Popular

23
Feb 15

WESTLIFE – “Fool Again”

Popular50 comments • 1,876 views

#854, 8th April 2000

westlife fool The fifth and final number one from Westlife’s debut, “Fool Again” is an unhappy ending on every level. For once, the lads don’t realise their mistake in time to turn things round and win back their beloved. In fact – gasp – she’s found someone else, leading to a coda in which the band drop the creamy close harmonies and indulge in unrepentant yowling and breast-beating. It’s an undignified sound, but it’s the only musical distinction in “Fool Again”: otherwise we’re in well-ironed, not actively unpleasant Cheiron ballad territory. The guys are good enough anaesthetists by now that nothing grates, and perhaps if you shifted enough of the blanketing away you’d find a pea of interest in the song. But probably not.

20
Feb 15

MELANIE C ft LISA “LEFT-EYE” LOPES – “Never Be The Same Again”

Popular39 comments • 1,977 views

#853, 1st April 2000

neverbe Left-Eye first: again, a major figure in 90s American pop shows up here as a cameo on a solo Spice single. This time, at least, you’re left with some idea of what she can do. Left-Eye’s elegant doodle of a verse is dropped into “Never Be The Same Again” before the final chorus, and makes for a pleasant but slightly flummoxing cameo. It’s the most skilful rapping on a Number One for five years, it’s delightful hearing that quizzical voice hopping around her rhymes like a kid over stepping-stones, and it maintains a polite distance from the entire rest of the song.

18
Feb 15

GERI HALLIWELL – “Bag It Up”

Popular48 comments • 2,151 views

#852, 25th March 2000

halliwellbag Go back to 1998, ask people to predict what a Geri Halliwell solo record would be like, and I’d say they’d have landed somewhere close to “Bag It Up”. It’s brash, plasticky disco, noisy and cheeky: if the role-switching promo clip didn’t get people talking, her BRIT Awards emergence from between a giant pair of inflatable legs would. It’s also the closest her solo hits come to a ‘girl power’ statement (something the video directly references). But where “Wannabe” offered its tween and teen fans a vision of girls-together cameraderie, making romance an explicit second to friendship, “Bag It Up” is a bit more forthright in its demands for autonomy. “Bag it up…boot him out…wind him up… do your thing”. Throw in the reference to smash-hit 90s relationship guru John Gray (the former Maharishi disciple who cranked out fifteen Men Are From Mars… books, as psychologists despaired) and the message is clear. Relationships, in this song, really are a battle of the sexes, and Geri is determined her side are going to win.

16
Feb 15

CHICANE ft BRYAN ADAMS – “Don’t Give Up”

Popular36 comments • 1,512 views

#851, 18th March 2000

chicane I like the brusqueness – and the ambiguity – of Bryan Adams’ feelgood advice here: “Don’t worry if the sun don’t shine / You’ve seen it before.” The problem is, we’ve heard this before too – “Don’t Give Up” is an unglamorous song about the unglamorous struggle of getting things done, set to a laborious trance backing. Perhaps there’s a virtue in effort, but this isn’t the record to sell the idea: to my ears, it’s one of the most doggedly boring number ones. If “Pure Shores” was running hand-in-hand over white sands under an azure sky, this is a pebbly trudge along Frinton seafront in overcast early March. As it trots through its subdued melody and dutiful builds, I’m left thinking Chicane wouldn’t have had a sniff at the top without the gimmick of “Don’t Give Up”’s unlikely frontman.

13
Feb 15

MADONNA – “American Pie”

Popular77 comments • 3,304 views

#850, 11th March 2000

madonnapie I can’t remember, did I cry when I heard about Madonna’s “Pie”? To claim I did would be a lie, in fact I likely smiled. A dance-pop version of one of the great rock totems, by an artist on a creative roll, teamed with one of the most sympathetic producers of her career? How could it possibly fail to enrage my foes and gladden my friends? In my head existed a version of “American Pie” that had a shot at being a great single, and would at least end up a marvellous joke. Yet neither outcome came true.

11
Feb 15

ALL SAINTS – “Pure Shores”

Popular51 comments • 2,546 views

#849, 26th February 2000

pureshores Scroll through the YouTube reactions or the positive reviews of this record and one word keeps recurring: “Pure Shores” is relaxing. All Saints’ bath bomb voices meet William Orbit’s hot tub production and the result – by comment consensus – is a few snatched minutes of bliss in a careworn world. At the turn of the millennium, the stock of relaxation in music was never higher. In an earlier entry I talked about the turn of the 00s as a “self-satisfied, low-stakes” era in British pop culture, a lull between the self-consciousness of the mid-90s and the defiant fixed grins of the mid-00s. A contented kind of time embraced a contented kind of music: chillout thrived.

