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Dec 14

EIFFEL 65 – “Blue (Da Ba Dee)”

Popular60 comments • 4,095 views

#836, 25th September 1999

eiffel65 “Blue” is the crest of the late 90s Europop wave – extravagantly successful not just on the continent but worldwide. Including – most startling of all – the US, where it picked up a Grammy, made the Billboard Top 10, and sent the Eiffel 65 album double platinum. You could draw comparisons with another parochial 90s movement that was big business Stateside for a moment or two: “Blue (Da Ba Dee)” is Europop’s “Wonderwall”.

Could the comparison run any further? Pushing it might cast an interesting light on what gets to be called a movement, or a genre – what gets written into history, and what survives as fleeting moments on clip shows. It seems unlikely the BBC will be commissioning retrospectives a few years from now on the 20th anniversary of Aquarium, Europop and The Party Album but considered from a distance the late 90s feels like a time of successive waves of pop fashion – Britpop, post-Spice tweenpop, and then party-friendly Eurodance.

Britpop is remembered most because of the drama, the stories, and the material immediacy of it all – the way the bands were gigging and drinking near you. But as a pop style people bought and loved, the distinction in importance is less clear cut. “Blue” feels like a novelty hit, for sure – but it reached massive success at a time when there was an awful lot of Eurodance about. Once you have half a dozen novelty hits in a similar style happening at a similar time, you have to admit that they probably aren’t novelties. Novelties are joyful nose-thumbs to pop’s current order: “Blue” is a huge success because “Blue”, in 1999, is that order. This is what pop in 1999 is.

Only more so: the thing that stands out about “Blue”, returning to it, is how skull-bashingly committed it is to its peculiar aesthetic. Which is? Ultra-treated vocals – surely the most brutally full-on use of Autotune on any number one, bending words into enticing or repellent robot croons and caws. Stentorian piano melodies – the old ABBA trick of big, romantic keyboards up front. Lyrics that ramble and half-scan, giving the song an improvised, spontaneous feel that helps take some of the edge off the inhuman and maximalist parts. And that mocking, looping, endless, infuriating chorus. But this is not a record that gives half a shit about whether it’s annoying.

The result sounds demented but also – if you’ve paid any attention to what else has been selling this year – the most surefire hit imaginable. “Blue” is the magnificent and awful culmination of what Lou Bega, Aqua, the Vengaboys and the pop-trance contingent have been doing for a while: it couldn’t but be massive. Fortunately it’s also, behind the bluster, an oddly touching little record. Blue was simply a random choice of colour, claimed the band, but you don’t get to invoke blue in pop without the blues coming to mind. And while “Blue (Da Ba Dee)” is in no useful musical sense a blues track, sorrow is timeless, and its sketch of a sad blue world and a small life has a power anyhow. It’s a piece of simple, effective storytelling, like a nursery rhyme or a Mister Men book. And, in my experience, even its most brainstem-aggravating qualities resonate with the circular inward momentum of melancholy: “Blue”’s chorus feels like a thought you just can’t leave well alone.

“Blue”’s specific qualities still leave a broader question – if the Euro-wave was a commercial movement, why it and why then? Particularly dumb luck, perhaps, but it’s also worth remembering people were gearing up for an especially huge party season, with a certain amount of overwrought concern about whether the world would come out of it alright. Forced jollity and global sing-alongs were on the agenda. If it’s a stretch to claim “Blue” and its fellows as artefacts of pre-millennial jitters, it’s also true that the Europop trend turned to vapour soon after the century ended. The need people had for them faded, and Eiffel 65 and their ilk are remembered for the hangover more than the party. Inevitable, but still unfair.

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Comments

  1. 1
    punctum on 2 Dec 2014 #

    Twenty-two years after Bowie mused on a nullified future of “blue, blue, electric blue” existence masquerading as life – and 39 years since Joe Meek’s Blue Men heard a new world – here was the soundtrack for those clammy, agonistic boxes, or at least it should have been; “Blue (Da Ba Dee)” cycles morosely over its Autotune-warped chorus and wintry piano figure as though even Air can’t be breathed. There is the hint of something momentous in the (probably accidental) atonality of the fourth bar of each verse, and a final wriggling out of anything approaching existence, as though the blue of Bobby Vinton’s “Blue On Blue” could only have led to “Sound And Vision.” Unfortunately the alienating promise is let down by a ludicrous and misconceived sub-Beastie Boy frat rap sequence – Eiffel 65 were Italian – which (a) destroys the record’s slowly numbing ambience entirely; (b) seems to be laughing at the plight of the wretched blue outsider and (c) contradicts its own lyric – “he ain’t got nobody to listen” they claim, and yet later we get the moderately creepy information that “I have a girlfriend – and she is so blue.” Still, no doubt that sequence helped sell the song to America, where it became one of the very few Eurodance tracks to hit big (#6 on Billboard in early 2000). If only they’d let the Autotune do all the work.

  2. 2
    Patrick Mexico on 2 Dec 2014 #

    I always heard this as “Irn Bru, in Aberdeen I will die.” Beyond sinister.

  3. 3
    lonepilgrim on 2 Dec 2014 #

    I have no memory of this, which is surprising given that it seems designed to be an ear worm. I like the music and production but, as has been noted, the verses/rap are a drag. Presumably there are instrumental remixes out there and I can imagine them being repurposed by other artist for something richer and more stimulating.

