Popular

11
Feb 20

ELTON JOHN – “Are You Ready For Love?”

Popular9 comments • 1,133 views

#959, 6th September 2003

Elton John’s best moment at number one comes with a forgotten track from a barely-noticed late-70s EP, lucked onto years later by someone in Sky Sports’ ad agency, remixed (delicately and discreetly) by Ashley Beedle, used to promote the new football season, and received with delight as a lost gem from a national treasure.

10
Feb 20

BLU CANTRELL ft SEAN PAUL – “Breathe”

FT + Popular10 comments • 915 views

#958, 9th August 2003

Dancehall stars have found many routes into the UK mainstream – cover versions and ads; tie-ups with hot producers; hardcore or controversial lyrics; or just basic novelty. Sean Paul found yet another way to make it. His thing was to strip down modern Jamaican music to its hookiest elements and present himself as a readymade star, his bearish baritone presence dominating this and most other tracks he turned up on.


Sean Paul’s sudden stardom came as dancehall itself was having a critical and pop-cultural moment. One of many – UK and US interest in Jamaican music has always gone in waves. In this case, R&B’s promotion of superstar producers – some of whom, like the Neptunes, were open about their debt to Jamaica – meant a new focus on riddims, the island’s own contribution to producer culture, and the way different acts would jostle to land the best voicings of the latest popular beat. “Get Busy”, Paul’s breakthrough hit, rode the perpetual-motion shudder of the ubiquitous Diwali Riddim.

There’s talk of Bob Marley whenever a Jamaican star breaks really big – but Sean Paul’s music fit the comparison better than most. Not, of course, because of any political or spiritual side – Paul, like most 00s pop stars, presented himself as someone for whom entertainment was mission enough. But like Marley he specialised in taking his homeland’s innovations and projecting them into music that was big and powerful and clear in its appeal. Sean Paul was a very easy star to ‘get’. more »

5
Feb 20

DANIEL BEDINGFIELD – “Never Gonna Leave Your Side”

Popular11 comments • 868 views

#957, 2nd August 2003

To make one Westlife-esque ballad may be regarded as a misfortune. To make two looks like… a bad mistake, as it turned out. Songwriting cameos aside, this is the last we see of Daniel Bedingfield, and it’s hard to argue he wasn’t the partial author of his own misfortune. The absurdly extended promotional cycle for his debut album didn’t help – 18 months after “Gotta Get Thru This”, and this isn’t even the final single lifted from it. But more damaging was the shift in image from a jack-of-all-genres bedroom pop savant to just another balladeer.

When Bedingfield did come back with new material – “Nothing Hurts Like Love” in 2004 – it was more soulful and more imaginative than this. But by then, as we’ll see, the market for broad-based ballads was shifting, becoming more industrialised as a reality TV production line settled into place.

“Never Gonna Leave Your Side”, like “If You’re Not The One”, falls between stools, squeezing its author’s idiosyncrasies into the ballad mode like a man putting on a badly-fitting tuxedo, while leaving just enough of his individuality intact for the song to feel a touch off. Bedingfield, as ever, is awkwardly earnest, his song a rubbing together of romance and neediness, the verses’ pile-up of bereft metaphors aligning oddly with the chorus’ pledges of devotion. On “Gotta Get Through This”, Bedingfield’s neurosis played as refreshing, unusual frankness; on “If You’re Not The One” his self-abasement was at least uncomfortably sincere. But here the novelty’s worn off – my main response to this is rolled eyes and a muttered “for God’s sake man, move on!”. He couldn’t, so the public did.

24
Jan 20

BEYONCÉ – “Crazy In Love”

Popular22 comments • 1,949 views

#956, 12th July 2003

History in the making,” says Jay-Z in the intro, and he’s been proven right. As I’ve said before, there’s a temptation with Beyoncé to treat her big moments as inevitable steps in a process of becoming. Her control over her career and image in 2019 – and the directions she’s gone and grown in – exerts a retroactive gravity on the rest of her story. “Crazy In Love” really does feel like a historical landmark, which can make it difficult to recover as a living single.

It’s difficult for Beyoncé too – on her 2019 Homecoming live album she drops it at the start of her set, in a place of honour, and at first treats it with the warmth an old friend deserves. It’s a way to show how she’s grown as a singer – her voice on the first verse is richer, fuller of feeling, than it was on the original. But halfway through the song she turns away from it, first following the line of its beat into a funk jam then switching out from it entirely.