It wasn’t just the times, of course: the success of chillout brands like the endless Cafe Del Mar compilation series also spoke to the unshiftable fact that the original generation of British ravers wasn’t getting any younger. There was a little of the old ambient house DNA in the chillout mix – Air’s proggish synth explorations, or the puckish whimsy of Lemon Jelly. But you could draw a stronger line back to the serious-minded atmospherics of trip-hop. More importantly, the success – and global pretensions – of chillout saw it travel on paths broken by the likes of Sasha or Paul Oakenfold. Dance music culture embraced the DJ jet set, and the idea of a shrinking planet – one where you might play downtempo beats in Montevideo before hopping to Kyoto for a big room set – played a big part in establishing superstar DJ mythology. Chillout music offered the sun-kissed day to superclub nights – and its easy, weightless, cultural blends were just as much a soundtrack for a globalised world. So what did you do with your days as a traveler in Ibiza, Goa, Sydney or Madagascar? You went to the beach.

9
Feb 15

OASIS – “Go Let It Out”

Popular60 comments • 2,656 views

#848, 19th February 2000

OasisGo Be Here Now was a triumph that turned, with rapid hindsight, into a crisis. By “Go Let It Out”, the lead single from its follow-up, the crisis had become material. Two members and a record label down, Noel Gallagher was forced to re-record much of the music on Standing On The Shoulder Of Giants by himself. Meanwhile, the world had changed. For all the big talk – the band whose only peers were the classics – Oasis had hit their peak very much as part of a movement, coming up alongside Britpop and then becoming big enough to carry a revivalist rock wave with them. Now that lairy peloton had fallen away, and Oasis found themselves just another part of a broad and comfortable pop establishment: ensconced on Sony and with Mark “Spike” Stent producing. Stent, who had won his rep working for the KLF on their Stadium House 12”s, had become the safest imaginable pair of hands – he mixed everyone from the Spice Girls to Massive Attack, and his approach seemed to be running highlighter over things that made a band themselves, making sure the British pop ecosystem sounded diverse. So where did Oasis fit in?

6
Feb 15

GABRIELLE – “Rise”

Popular34 comments • 1,689 views

#847, 5th February 2000

gabrielle rise It’s not only teenagers who can take pop as a model for their circumstances. At the time “Rise” was in the charts I had a friend who related to it very strongly – slowly getting over a passionate, disastrous long-term relationship. For her, the song was a precious co-ordinate in mapless territory. Privately, I disliked it: its frankness, its straightforwardness, its patience in picking over and cataloguing the bones of a feeling. It felt too grown-up, because I was none too grown-up.

4
Feb 15

BRITNEY SPEARS – “Born To Make You Happy”

Popular27 comments • 1,833 views

#846, 29th January 2000

britneybornThere’s a lottery aspect to number ones: some acts routinely end up here with second-rate hits, others hardly appear at all. Britney Spears is a rarity: an artist whose less interesting singles are the ones that miss out – since “Baby One More Time” we’ve had the winsome shy-girl ballad “Sometimes” and “Crazy”, a less demure Cheiron stomper which – even three singles in – isn’t showing us anything new. “Born To Make You Happy” is showing us something new, though. The question is whether it’s something you want to see.

There might have been hints of it in “…Baby One More Time”, but the hunger and confidence of her debut turned them into red herrings. “Born To Make You Happy” is almost as striking a performance, but it’s also the first of Britney’s singles where she sounds abject, where romance is imagined as something dangerous, self-negating, even poisoned. This is an idea her songs keep coming back to – and the ones that dwell on it most are often her most famous. The Britney Spears discography is few people’s idea of a healthy relationship manual, and “Born” delivers the desperate self-denial its title promises. An argument against becomes easy to make: if Britney is any kind of role model, then this is a perilous way for her to operate. Is she, though?

1
Feb 15

MANIC STREET PREACHERS – “The Masses Against The Classes”

Popular63 comments • 3,170 views

#845, 22nd January 2000

masses classes “All over the world I will back the masses against the classes” – William Ewart Gladstone.

Hello, it’s us again. Welcome to Popular. Welcome to 21st century pop music, now fifteen years old and dreadfully teenager-ish in its surly refusal to admit to any pigeonhole you might want to place it in. Putting the pop culture of this century’s first decade into a historical context is an unsatisfying job: it’s wriggly and shapeless. Some would gloomily have it that pop descended into an ahistorical inertia in the 00s, cycling through a tatty parade of old signifiers. Others would point to this tribe or that as keeping its vital spirit alive. From either perspective, trying to grab onto this century’s music through its number one records seems a strange proposition.

Maybe Gladstone can help. His famous placing of bets is no kind of socialist endorsement: he was appealing to his notion of a spirit in “the masses” that transcends factional (class) interest – the surges of support for a noble cause that led, in his eyes, to many of Victorian politics’ grand reforming moments, and overturned any partisan support of particular classes for the status quo. By focusing critically on only the best-selling record of any given moment, I’ve tried to place myself to pick up on as many of pop’s broad-based swells of sentiment as I can. There’s a nagging feeling that those kind of hits – the ones that stick around and define a summer, a winter, or a year – are more genuine and worthy of note than the mayfly one-week wonders that might surround them. But this is misguided. The pop charts have always also been about the classes – a mess of overlapping factions and specialisms that sometimes, somehow, get their message through. And the format of Popular also forces me to pay attention to this jabber of enthusiasms that a smoother history might overrule.

So number ones are a volatile balance of the masses and the classes, and that’s why I like to write about them. Still, though, 2000 is a shit of a year for doing it.