  4. 4
    anto on 2 Dec 2014 #

    With 15 years additional wisdom I find this is one track where my irritation is not re-awakened – It’s absurd but also quite sparky and unabashed. I never disclose my marks out of 10 but this one I scored slightly higher than I thought I would.

  5. 5
    tribeca on 2 Dec 2014 #

    I remember spending hours listening to the song BLUE when I was adolescent. Crazy song!

  6. 6
    Chelovek na lune on 2 Dec 2014 #

    Unrelenting. irritating, and curiously dated. Would be better at half the length, or with half the verses, or simply half the words. The music is hardly earth shatteringly original or brilliant, either. 4

  7. 7
    iconoclast on 2 Dec 2014 #

    A single half-decent idea stretched lazily and annoyingly out to nearly four minutes. FOUR.

  8. 8
    mapman132 on 2 Dec 2014 #

    Tom, your review really nailed it this time. There was something in the air that was simultaneously exciting and vaguely disturbing as the end of 1999 approached (my own experience colored by a personal breakdown which I won’t expand on here). This song seemed to capture the vibe perfectly with its futuristic sound combined with ridiculous lyrics and mechanical delivery. I was surprised when it hit big in America as the Eurodance sound really wasn’t common here at the time, but maybe others were feeling the same vibe I was. Just 8 hits to go before the end of the world millennium. 7/10.

  9. 9
    Pete on 2 Dec 2014 #

    Used perfectly to identify time and place at the start of Iron Man 3, the ridiculous intro about the blue man particularly poignant.

  10. 10
    enitharmon on 2 Dec 2014 #

    This isn’t a programming language specification then? Oh, sorry, that would be Eiffel 86. This meant nothing to me so I went to YouTube to check if it wasn’t one of those tracks whose title and performer are unfamiliar but which has entered my consciousness through cultural osmosis. It wasn’t, but it was, I found, bloody awful! I mean, I’m happy to accept that electronic dance music really isn’t my kind of thing and others may appreciate but this was terribly cutesy-squirmy-naff, wasn’t it?

    On the date it hit the top I was ensconced in an attic apartment in Brussels recovering from major abdominal surgery (don’t ask!) and hooked up to the portable CD player that seemed such a good idea at the time, with old, comforting stuff that I quickly tired of. Oh, and with hindsight I’d have given my right arm for a well-stocked Kindle. The big box of local chocolates more than made up for that though.

  11. 11
    Ronnie on 2 Dec 2014 #

    This is a truly stupid and annoying run of #1s.

  12. 12
    Hofmeister Bear on 2 Dec 2014 #

    There really isn’t anything redeeming about this song at all. That was the case 15 years and it remains so today. It is quite frankly complete shit.

    I remember this run of #1’s vividly and Ronnie’s assessment is on the money.

  13. 13
    thefatgit on 3 Dec 2014 #

    What intrigues me is how this song just ends. Rap, chorus, verse, chorus, repeated verse, chorus…and switch it all off, fellas. The limoncellos are on me. No fade, no extended instrumental. Odd enough to make it interesting. What precedes it is pretty odd too. I like the bass and the piano chords. The autotuned vocal is so ubiquitous now, it seems ordinary to these ears. (5)

  14. 14
    Billy Hicks on 3 Dec 2014 #

    It’s almost become a cliché to mention your personal misheard lyrics of the chorus of this, but in my case it was “I’m a leader for Di” and I wondered if there was some connection there to the late princess.

    The actual so-called ‘Ice Pop Radio Edit’ of this as heard on both the CD single and Now 44 is a whopping, and too overlong 4 minutes and 45 seconds, the ‘video edit’ (a much more tolerable 3:40) is quite rare in comparison as most compilations feature the longer mix. I’ve always loved both the start and the synth work throughout, but the main issue I have with this one is that drum beat. I never gave it much attention until I rediscovered it about a decade ago and it just sounds a bit wrong, the hi-hat too compressed and the beat not fitting right and sounding like an amateurish remix instead of the real thing.

    I’ve made my love of 1999’s #1s all too clear by now but for me this is a rare miss and an early indication of what happens far too much in 2000, the ‘wrong’ songs getting to number 1 when there’s much better examples of a similar sound that should have got there instead. The big pop-Ibiza #1 of 1999 deserved to be Alice Deejay’s Better Off Alone, not this, similarly in the next twelve months the likes of Darude’s ‘Sandstorm’ and Delerium’s ‘Silence’ are instant 10s that we unfairly won’t be seeing on Popular in favour of inferior tracks.

    A disappointing 5.

  15. 15
    AMZ1981 on 3 Dec 2014 #

    This record got an extremely hostile reception from some quarters at the time; largely due to the `da ba dee` lyric which, while hardly Like A Rolling Stone, was considerably less inane than `Boom boom boom boom, I want you in my room`. In this respect Blue deserves better. Maybe it is a meaningless lyric, maybe it is about something or maybe it’s deliberately ambigous.

    I’ve personally always heard the chorus as `I believe I will die` (a common interpretation and a slightly meaningless one in isolation). It could well be a song about depression and #1 raises an interesting point about which side the narrator is on, something I’d never considered before. I suppose it could be seen in the way that the cool kids can be sympathetic to the loners who struggle with shyness but are ultimately unable to empathise with them. Which may or not be what Blue is about – ultimately its a pop song and one people are free to hook into however they choose. It’s a song that sounds best in a club and how many people on dancefloors are there out of loneliness?