19
Jan 20

EVANESCENCE – “Bring Me To Life”

Popular23 comments • 1,913 views

#955, 14th June 2003

Corporate rock, a vignette: the label wanted Evanescence to add a male co-vocalist all through their debut album. The band said no, and so a compromise was met – Amy Lee would be joined by a growly dude only on this first single.

4
Jan 20

R. KELLY – “Ignition (Remix)”

Popular67 comments • 5,658 views

#954, 17th May 2003

So here we are. In 2014, when I wrote the entry for “I Believe I Can Fly”, acknowledging the monstrousness of R Kelly, I had plans to make this piece some sort of grand follow-up. Here is a song that – when I started Popular – was the most beloved of its year. I’ve heard “Ignition (Remix)” in clubs; I’ve danced to it; I’ve watched threads online spiral into giddy delight over it. I expect it was played at my wedding. I expect I played it.

Will I ever play it again? I doubt it. I remember its creamy confidence, its conspiratorial, tale-telling joy well enough not to bother. To this day, any time I’m in a hotel lobby my brain jumps a track and “after the party, the hotel lobby” wanders into my mind. Not as a welcome or unwelcome guest, either, just a well-used connection whose spark lies somewhere below the conscious. “Ignition (Remix)” is part of the mental furniture.

31
Dec 19

TOMCRAFT – “Loneliness”

FT + Popular15 comments • 1,314 views

#953, 10th May 2003

Artwork for the single Loneliness by TomcraftAndrea Martin’s “Share Your Love” is an attractively crafted 1998 R&B tune about loving a philanderer. She opens with a sad idea, “Happiness seems to be loneliness, and loneliness killed my world / How could you guess, when you’re only thinking of yourself, and how you look to other girls”. In Martin’s song, she develops the feeling, but Tomcraft, a German DJ, saw the potential in the lines as a pure moment.

28
Dec 19

BUSTED – “You Said No”

Popular18 comments • 1,241 views

#952, 3rd May 2003

While Busted enjoy a warm second career on the reformation circuit, time hasn’t always been kind to the hairy-palmed pop-punk they kicked off with. The line between cheekiness and creepiness has shifted in the last fifteen years, and a song like “Britney” (“Tracking you down on the internet / Cos I ain’t seen you naked yet”) was likely on the wrong side to begin with.

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18
Dec 19

ROOM 5 ft OLIVER CHEATHAM – “Make Luv”

Popular17 comments • 1,241 views

#951, 5th April 2003

The sound of a subgenre on its deathbed. We’ve had some good times with filter-disco, or French touch, or whatever you want to call this woozy sound. At its best the filter effect worked like shades in a solar eclipse, a hazy distancing effect protecting you from druggy emotion too bright and stark to confront head-on.

“Make Luv” is the sound long past its best, though. Everything about the record feels half-arsed, as if adequacy was the aim. (It’s achieved, not that it matters.) The name of the act – a disguise for Italian house producer Junior Jack – the title, the earthbound trundle of the sounds, even the origin of its popularity in an ad for tacky lad’s deodorant Lynx… it could all have been designed to feel as devitalised as possible, a set of words and images entirely free of resonance. Poor Oliver Cheatham, sampled to give the record its hooks and spine, ends up just another part of the listless whole. “I like to party,” he sings, and then, in case you thought he might be staking a claim on a life of devil-may-care hedonism, “everybody does.” Well, quite.

17
Dec 19

GARETH GATES ft THE KUMARS – “Spirit In The Sky”

Popular13 comments • 1,281 views

#950, 22nd March 2003

This is Comic Relief getting back to its roots – a familiar song, disrupted by the comic turn. I never watched the Kumars, and the clips I looked at for research don’t make me feel I missed too much – a take on the fake chat show subgenre, cosy enough to be long-running (i.e., it didn’t make idiots of its guests). This single mirrors the set-up – Gareth is the bemused outsider, Sanjeev the earnest wannabe, the rest of the family scuppering his plans and his “big sitar solo” in their bustling eagerness to get involved. And the cast get stuck in to the concept with professional gusto. Fun is being had, though perhaps not by you.

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