Posts from 2019

4
Nov 19

My Thoughts Big I Just Can’t Define (THE VERVE – “Bitter Sweet Symphony”)

New York London Paris Munich13 comments • 820 views

(Reached #2, June 1997)

One of the repeating themes in British indie music is bands hitting the rocks because the guitarist and singer can’t work together. The Smiths, The House Of Love, The Stone Roses, Suede, The Verve – for a decade some of the biggest names in British guitar rock kept flaring out like this, until the music became boring enough that it stopped being an issue (you can’t have creative differences when nobody’s doing anything creative).

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22
Oct 19

T.A.T.U. – “All The Things She Said”

Popular23 comments • 2,119 views

#948, 8th February 2003

Nobody could claim that time and changing norms have rendered t.A.T.u. problematic; they were glaringly, undeniably skeevy from the off. Executive producer Ivan Shapovalov – who masterminded the duo’s anime schoolgirl look and teenage lesbians on the run schtick – seems like a more honestly sleazy Malcolm McLaren (Bow Wow Wow edition). All the trolling, none of the philosophy.

To which Shapovalov might say, well, you let me get away with it. His follow-up to t.A.T.u. was niqab-wearing “terrorist pop star” N.A.T.O., a bit of Islamophobic pantomime. It touched on much rawer symbols and taboos and the project was a flop. With t.A.T.u., on the other hand – conceived in the year “….Baby One More Time” smashed charts worldwide – the group were surrounded by a teenpop culture where suggestions of underage sex worked like a black market currency. If time has changed how t.A.T.u feel, it’s by shrinking the measurable difference between them and the pop that surrounded them. Shapovalov was just saying the quiet part loud.

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17
Oct 19

What’s Going On With The FT Comments?

FT4 comments • 192 views

Hi all –

We know some of you have had serious issues with the FT comments, both in terms of logging in on existing IDs and creating new ones.

This is because of something being imposed by our hosts to stop continued spam comment attacks. We’ve taken the actions requested (updating wordpress etc) but there’s clearly still an issue. To make things more frustrating, my admin login is working so there’s no way of my knowing when the login system is down or not.

We’ll keep you updated. Posting comments is (clearly) still possible, but may not always be possible with the login. Use the comments on this thread to let us know what your situation is.

Sorry!

15
Oct 19

DAVID SNEDDON – “Stop Living The Lie”

Popular21 comments • 1,373 views

#947, 25th January 2003

One possible reason Popstars’ producers risked an unconventional song with Girls Aloud: the show itself had competition. The BBC approached the reality TV era warily, but there was no way the Corporation could stay fully aloof from those kind of viewer numbers. Still, appearances had to be kept up – if the BBC was going to run a talent show, then by jingo it would involve real talent. And, in pop terms, that meant songwriting.

The resulting show, Fame Academy, was originally developed by Endemol as a Pop Idol/Big Brother crossbreed – the novelty was that the contestants all lived together in a house being taught the ways of stardom (Academy, see?). The BBC’s publicity leaned heavily on the teaching aspect, perhaps hoping that an educational aura would somehow settle on a show clearly designed to steal ITV’s Popstars thunder.

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13
Oct 19

All one can do is die (CRASH TEST DUMMIES – “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm”)

New York London Paris Munich2 comments • 419 views

(#2 in April 1994)

Fortune is the issue here: the blind bad luck of the song’s kid subjects, the random chance of us ever hearing about them. “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm” is a fluke, but a fluke brought forth from a particular moment, the end of the alt-rock gold rush. First there were the years when major labels pushed Nirvana’s peers, rivals and sometimes elders out across the world (even I bought a lumberjack shirt). Later, alt-rock became modern rock, a settled category in the US and barely a concern elsewhere. But alongside all that were the chancers, the one-hit wonders, the unlikelies, trawled up by the industry’s tuna nets as it tried to meet MTV and radio demand. Green Jelly. Ugly Kid Joe. 4 Non Blondes. This.

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12
Oct 19

how not to write about extreme metal, probably

Hidden Landscapes8 comments • 334 views

[This post originally went up at my PATREON: subscribers get to read posts and hear podcasts early — and help offset costs and time and help me do more of this kind of thing. Please share widely and encourage participation in the comments!]