    Whatever, the fact remains that enough people bought the song to make it the second three week runner of the year and the second biggest selling single overall. It blocked two strong records on its second week; S Club 7’s S Club Party (good fun with more punch than their debut) and Shania Twain’s storming Man I Feel Like A Woman. Collectively these three songs a) gave us the first static top three since April 1998* and b) humiliated Mel C with her first solo single proper, (a hilariously desperate attempt at reinventing herself as an indie superstar) – despite the fact that it wouldn’t have sold more than ten copies had anyone else released it the fact that it `only` made number four and dropped to eighteen seven days later appeared to kill her solo career. Appeared …

    *It’s Like That, My Heart Will Go On and Sash’s La Primavera should anyone besides myself be sad enough to wonder.

  16. 16
    swanstep on 3 Dec 2014 #

    I just listened to the only other Eiffel 65 track that ever gets mentioned, ‘Move Your Body’, and it confirms that they’re talentless chancers. Oh well, they got big-time lucky with ‘Blue’ – good for them. I don’t find B at all catchy myself so it’s never come up for me as something to detest (and there was so much good music around in 1999 from 69 Love Songs to Midnite Vultures – at least 60 tracks better than B between them! – you were certifiable if you paid more than glancing attention to the kindergarten at the top of the charts), and I never hear it these days so it hasn’t stuck around to irritate either.

    I hear a little bit of ‘One Night In Bangkok’ and The Tamperer’s ‘Feel It’ in the vocal delivery, and of course the big vocoder/vocaloid hook is, as I remember someone anticipating back then, the charmless cousin of ‘Sweet Like Chocolate”s. Only a 3 or a 4 from me for B’s basic dance-floor functionality.

  17. 17
    weej on 3 Dec 2014 #

    In September 1999 I moved into the first of many shared houses with my university friends and signed up for my first and only MTV-containing cable subscription. This video was on every half hour. Our reaction was “Is this supposed to be a joke?” – especially to the “rap” intro, and we wrote it off as the sort of crap that for some reason gets play on MTV Europe, but which wouldn’t have a hope of passing the (admittedly minimal) quality barrier to the UK market. We were wrong.

    A fresh listen reveals no improvement over time, only the knowlege that it was the crest of the wave rather than the start of an innundation. I still don’t hear “oddly touching” though I do hear a preset keyboard setting for “mawk” partially-buried under the crap beats and stupid autotuned vocals. A generous 2.

  18. 18
    wichitalineman on 3 Dec 2014 #

    There’s another way of reading this glut of Eurodance number ones – one of my favourite pet theories, the overripe pop genre. It’s best years are behind it, but it’s still solidly commercially viable, so destroys itself with what sound like self-parody and novelties.

    The point of the record confused me then and confuses me now. It sounded like someone’s idea of irony (the weirdly new wave vocal) and hit when Shoreditch/Hoxton Nathan Barleyism was peaking (the smarter characters had already moved up the largely deserted Kingsland Road). Possibly Australian? No, it turned out to be Italian. We’re a long way from Daniele Davoli’s Italian love of nonsense; there’s something sneery about Blue, and I’d say it’s well aware of its own irritant value.

    Re 2: “Iron Bru. In Aberdeen I will die” – that greatly improves it. My misheard lyric on Man I Feel Like A Woman was “combing my hair, doing a dare”, which sounded like a lot of fun, and rather out of character for Shania.

    Re 1: Blue, as in blue men, as in aliens, as in immigrants (the patronising “little guy”). Quite possible isn’t it? Holds more water than the Stargazers’ Close The Door.

    Re 15: Of course I wondered. Thank you.

  19. 19
    Tom on 3 Dec 2014 #

    Eiffel 65 were also one of the earlier groups to sing about the Internet in the somewhat twee “Hyperlink (Deep Down)”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TPAu_PkcUNM – “a newsgroup one on one”

  20. 20
    Tom on 3 Dec 2014 #

    #18 I think it’s aware of its irritant value, but it doesn’t give a monkeys, i.e. it’s well aware that the path to whatever aesthetic and commercial effects its going for runs through irritation, not around it.

    “Little guy” is what put me in mind of the Mister Men! Or Morph, perhaps – the entire song happening at plasticene scale in a blue plasticine world.

    Re. the run of #1s – I had, I admit, pretty much given up on the charts – I got pulled back in fairly early in 2000. This was when I was busy writing my Top 100 singles of the 90s series, which has some crossover with Popular but is a lot better reflection of where I was at emotionally than Lou Bega or Eiffel 65 could have been.

  21. 21
    JoeWiz on 3 Dec 2014 #

    I always thought ‘Blue’ was a connection to the Italian football shirts. There wasn’t a World Cup that year, so I was clearly just clutching at straws. This remains an awful, if fascinating record. Who’d host an evening of programmes on BBC 4 celebrating late 90’s pop? Tina Cousins?

  22. 22
    James BC on 3 Dec 2014 #

    We are in a bit of a doldrum score-wise. The ten number 1s up to the Vengaboys had an average score of 4.0, the lowest since the dark times of Jive Bunny.

    I don’t think this is very good, though I do own it on the mainly excellent Clubland 90s compilation. Mysteriously it’s credited there to “Bloom 06” but it sounds the same to me.

