Popular

28
Apr 20

KYLIE MINOGUE – “Slow”

Popular22 comments • 4,288 views

#963, 15th November 2003

I’m raising money for domestic violence charity Refuge by running a People’s Pop Poll on Twitter, which starts in May. If you can spare any money, please consider donating (and nominating a favourite pop track!)

The extraordinary success of “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head” did more than revive Kylie – it confirmed her, all over again, as an adopted national treasure, a woman who’d be guaranteed at least a respectful hearing, whatever she did next. And it liberated her to let that “next” be whatever she liked, from electrotrash, to weird country-pop, to full-orchestration belters. She went from being an act who a site like Pitchfork would review for an April Fool’s Joke to someone they’d cover instinctively, a journey to respectability the rest of pop took alongside her. For good and ill.

9
Mar 20

FATMAN SCOOP ft CROOKLYN CLAN – “Be Faithful”

Popular28 comments • 3,033 views

#962, 1st November 2003

The NME once put Public Enemy on the cover with the strapline “The Hardest Working Man In Yo! Business” – you feel Fatman Scoop might fancy a shot at that title. It’s not so much the intensity of his hustle, but the breadth of it – he branched out from hype man to radio DJ to featured artist to DVD producer to Celebrity Big Brother star, barreling through a career on confidence, connections, and that parade-ground bellow of a voice.

5
Mar 20

SUGABABES – “Hole In The Head”

Popular19 comments • 1,933 views

#961, 25th October 2003

“Hole In The Head” has three tough acts to follow. “Overload”, the one which perfectly introduced the Sugababes and their core idea – talk-to-the-hand teenage moodiness as a girl group operating system. “Freak Like Me”, the one (and the one-off) which brought them back from the edge of dissolution. And “Round Round”, the one which established, with an easy confidence, who the Sugababes were as a newly stable concern. 

23
Feb 20

THE BLACK EYED PEAS ft JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE – “Where Is The Love?”

Popular19 comments • 2,611 views

#960, 13th September 2003

The album the Black Eyed Peas put out before Elephunk featured DJ Premier beats and Mos Def and De La Soul guest spots. The album after it featured “My Humps”. Perhaps there are more dramatic transformations in music, more shameless grabs at pop’s brass ring, than this shift from mid-ranking respectability to world-straddling infamy – but not many.

We’ll get our chance to weigh up the Peas’ platinum-coated Imperial Phase eventually. First, though, the song which broke them – the only record you could credibly claim as a pivot between the head-nodding backpacker Peas and their incarnation as cyborg hit delivery systems.

It’s also – and with hindsight this seems even odder – the only No.1 single explicity about the Iraq War and the wider War On Terror.  There are bands who would have given their granny’s liver to get lines like “Overseas we’re tryin’ to stop terrorism / But right here we got terrorists living / In the USA, the big CIA” to the top of the charts. And “A war’s going on but the reason’s undercover / The truth is kept secret, it’s swept under the rug” is more forthright and plain-spoken than anything the Manics got to the top. Where are the protest songs? Right here. And nobody gave a shit. more »

11
Feb 20

ELTON JOHN – “Are You Ready For Love?”

Popular11 comments • 2,114 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 • 1,542 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”

Popular12 comments • 1,371 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 • 2,762 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”

Popular25 comments • 2,740 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)”

Popular74 comments • 7,262 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.