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I'm really confused with this one, if one calls some performance a 'Novelty Act' does it imply they're trying lower its image or is it just neutral?

Well, I looked it up on the internet and it says that a Novelty Act is something which the audience would find amusing at first but soon its novelty wears off.

So if I use this definition, then I think it's not really good for something to be classified as a Novelty Act, or is it?

That's what I've been pondering about.

In short, when one uses the phrase, does it have to be preceded by an adjective describing it as good/bad or is it, as I mentioned above, implying something negative just by itself?

It'd really be helpful if you could include some examples with the answers.

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  • It's merely a description. Whether it's appropriate for the "act" you're discussing is up to you to decide.
    – Hot Licks
    Oct 23, 2020 at 19:49
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    It means the act is new – not seen before. If it takes off, it won't still be a novelty. If it fails, it will be forgotten. The phrase can be used dismissively if the speaker thinks it isn't up to much. Oct 23, 2020 at 19:49
  • Essentially then, you are asking “Is having the novelty wear off of something good or bad?” It seems like the answer is “That depends...”
    – Jim
    Oct 23, 2020 at 19:51
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    Not enough to make an answer of, but I always think 'novelty act' can equate to 'one-trick pony'. One thing, done well, but you don't need to ever see it twice & it does nothing but that one feat.
    – Tetsujin
    Oct 25, 2020 at 17:21

3 Answers 3

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Calling a performer a "novelty act" implies that their primary appeal is their novelty, rather than their actual abilities or talents. As such, it frequently carries a dismissive meaning, as though such acts do not have "real" talent. Novelty acts are often contrasted to acts that have staying power: those with enough talent & appeal to "stay around" for a longer period of time.

Examples:

LMFAO Prove They’re More Than A Novelty Act

LMFAO have proven that they are no novelty act. The familial duo of Redfoo (Stefan Kendal Gordy) and Sky Blue (Skyler Austin Gordy), known for crazy outfits, wild hair and even wilder music, have proven their staying power three years after their initial hit, and have provided the song of the summer with “Party Rock Anthem.”

Review + Photos: The Darkness at The Regency Ballroom

The late, great Lemmy Kilmister once referred to The Darkness as a novelty act, and there are still those who are quick to dismiss the band as nothing more than a slightly amusing, glam-metal piss-take. ... But while no one would mistake the Darkness for serious artistes, they are far more than a novelty.

Sarah Michelle Gellar had to prove she’s more than a ‘novelty act’

Getting into the baking world after acting meant Sarah Michelle Gellar had to work hard to be taken seriously.

“I was a novelty act,” the 40-year-old told Page Six of her company Foodstirs at a UN Women forum on Thursday. “People think it was easier to get in the door, sure, but they just wanted to see how Buffy bakes, you know?”

Gellar, whose company creates DIY baking kits and organic baking mixes, starred in the TV series “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” in the late ’90s and early 2000s.

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    P G Wodehouse uses "novelty" very effectively as a put-down in one of his novels in an exchange between Bertie Wooster and Jeeves. Jeeves: "Shall I lay out one of your novelty handkerchiefs for you today, Sir?" Bertie: "Oh, come off it, Jeeves! Everyone wears things with initials on them nowadays." Jeeves: "I thought the practice was restricted to those who were in danger of forgetting their names, Sir."
    – Anton
    Oct 23, 2020 at 21:12
  • Thank You Michael! That mostly answers my question...So frequently, it is used dismissively. Now, are there cases where "novelty act" would be used as a nice term or maybe even as a compliment to the performance?
    – Bambara
    Oct 24, 2020 at 7:23
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    @Bambara I've only ever seen it used negatively. Maybe in a neutral description, it might be describing one of the (possible) drawbacks I might see with an act. If I wanted to express someone's/something's "novelty" in a neutral/positive fashion, I'd say it was "novel", not "novelty act".
    – mishan
    Oct 24, 2020 at 14:26
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Before the days of television or the movies, people would go to see live performances in their local theatre. Usually these were variety shows.

The staple fare of these shows was singing, dancing, juggling, acrobatics and comedy. A troupe of players would travel around the country, performing the same act wherever they went.

Often the show would include a novelty act, that is to say an act that wasn't of the usual sort.

Maybe there would be trained animals or an escapologist or something that people in those days wouldn't have seen before. They were called novel for the very reason that they would be new to the local audiences.