  23. 23
    Rory on 3 Dec 2014 #

    #18, “possibly Australian”? Crikey. Sounds as alien to me as the blue guy in the video, though I see now that it spent nine weeks at the top of our charts, from 14 November through the first week of 2000. So why can’t I remember it at all? Must have to do with being distracted by that other thing preoccupying anybody who worked in an IT-related area at the end of 1999.

    Without the associations that lift the Vengaboys and “Mambo No. 5” for me, I can’t find much here to enjoy; those lyrics are ridiculous. The in- and outside of his little blue Corvette! The blue window! No wonder your girlfriend looks so blue. My brother once did something similar to his bedroom by asking Mum to make him red curtains – it was like walking into an oven. 4.

  24. 24
    will on 3 Dec 2014 #

    Sorry but I love this. I bought it at the time – on 12 inch – and if I remember rightly played on NYE at a house party in Bristol. It was greeted by widespread groaning and cries of ‘get it off’. 7

  25. 25
    Tommy Mack on 3 Dec 2014 #

    I’ll make a case for the opening rap: it’s so hamfisted, it goes some way to conveying an unfiltered outpouring of discontent, like Sleaford Mods’ Jason Williamson at his most sketchy and unrehearsed – actually, it sounds like a child making up a story as he’s going along: ‘and then…and then…and then’, as though the Blue is so all-pervading it’s clouding his very thoughts and preventing even a coherent reading of the blue world.

    Still don’t like it or Blue very much: not fun but not really blue sounding either, it’s quite a dreary, ploddy sounding record, failing to really convey the angst of the blue world but not really getting the party started either – although obviously plenty thought otherwise and I imagine it got plenty of dancefloor action over the run-up to the big NYE.

    4

  26. 26
    Mark G on 3 Dec 2014 #

    #18, yes you have a precurser there to the follow-on: “The Wayyyy over-ripe and now rotten-spoiled category of pop hit”, it worked once (or more times, maybe), many people jumped on and next time round the wheels fell off.

    1) The alternative to the X-Factor Xmas number one. This had been attempted a couple of times, oops I just remembered I can’t continue this one. Soz mr Bunny.

    2) The England Football Team support hit. For years, the team might do an all-together singalong, then bands got involved andthe notion of “Coolness” added some perceived value. Then, one year, everyone from Wreckless Eric to various opera stars and of course Keith Allen and let’s not forget Frank Sidebottom, pause for breath, had a go. I think this year the highest charted one was Rik Mayall’s and that was for ‘other reasons’

  27. 27
    glue_factory on 3 Dec 2014 #

    Re: 22, wikipedia has the full details of who Bloom 06 (basically, Eiffel 65 – 1), along with the rather alarming news that Eiffel 65 also recorded some “mellowed rock”

  28. 28
    wichitalineman on 3 Dec 2014 #

    I want to hear Eiffel 65’s mellowed rock.

  29. 29
    PI on 3 Dec 2014 #

    Yeah, I also love this. It’s a definite 8 for me. I understand why most people find it annoying, but I find it rather lovable and sweet. Maybe it’s a gene I was born with, like rolling your tongue.

    What really sells it — apart from the fact that it’s one of the all-time greatest stupid songs to be drunk and dance to — is the (perhaps unintentional) air of melancholy, that still gives me shivers – or maybe that’s just me, remembering my younger self dancing to this at a terrible club in a warehouse district of High Wycombe – the sort of place that gets destroyed in a Simon Pegg movie.

  30. 30
    flahr on 3 Dec 2014 #

    “I’m blue, if I was green I would die” was my own take on the matter, a sort of essence-precedes-existence kneejerk anti-Sartreism (I was six at the time and so did not phrase it like that).

  31. 31
    lockedintheattic on 3 Dec 2014 #

    I love this. But even at the time I always found it hard to find people to agree with me (and that’s even though I have a lot of pop-loving friends). Which despite my love made me slightly baffled by its success – if people were buying it as a novelty record, surely some people must have enjoyed the novelty enough to buy it (and lots of them, for it to be the year’s second best seller). Which makes me wonder if this is the ultimate guilty pleasure – so obviously naff that even pop fans were embarrassed to admit to liking?

    I think #29 nails it on the head by pointing out the air of melancholy in the verses that totally set it apart from most Europop songs. The chorus on its own is a pretty standard catchy Europop affair, but I think it works much harder coming straight after those starkly autotuned, mechanical verses with the constant repetition of the word blue. It’s a very effective device.

    A definite 9 from me and I think for me it just edges Britney & Sweet Like Chocolate as my favourite of the year’s number ones.

  32. 32
    Patrick Mexico on 3 Dec 2014 #

    Sounds like the Fall going loco down at Salford disco and writing a shameless (pun fully intended) song for kids – MES: “hey, if it’s good enough for Madonna and Dear Jessie… come back Brix, trust me, I know what I’m doing!”

    About as half as fun as that sounds. So a four-and-a-half.

