mean? I know, it’s a lot. But in short: Jordan and I have created a Law and Order-style crime thriller, set in the future, about the murder of a boy band member.

It’s 2050. Britain’s police force has recently been renamed the CrimeForce, and the biggest pop group in the world today is a teenage boy band called LoveTeam. In a penthouse suite overlooking the city of London, the body of Kevin LoveTeam has just been found – bludgeoned to death.

Now, the race is on for CrimeForce detectives McAuley and Prosser to crack the case and find Kevin’s killer, before they strike again.

McAuley and Prosser’s investigation will lead them from grimy black market shanty-towns to opulent charity balls, from the dark criminal underworld to the glittering heights of pop stardom, and bring them face to face with the sinister reality behind the pop music facade.

Jordan and I have been working on this project together since 2016, when we did a 3-month research residency at Carlton Connect in Melbourne looking into the practice of ‘scenaric futures’. It’s been simmering for me even longer – since my 2014 Churchill Fellowship research trip brought me face-to-face with the world of Futures Studies and Experiential Futures.

But FutureFest will be the first public outing for the work. This first iteration will be a live performance, with Jordan and I telling the whole story between us as a two-hander. Mixed in with the detective story are brief lecture interludes, which unpack some of the science behind the story, and some samples of speculative future pop songs, performed by composer and sound artist Nick McCorriston.

It’s an introduction to some of the big discoveries in the world of molecular biology and music production, and what these discoveries might mean for our criminal justice system or for how we access and experience music. It’s a science lecture, a pop concert and a classic episode of Law and Order all in one.

 More or less.

So far so good. But there’s one more key element: this is not a show about the future, this is a show about how we think about the future.

Thinking about the future is hard. Really hard. We’re bad at thinking about next week, let alone next decade.

Scientists working in the realm of Futures Studies have developed critical thinking tools to help them grapple with the future. One of the key tools is the idea of the Scenaric Viewpoint. This is what Jordan and I are trying to share in this work.

The key idea underpinning this whole practice is: We can’t predict the future.

The future doesn’t exist. It hasn’t happened yet.

So rather than being about predicting, the scenaric approach is about creating future scenarios to ‘give you more options in the continually evolving present’. I won’t go into the theory here, but in practice, futurists create multiple different future scenarios. You can have as many alternative futures as you like – but in practice, scientists tend to limit themselves to just a few. In fact, usually, just four.

In fact pretty much always: four.

Again, I won’t go into the reasoning here, but if you look at different forecasts by government agencies, research bodies, the military, the IPCC and so on, they have four alternative scenarios.

Jordan and I did the same. We created four alternative future scenarios for London in the year 2050. In each scenario, we imagine different decisions by individuals and countries that might result in very different worlds. In each scenario, the justice system, youth culture, politics, music and fashion have all taken very different forms.

In each of the four scenarios, Kevin LoveTeam is murdered and Detectives McAuley and Prosser are sent to investigate. We meet the same characters and follow the same rough journey (every episode of Law and Order meets the same characters and follows the same rough journey), but in each version the world itself is different. And in only one of the four future scenarios do the detectives catch the killer.

It’s up to the audience to make sure that that’s that future we end up in.

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This all sounds like a lot, but in practice, this has involved A LOT of Jordan, Nick and I discussing and listening to the history of boy bands and chart pop, and watching a lot of Law and Order. Nickamc has composed a series of alternative future pop anthems for us, and the show does conclude with a boy band live concert finale, because of course.

I’ve written a bit about the future of pop music for the Future Centres blog here, if you’re curious, and Jordan dove into the reasons why Law and Order provides a great tool for thinking about the future on the Nesta blog.

But the main thing I’ll leave you with is that the Backstreet Boys’ 2013 documentary Show ‘Em What You’re Made Of is a brilliantly constructed piece of cinema, and the Backstreet Boys’ new single Don’t Go Breaking My Heart is better than you’d probably expect.