Every so often on Popular I hit a knowledge gap that there’s simply no way of talking around, and this is one. I have only ever seen one episode of South Park, after the pub one night, sometime in its first flush of success. I didn’t like it enough to watch more, and that turned out to be it for me and the show – this single aside. If you want a comment on South Park, how “Chocolate Salty Balls” fits into it, its cultural significance – well, the box is open, and I know a lot of the writers here are fans.
With that large and necessary context torn out, what independent life can this song have? Quite a lot. It’s the first outright comedy record to get to #1 since “The Stonk”, but the gap in care, structure and wit between the songs is colossal. There’s none of the soul-shrivelling forced bonhomie of Red Nose Day about this record, where you herd the comics of the day into a studio and pray something half-funny emerges. This is a return to a seventies model – funny songs that got to Number One because they made people laugh.
I give every record on Popular a mark out of 10. This poll is your chance to tick any singles YOU would have given 6 or more to. In 1998 my top score was a 9 for Cornershop, my lowest a 1 for Boyzone’s “No Matter What”. Use the comments to discuss the year in general, present other lists, etc etc.
“Viva Forever” had been the Spice Girls’ unofficial break-up single – its themes (and wistful qualities) well able to shoulder the job of seeing Geri Halliwell off. What need for “Goodbye”, then? The song existed in demo form pre-split but was gussied up into a statement by band and songwriters afterwards. Could it feel like anything other than a cash-in?
Perhaps not, if it had just been about Geri. But momentum was flowing away from the band, whether they knew it or not. “Goodbye”, a non-album single meant publically to cap the Girl Power era and launch a new, four-woman one, just felt like the end, full stop. “It’s not”, the chorus smoothly protested, but events, and the vibe of the song itself, honoured its title as a not-all-that-well-hidden intention.
Where Pokémon Blue delighted in technology, Pokémon Silver sinks into history. After being given your starter Pokémon, your Pokedex and your mission, you walk into the deep woods of Johto and encounter in quick succession a tower built around an ancient, giant Pokémon; 1500-year old ruins filled with strange carvings and an entire race of enigmatic beings, and a well whose significance to its local village dates back four centuries. In that village lives Kurt, master of the art of Apricorn carving, a skill that predates the Poke Balls you use. Like the great trunk of Sprout Tower, the Pokémon world is putting down roots.
The wintry sleeve and video make the game here obvious even if the song doesn’t – B*Witched’s third single is a notional shot at the Christmas Number One. Its chances were ceremonial – as a release date politely ahead of the Spice Girls’ post-Geri blubfest suggests, “To You I Belong” was only ever expecting to be a runner up on the big day. As an unofficial teaser, though, it had the desired commercial effect, nudging Cher aside for a modest week.
In an age of one-week wonders, “Believe” was a phenomenon – a massive global hit, bossing the charts for close to two months. It has a formidable legacy: as well as a triumphant capstone for Cher’s career, it sets the tone for a surge of dance-pop successes over the next couple of years, and opens the pop career of writer/producer Brian Higgins and his Xenomania team, whose idiosyncratic approach to pop will illuminate the early 00s.
Except none of that matters. “Believe”’s place in history and conversation has been all filled up by that unnatural bend in Cher’s voice in the verses, the moment the public discovered Autotune. So “Believe” stops being a rather good pop song about rubbing your ex’s face in their folly, and instead is treated as Patient Zero in an epidemic that defines or ruins modern pop. All the debate and the disdain over Autotune starts here, and all of it since lands back here. Cher, what have you done?
In another world, the crassest Number One of 1998 might have been its most chic. “Gym And Tonic” steals a name, a concept, a hook and most of a sound from Bob Sinclar’s “Gymtonic”, written with Daft Punk’s Thomas Bangalter, who also co-wrote the gorgeous Stardust hit “Music Sounds Better With You” – from which Spacedust lifts the rest of their ideas, and their band name. It’s not so much filing off the serial numbers as daubing luminous paint on them. “Music Sounds…” had just missed reaching Number One a few months before this – which meant that at the peak of French pop cool in my adult life, the sole representative of “French touch” on Popular is a knockoff by a pair of Brits with an, ahem, “deliberately cheap” video. C’est la vie.
Avengers NOW! and Marvel in the 2010s
Marvel Comics’ announcement that its new Thor is going to be a woman has attracted plenty of froth and comment – especially since it turned out that this was part of a general refreshment of their core titles under the Avengers NOW! banner brand. Captain America is to be replaced by long-standing partner The Falcon (who happens to be a black guy), and Iron Man is going to become a dick (they may have trouble presenting this as a radical change).
There have been a range of responses. Superhero comics are built on the “illusion of change”, but apparently have the most reliably troll-able audience in media history, so some people are upset at the idea of a status quo change. That it’s a status quo change away from a white guy in two cases – and those two cases are the ones drawing all the heat, nobody is saying “I love Tony Stark! How dare they make him even more of a jerk” – is not coincidental to the level of rage.
We know there have been some serious issues recently with the login and comment system. The main ones being:
- Logins not working (or not appearing to work)
- Comments not showing up
Both of these are down to caching issues, and we’re working to resolve them with our current hosts or find a different solution. In the meantime, our apologies.
If you can’t get your login to work, try clicking on another post – it sometimes shows up after that. If it still doesn’t work, you should also be able to post comments unlogged.
If your comments don’t immediately show up, this is likely a result of the caching issues. Wait 10 minutes before reposting.
Sorry once again for the hassle – the comments are really important and we are hoping we can get everything sorted out again before too long.
“Because We Want To” worked by leaning on Billie Piper’s energy and nascent dramatic flair rather than her singing. For “Girlfriend” her voice is more central, which is a problem – it’s a mushy, gobstopper-mouthed instrument, prone to sliding words together so that every line sounds shrugged through. It makes “Girlfriend”’s chorus – Billie asking a guy out – sound really grudging and reluctant. The awkwardness doesn’t end with the vocals, either – like Peter Andre’s hits, “Girlfriend” is professional songwriters trying for cool and ending up with a supermarket own-brand version of R&B, clumpy and thin.