  33. 33
    chelovek na lune on 3 Dec 2014 #

    #30, #31 to me the euro-dance-pop melancholy thing (certainly present here) was done rather more agreeably in several early Ace of Base singles – their first (was it only?) number 1 (rabbit pie, now?), the gloomy “Wheel of Fortune” and the just awesomely bleak and depressing “Happy Nation”. “Blue” is reminiscent of the kind of eurotack it had been hard to avoid hearing in remotely provincial Romanian nightclubs and bars on the summer of 95 – autotune aside, there is no great evolution of sound from countless records from several years earlier. This really was final curtains for this sort of thing

  34. 34
    Shiny Dave on 3 Dec 2014 #

    Listening again for the first time in years. The earworm brings back memories – though in my case it’s largely of playing this in Year 9 music classes filled with noisy miscreants who had no interest in learning, so they’re not fond memories. (We eventually dabbled in songwriting, which was to be an itch I’d properly start scratching a couple of years later, but already must have caught me if I wanted to do a GCSE in the subject. My school report said I had “a musical talent which [I] ought to pursue,” and later and on my own terms, I did. More on that as we go through the next few years, beginning with an impending Westlife bunny.)

    It sounds like the bastard child of late-80s Italo-house – I can’t think of anything so driven by a single (faux-)piano line in dance music between this and Alison Limerick’s “Where Love Lives” several years earlier – and the 1999 trance sound of overlapping processed keyboards. Though nothing in the latter had a chorus anything like this big and this dumb – when trance went in for proper vocal lines it was usually straight from the mid-90s house diva playbook (quite literally, in the case of an impending bunny!) and the best big dumb trance hook of the year was the staccato keyboard on “The Launch.”

    This was clearly a boom year for throwaway party pop, and the Big Number Change was undoubtedly a big part of it – for all that the millennium was technically a year away, the reason for panic was legitimately a Big Number Change issue. It’s telling that one of the big trance anthems of the era was Binary Finary’s “1998,” which then got reworked as “1999.” (There was a “2000,” and even a “2009,” but the earlier versions and their many remixes get far more play now.) The coding of this music as the soundtrack to the biggest ever NYE was obvious throughout, BInary Finary just made it explicit.

    But with so many options for those NYE DJs, the songs that cut through were the ones with the big dumb choruses. “Blue,” like “Mambo No. 5,” this song cut through with a combination of: a) just such a chorus, b) sounding not quite like anything else.

    Trance carried on post-millennium with eight-plus-minute digital symphonic instrumentals that owed at least as much to progressive rock as anything else I can think of – no wonder “trance and progressive” became an established genre codifier in time – and, as already foreshadowed, variants of its staple keyboard builds would become staples of Popular about a decade down the line. Meanwhile, the Popular representation of the 1999 dance bubble is a bunch of novelties that cut through, and I think this is my least favourite of them.

    5.

  35. 35
    Doctor Casino on 3 Dec 2014 #

    This is a good one I think – more going on in the mix and in the sequence of parts than in the Venga hits…. and yes, hints of something more stirring and sad, this sad robot struggling to speak through his blurbley Autotune. For me at the time, it slotted in curiously well alongside much more aggressive “electronica” as would be found on MTV’s Amp compilations. “I have a blue house with a blue window” was similarly vague and suggestive of a seamy strange ravey world as “We have explosive” or “Baby’s got a master plan, a foolproof master plan.” Not the same thing, but close enough.

    The popular mishearing I recall was “I’m blue / if I was green, I would die.”

  36. 36
    DanH on 4 Dec 2014 #

    Yep, this was indeed a Stateside hit. To me at the time, it seemed like a ‘oh hi Europe, how you doin? OK, well, see ya later’ type look-in, the reception it got here. I had little use for this, and still do. I never mistook ‘Da Ba Dee’ for anything else, I picked up right away it was babble. I missed out on the fun you guys had in deciphering misheard lyrics…darn :-(

    @16: YES, Midnite Vultures!! That record reminds me vividly of the Millenium parties…even though I did not play it at mine…and said party was pretty tame. But I was spinning that album nonstop at the time, so there ya go.

  37. 37
    swanstep on 4 Dec 2014 #

    @DanH, 36. In case you haven’t seen it, Beck doing ‘Debra’ live at the VH-1 Fashion Awards (early 2000 I’d say): http://youtu.be/auJZvKYh2rA

  38. 38
    StringBeanJohn82 on 4 Dec 2014 #

    As I mentioned in the Boom Boom Boom Boom entry, it felt like this year was a real nadir for pop music in general, with cheap Europopstuff like this at number one for weeks along with the crap we’ve had up to now. I was 16/17 at the time. And while the relativists amongst us might say that all pop is of equal value, and that pop music is just a manifestation of what the kids want, I have to say to anyone older than 35 right now: would you really have been happy this bolllocks soundtracking your life as a young adult? I started going out around this time to the pubs that would serve us, to college parties and stuff and all this was the soundtrack to that. This song was absolutely massive – a few weeks at No. 1 when this was unheard of, played everywhere, all the time, everyone singing it and replacing the words as discussed earlier… just mental.

    I know there are other eras of crap pop, but as an example, the SAW stuff feels like Motown reborn compared to this and the Vengaboys. Remember also that mainstream rock in the charts was dominated by US nu-Metal like Limp Bizkit, Linkin Park and Papa Roach, out of steam Britpop bands, and Travis. Robbie Williams was the best pop star of the era by a mile.