For example, in the following show, I imagine that the performing frogs would be very much a novelty!

enter image description here

Answer

Most acts can evolve with time. Singers can learn new songs, dancers can learn new dances, and so on. This meant that these standard acts could tour the same locations with new material. The problem with novelty acts is that the second time someone saw them, they would no longer be a novelty.

Thus a novelty act is one that makes a big impression initially but becomes boring once the novelty has worn off.


EDIT

@Sven Yargs has pointed out that the poster I showed is a modern spoof. My problem was finding an original that was easily readable. Here's an old-fashioned poster for those who are interested. Marie Lloyd was a famous music-hall performer.

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    Have you checked the date on the bill of fare that you include as an image in your answer? The whole thing seems likely to be a modern spoof, given that it includes such anachronisms as "Failsworth Pole Dancing Club," "Alfred Spatchcock Presents," and a bard named "Henry Cooper-Clarke" (not to be confused with early 1980s New Wave bard John Cooper-Clarke)—to say nothing of the "acts" themselves.
    – Sven Yargs
    Oct 24, 2020 at 22:50
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Well, I looked it up on the internet and it says that a Novelty Act is something which the audience would find amusing at first but soon its novelty wears off.

Hmmm...let's see. Weird Al has been releasing parodies since about 1983.

His most recent album (Mandatory Fun), released in 2014 was ranked #1 in the US, #3 in Canada, and #9 in Australia.

So, after about 30 years, he's lost so much popularity that his new album only made it into the top 10 in 3 countries.

Now let's consider the acts he parodied.

I Lost on Jeopardy was a parody of a Greg Kihn song. Greg Kihn's first album to make it into the Billboard 200 was Next of Kihn, in 1978. The most recent, was Citizen Kihn in 1985, so they had a run of almost 7 years.

Gump was a parody of Lump by The Presidents of the United States of America. They released two ranked albums, in 1995 and 1996, plus a compilation album that was ranked #198 in the UK in 1998.

Ricky was a parody of Toni Basil's "Micky". Toni Basil released albums in 1983 and 1984. The latter didn't chart as an album, but did contain one single that made it into the US Dance music chart.

Lest this get boring, I'll just list some more:

  1. King of Suede (Kind of Pain, the Police)
  2. Like a Surgeon (Like a Virgin, Madonna)
  3. Fat (Bad, Michael Jackson)
  4. Smells Like Nirvana (Smells Like Teen Spirit, Nirvana)
  5. I think I'm a Clone Now (I Think We're Alone Now, Tiffany)
  6. Achy Breaky Song (Achy Breaky Heart, Billy Ray Cyrus)
  7. Amish Paradise (Gangsta's Paradise, Coolio)
  8. It's all About the Pentiums (All About the Benjamins, Puff Daddy)
  9. Pretty Fly For a Rabbi (Pretty Fly for a White Guy, The Offspring)
  10. White and Nerdy (Ridin', Chamillionaire and Krayzie Bone)
  11. Canadian Idiot (American Idiot, Green Day)
  12. Perform This Way (Born This Way, Lady Gaga)

Green Day just released a new album this year. I can see Lady Gaga releasing more albums. Madonna might also. These will be noticeable to at least some degree. Greg Kihn (for one example) still seems to be cranking out new albums every few years, so I guess it wouldn't be a big surprise if he released at least a few more. Not likely to get a lot of interest though.

There will probably be at least a few more releases of material done by Nirvana, Queen, and Michael Jackson at some point or other. Not new material (obviously) but new releases of old material.

Summary

Weird Al is certainly a novelty act by most definitions. He's continued to release new material for far longer than most of the acts he parodied. In fact, at least out of those listed above, the only one I can see who really competes with him for longevity is Madonna (and potentially those that are still active, like Green Day and Lady Gaga). Quite a few of them had at most an album or two that sold reasonably well, but the number releasing reasonably successful albums in 3 or 4 different decades...is pretty small, to say the least.

So to answer the question directly, I'm going to say: "No, not necessarily".

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  • Surely Michael Jackson also had a longer career, given that he started so young. Also, the Police might not be a thing anymore, but Sting still is. Oct 26, 2020 at 17:36
  • @DarrelHoffman: If you include the Jackson Five, then MJ would be competitive (basically 1970 through 2001). But MJ solo is not the Jackson Five, and Sting solo is not the Police. Oct 26, 2020 at 18:16

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