“It might seem like ham-strung vaudeville from a media-saturated Western outlook, but this internationalised language of stock rebellion and theatrical posturing clearly resonates for youth in Indonesia, Malaysia or Singapore, and offers comfort and dignity to those still; ambivalent about buying into the post-feudal-/colonial environment that’s being rapidly constructed round them” — Kean Wong on metal in South-East Asia, and how it was interacting with political Islam, ‘Metallic Gleam’, The Wire 110, April 1993

Back in the mid-80s, my NME colleague Dele Fadele and I had a shorthand: ‘Nigerian Heavy Metal’. Of course there’s plenty of African metal around today, and this no longer seems even a faintly counter-intuitive idea – but even though it already existed (so Dele said), there seemed enough of an absurd tinge to this fact for it to seem useful to us.

Of course the seeming absurdity is in retrospect a tell, which was exactly the point from our POV. It’s a shorthand for a mockery emanating from the critical community and culture both we shared (meaning an NME-type hivemind)

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9
Oct 19

Popular ’02

Popular12 comments • 897 views

Last time we did one of these Obama was president, so a quick reminder is probably due – I give every Number One a mark out of 10. This is where YOU get the opportunity to vote on which hits you’d have given 6 or more to. My own highest marks were a 10 for Sugababes and 9s for Aaliyah and Girls Aloud, while at the other end Ronan, Gareth’n’Will, Westlife and ver Kitten picked up 2s.

Which Of The Number One Hits Of 2002 Would YOU Have Given 6 Or More To?

View Results

Poll closes: No Expiry

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Discuss the year in general in the comments! (If you want)

8
Oct 19

GIRLS ALOUD – “Sound Of The Underground”

Popular33 comments • 1,943 views

#946, 28th December 2002

Looked at one way, this had to happen. Reality TV pop shows weren’t going away. Lightning had struck for Hear’Say, then again for Liberty X, then so often for Pop Idol that you’d think Zeus had the ITV voting lines on speed dial. The maths of it was simple enough: the audience mobilised for reality shows was multiples larger than the crowds pop could normally draw for a new release. Anything a winner released would get to number one. Simon Cowell (and gang) had hacked the charts.

But in doing so they’d also surrendered control. If winning a reality show was the golden ticket, and what you released after didn’t matter, then the winners’ single could get away with far more drama and delight than Cowell’s starchy definition of pop allowed. Critics, me included, who gasped in excited shock when they heard “Sound Of The Underground” – it’s reality TV pop, but good – hadn’t twigged that this outcome was always a possibility. Once you shatter the link between quality – however conservatively measured – and results, you create an opportunity for anything, great or touch-my-bum awful, that’s blocked by the usual filters.

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3
Oct 19

It’s A Day For Catching Sun (LOUCHIE LOU AND MICHIE ONE – “Shout”)

New York London Paris Munich1 comment • 240 views

Less Popular is an occasional series where I write about hits that didn’t get to #1. It’s made possible by the Patreon – thanks to all my patrons.

Popular’s actual coverage of the ’93 Summer Of Ragga suffers a bit from the Number Ones showing up as the nights drew in – Chaka Demus and Pliers were cosy and languid, Shaggy a bit livelier but still heavy-lidded compared to “Shout (It Out)”, ragga gone unashamedly, noisily pop.

Louchie Lou And Michie One never had another big hit on their own, and only had one at all by teaming up with Suggs, bit parts to a bit part in the Britpop story. But Britpop is where you might reach for a comparison – Louchie and Michie are the Shampoo of ragga, snotty and loud and enjoying every minute of snatched fame. The duo had previous – they had worked with the Rebel MC, whose take on British hip-hop (“Street Tuff”) had been just as delightedly inauthentic, and just as catchy.

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30
Sep 19

BLUE ft ELTON JOHN – “Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word”

Popular10 comments • 1,236 views

#945, 21st December 2002

Blue’s last Number One, and any wisps of street credibility which might have still clung to them melt away. Don’t be fooled by the off-the-peg R&B shuffle in the best: just as much as Bedingfield’s effort, this is a cynical push into Westlife territory. More cynical, even – while “If You’re Not The One” had its writer’s formalist curiosity to excuse it, “Sorry” can’t pretend to be anything more than a cross-generational Christmas cash grab.

Perhaps some small degree of respectability accrues to it from Elton’s own involvement? Elton John is a famously enthusiastic and generous collaborator – it’s one of the most endearing things about him, this desire to keep up, join in and just see what happens when musicians meet. But inevitably this approach doesn’t guarantee quality – Elton tackles his lines here with gruff gusto but you imagine the track left his mind pretty soon after the studio door closed behind him. Blue beat their chests and dab ineffectively at the song and don’t leave a mark on it: they scatter a few ad libs around Elton’s vocals to remind us (then and now) that this is 2002.

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