    That said, this did provide me and my mates with some fun, as did the Vengaboys, in aping the funny accents and enunciation and all that, and it’s hard to argue that they’re not catchy. It’s better than BBBB, so [3]

  39. 39
    thefatgit on 5 Dec 2014 #

    @38, yeah I’m one of the over 35’s of which you speak. While looking solely at the #1 singles, possibly only gives a certain perspective, it can help to galvanise one’s thinking of a certain era. There were a helluva lot of differing perspectives bubbling under the surface in 80/81 (when I was 16/17), which the #1 lists of the time didn’t always reflect. A recurring trope on Popular has been “…a good year for music”. It’s not always the #1 singles that indicate what was a good year for music, quite often it’s not even what’s going on in the Top 40, but you’ve already identified Nu-Metal and Robbie hitting a purple patch. I’m not sure what your feelings are on the divergent strands of D&B or emerging UK Garage, or the direction R&B was heading in, but in ’99, I felt these would more than likely have a significant bearing on the music of the new millennium…we’ll get there soon enough.

    Having said all that, even the questionable qualities of this Popular year’s batch of chart-toppers have revealed some interesting perspectives in the comments threads. I think some are frustrated that the marketing techniques employed by the major labels of the time have drowned out the natural dialogue of the charts. Others might be relieved that for once, guys with guitars are not calling the shots, like when Britpop was peaking. There’s other perspectives worth looking into as well. Keep an eye on the end of year lists when we get to the end of 1999.

  40. 40
    DanH on 5 Dec 2014 #

    Thanks for the link, Swanstep! I saw Beck live last summer, and “Debra” was the only track played from the MV era. It was naturally at the end of the show, where he could do an extended spoken word bit, and make love to the audience.

  41. 41
    Billy Hicks on 5 Dec 2014 #

    As a ten year old, the charts felt like something for children. Bands would appear on Saturday morning television, you had CD:UK placed immediately after SM:TV Live, and while you had the obvious kid-friendly acts – Steps, S Club, Vengaboys etc – you also had the likes of Britney Spears and Lolly dressing up as children when they were much older. I was aware of so-called ‘adult’ music from the likes of Travis, but while I’d hear them on the radio they’d never be number 1 hits so just seemed like something put in the charts so grown-ups would buy it – the top of the charts seemed very much exclusively the kid zone. Five years earlier I’d heard a couple of Oasis songs and been immediately put off by the loud, uncomfortable noise and not being able to understand what Liam Gallagher was talking about – but now you’ve got some funny looking people singing ‘Ooh Eee Ooh Ah Ah Ting Tang Walla Walla Bing Bang’, or ‘Boom Boom Boom I Want You In My Room’, and – yep – ‘I’m Blue, Da Ba Dee Da Ba Di’ and things made much more sense. In 2000 and 2001 we’ll see the likes of Eminem, 2-step garage and nu-metal, all of which horrified me somewhat in comparison and I stubbornly kept on listening to the Europop until it all fizzled out a few years into the decade, by which time I was a teenager and after a brief flirtation with rock, by the time I was 16 I had moved into underground trance and hard house for the rest of the mid-noughties.

    I disagree that it’s a ‘nadir’, it’s just a very particular phase of pop when the charts were very much geared to a specific age group as, at this point, we were the ones buying the CDs. But eventually a gap in both the older and urban markets would lead to the indie and R&B dominated noughties.

  42. 42
    Tommy Mack on 5 Dec 2014 #

    Re: 38, 39, 41. It seemed like a nadir at the time but not so much because of the Europop stuff which, although, at 18, I considered myself too old and sophisticated for it, I quite enjoyed on the radio, in shitty clubs etc. It was more the other stuff that John mentions: a pincer attack of dreary ballading from Westlife and Ronan on the pop flank, Travis, Embrace et al on the indie side, dance was doing interesting things but, quite moody, abstract things, certainly not ‘fun’. I didn’t mind some of the nu-metal stuff but a) deffo not Fun Music and b) I don’t remember nu-nu-metal (as opposed to earlier stuff like Korn and Coal Chamber) really breaking until the next year, after the millenium. I remember complaining about the lack of decent music around and my dad explaining John Peel’s ‘fallow period’ theory. I didn’t have much interest in the charts at this time, I was more playing catch up with hip hop, drum&bass and big beat that I’d missed during my lame mid-nineties Britpop purist phase and also picking up the sort of ‘top 100 albums’ canonical stuff (Forever Changes, Pet Sounds, Harvest, sort of thing) that was becoming very cheap as various industry wonks predicted the demise of the CD.

  43. 43
    Cumbrian on 5 Dec 2014 #

    I remember the back end of 1999 as a bit of a fallow period too – I was at university and was listening to the radio a lot whilst doing work in the evenings and was non-plussed. On the one hand, it was pretty good for saving money, I wasn’t spending my student loan on CDs for instance, but it wasn’t especially exciting. The post-Britpop stuff was dreary, the nu-metal stuff didn’t appeal much beyond a crunching riff here or there, garage and R&B seemed to be the most vital stuff around but I got distracted by the fact that I had a fast internet connection for the first time ever and got into the mashup scene (BoomSelection downloads started piling up and I started illicitly transferring them to CD’s using the university’s CD writer) which kicked in the doors for me on “proper” pop music for the first time after being mostly an indie kid/rock kid for my formative years. Looking back, the only album I plunked money down for in late 1999 was There’s Nothing Left To Lose by Foo Fighters – which I’d argue is still their high water mark (well, that or The Color And The Shape).

    Blue sort of washed over me. I still don’t really know what to say about it. It’s undeniably catchy (irritating?) and I can see the melancholic aspects of it – but I’m definitely not sold. I don’t think it’s hateful though.

  44. 44
    Tom on 5 Dec 2014 #

    Yeah, I think Tommy broadly has it right. The Europop isn’t a problem, any more than the occasional intrusions of bizarro novelties were in the 70s – it’s just the background against which the Europop is meant to sit as contrast was full of holes: Britpop long since run aground into Travis-ness, the post-Spice crew between albums (all back next year, for better or worse), effing Westlife, R&B and hip-hop on creative highs but not yet commercial ones. UK garage aside (and it’s a big aside), these were leanish times.

    That said, when I looked at the 90s, I thought I was going to have a real issue getting motivated to do the tail-end of it, and actually I’ve had a lot of fun writing the entries and finding angles. It turned out to be 93-95 that saw Popular’s posting arteries clog up, instead.

  45. 45
    flahr on 5 Dec 2014 #

    This is Actually Pretty Good up until 1:20 – the rap intro works well as a scene-setting, the chorus works, and the melody is fairly rad – it’s no Children By Robert Miles but it’s of a similar vein and I like it. Unfortunately the verses proper (“I have a blue house…” etc) are shockingly poor – not so much because of the lyrics (“I have a girlfriend… AND SHE IS SO BLUE!”) but because the music in the background basically gives up for them; the second rap break, because it’s no longer an intro, is also a bit disappointing and this could have been so much better.

    My general philosophy is that an ascending order of quality runs:
    4. Bad things that are nearly good
    3. Bad things
    2. Good things
    1. Good things that are nearly bad

    but while “Blue” fits the description of bracket 4 I feel a bit more inclined towards kindness, because it is a pretty rad melody and there is some inspiration there; let’s say 4/5, leaning towards a 5 because I feel like I never give things 5. [5]

  46. 46
    Mark M on 6 Dec 2014 #

    Re42, 44 etc: Tom says, ‘R&B and hip-hop on creative highs but not yet commercial ones’ – which maybe true in terms of number ones, but as I know he as much as anyone knows, the golden age of modern R&B (and I really think it was) was in full effect and firmly in the top 10 by this time. No Scrubs was a UK No.3 (and No.1 in various other countries), more significantly maybe in the era of fanbase hits, hung around for months. TLC’s younger main competition, then a four piece who would reach bunnyable status as a trio, had just released their second album, very much with the new skittering beats and multiple tempos of the moment – it would spawn four UK top ten hits.
    And much more amazing stuff was on its way in the year to come…

  47. 47
    funky sukrat 3 on 6 Dec 2014 #

    cosine mark m^^^

    i was stopped cold round this time by a fragment of a song playing on a TV advert, probably the only time this* has ever happened to me (the kind of serendipity that US rockcrit elders — marsh, marcus et al — always have to stop their cars and pull over to the kerb for) (except even rockcrit eleders probably don’t watch TV as they drive): the advert was for FUNKY DIVAS 3 and the song was bills bills bills** by destiny’s child (also on the comp: TLC, Missy Elliott, Aaliyah)

    so yes, this new aesthetic was clearly up and rolling (it’s funky divas THREE) but despite being literally astonishing (to me anyway) was also somehow still off the general discursive radar i think

    *i mean being stopped cold by a song on TV advert, not being stopped cold by a song in general (i too am a rockcrit elder sortakinda)
    **https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NiF6-0UTqtc –> UK no.6 i think

  48. 48
    Mark M on 6 Dec 2014 #

    Re47: ‘The general discursive radar’ is something always hard to judge, of course – it’s always tempting to believe that what ‘we’ are talking about is either what everyone else is talking about (‘we are the mainstream’) or what no one else is talking about (‘we are the vanguard’/’we are the excluded’). So all I know that among people I knew and discussed this stuff with, the feeling was very much that this was the big news.

    Missy, for instance, was on the cover of the June 1999 issue of The Face, which – for context – also featured The Matrix, Leeds United’s Alan Smith (‘the new Michael Owen’) and – curiously – veteran Scouse guitar band Shack.

    TLC’s Fanmail got 8/10 in the NME and 4/5 in Q (according to Wikipedia), although more grudging reviews in the US.

    The other question – which I think was discussed when we were talking about Usher – is to what extent this clearly felt like a new era. I mean, there had been good R&B stuff throughout the ’90s. So did this feel different, either in terms of the sonic daring (I’d argue yes) and in terms of the wider cultural impact (that would be clearer in time)?

  49. 49
    funky sukrat 3 on 6 Dec 2014 #

    true, and in my case it was mainly ME that was not keeping with knowing how to operate said radar: between leaving the wire (early 1994) and discovering ilx (late 1999 i think), i wasn’t following current music AT ALL

    there’s something abt the robo-precision of microrhythm in bills bills bills that really did sound new — other ppl on DIVA 3 are whitney and mjblige and toni braxton and even poor old m people, and this was a sound i was of course familiar with

  50. 50
    Mark M on 6 Dec 2014 #

    Re49: ‘there’s something abt the robo-precision of microrhythm in bills bills bills that really did sound new’ – exactly.

    On the subject of Whitney, remember though this was nu-Whit – with the very new school It’s Not Right But It’s OK, and the Wyclef masterminded My Love Is Your Love (both top 3 hits, too). There’s a comment piece about that in that issue of The Face, too.

  51. 51
    Mark M on 6 Dec 2014 #

    Re49/50 etc: So, for instance, the opening little hook on It’s Not Right, which is the only music for the first verse, and sounds to me (though I’m sure it isn’t) like a comb or maybe a Harry Partch lightbulb marimba. The song goes on for a minute too long and everything has been chucked in by the end, so it’s easy to forget how minimal it is at the start.

  52. 52
    funky sukrat 3 on 6 Dec 2014 #

    p sure it’s a kalimba aka mbira aka thumb piano: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Se4nqUgIL0

    (or a very good synthesiser replication)

    (the thumb piano is sometimes also called the marimba, confusingly enough) (this being the marimba i assume patrch’s is named for)

  53. 53
    Tom on 6 Dec 2014 #

    I’d forgotten Bunnied Bey Band were having such big hits in the UK – I thought the commercial breakthrough was next year and TLC were pretty much an outlier – so yes, indeed, nu-R&B was up and running here.

    My sense of what goes where is very scrambled around this time, though – I was mostly talking about music to Americans, I was getting MP3s of all this stuff from people uploading them in the US – there seemed to be a feeling (more in 2000-2001) that a week without a new R&B single doing something you’d never heard before was a poor week. It’s the closest I’ve come as a listener to what the fabled context of abundance of the high 60s in Britain must have been like, I think. A lot of them weren’t getting released here – but then you’d get something like Kelis’ “Caught Out There” which was a smash here and a moderate performer there. But I found it very hard to keep up with what had come out when and where.

  54. 54
    Mark M on 6 Dec 2014 #

    Re53: Yes, it was confusing. A lot of stuff did come out with that movie-world lag, but I guess I was used to that. Through the ’90s I was buying hip-hop on import (when it came out here, I’d still blag review copies of the UK release from the record companies, of course). In the context of this discussion, I was trying to figure out when I heard ODB’s Nigga Please, which was my first awareness of The Neptunes. It says 1999 on the record, so I’m pretty sure I heard it then, but the single, Got Your Money (ft Kelis) wasn’t a hit until summer 2000.

    Possibly worth mentioning that John Peel absolutely loved that first Kelis album, played loads of tracks off it for weeks I seem to remember (because to him it sounded like the ’70s, funnily enough). Don’t think Skateboard P is generally lumped in with the many Peel discoveries.

  55. 55
    swanstep on 7 Dec 2014 #

    Slightly more old-school, but Q-Tip’s ‘Vivrant Thing’ and ‘Breath and Stop’ were huge in clubs where I was at Xmas 1999. Beyond that though, my own sense at the time was that my home base of college radio rock was in good shape: Sigur Ros’s Agaetis Bjryun (rumored on campus as the album to get you laid! not sure that the band would have appreciated that), The Beta Band’s 3 E.P.s, and Flaming Lips’s Soft Bulletin (in addition to Beck and Magnetic Fields stuff previously mentioned) were exciting records on deserved permanent rotation (and still are really), and dominated lots of critics lists IIRC. And, at least in Seattle and Portland, alt-country/bluegrass was big with the cool kids, and, e.g., Freakwater’s album End Time w/ killer single Good For Nothing was also essential listening.

  56. 56
    Shiny Dave on 7 Dec 2014 #

    Perhaps in retrospect, 1999 was the year where the Britpop/Spice Girls/boyband era broke down – Britpop mired in melancholy, the Spices split and gearing up for solo careers of varying quality, the boyband mantle largely passed to Westlife’s “pan-generation romantic coalition.”

    No surprise then, that the innovations in largely-black American music once again shaped the UK charts as a void emerged – wouldn’t be the first time – but Europop was in position A to fill this very particular point in time. The millennium year would bring new-millennium US music – too often with old-millennium attitudes to gender relations, though one of the first examples of the sound we’ll see on Popular is arguably the defining counterexample – but for now, it’s mostly bubbling under, its big chart leap still to come.

    (#53: Maybe Caught Out There was bigger here because its shouty “I HATE YOU SO MUCH RIGHT NOW!” chorus earned it novelty-record status in a year that was awfully friendly to novelties and earworm choruses?)

  57. 57
    iconoclast on 7 Dec 2014 #

    @56 (first paragraph): from a pop-cultural point of view, this probably reflects more than two years of post-Diana Blairism in some way.

  58. 58
    pink champale on 8 Dec 2014 #

    #47 Yes, Bills, Bills, Bills was my epiphany about all this nu-R&B that I never knew was happening too. And astonishing as much of that stuff is, i still think BBB seems like a step beyond even the very best of the rest, an evolution in human achivement as much as just music. In fact it feels like the sort of music that should be playing in the room at the end of 2001 A Space Odyssey – with BBB’s harsicord standing in for 2001’s Louis XVI furniture

  59. 59
    ciaran on 15 Dec 2014 #

    I was one of very few in my school that had any time for this and though I wouldn’t say history has proven that it’s a work of genius it hasn’t aged badly for what was a novelty record.

    It loses a bit of appeal in the dodgy video and doing a bit of a Lou Bega with the follow up (You could also argue it sets the tone for another monstrous Mainlaind Europe Number One 2 popular years on) but it’s still something I am still slightly fond of now. Even Kayne West might have picked up a thing or two. 6

  60. 60
    lonepilgrim on 23 Dec 2014 #

    There’s a great piece spinning off from this songs use in ‘Iron Man 3’ at the One Week One Band Tumblr here:
    http://oneweekoneband.tumblr.com/post/105985708431/eiffel-65-blue-da-ba-dee-iron-man-3

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