Popular

11
Feb 15

ALL SAINTS – “Pure Shores”

Popular51 comments • 2,442 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”

Popular59 comments • 2,519 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 • 1,635 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 • 1,762 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 • 3,061 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.

2
Jan 15

Popular: The 90s

Popular15 comments • 1,175 views

This is another one of our decade polls, where we ask: which year was best for pop? Pick one only! Using the Popular vault of scores as a guide, I’ve selected a few songs to act as a reminder BUT – you should make your judgement on whatever criteria you see fit, not only the number ones.

Which year of the 1990s was best for pop?

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Poll closes: No Expiry

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And don’t forget our 1999 poll, which I put up yesterday.

1
Jan 15

Popular ’99

Popular36 comments • 1,312 views

I give a mark out of 10 to every Popular entry. In these year end polls, you get to tick any of the singles that you would have given 6 or more to.

With the most #1s yet, 1999 saw me give my highest scores (9s) to Britney and Fatboy Slim, and a brace of 1s to Baz Luhrmann and (less controversially) Sir Cliff. Over to you, and use the comment boxes to talk about the year in general. Tomorrow I’ll put up a decade poll too.

Which Of The Number Ones Of 1999 Would You Give 6 Or More To?

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Poll closes: No Expiry

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31
Dec 14

WESTLIFE – “I Have A Dream”/”Seasons In The Sun”

Popular39 comments • 1,894 views

#844, 25th December 1999

westlife dream In that other great Irish exploration of the experience of death, Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman, the protagonist endures an afterlife built on the principle of recursion. Having murdered a man to fund a quixotic and obscure self-published project – I can only sympathise – he finds himself subject to a string of comical and terrifying events which, the novel implies, he will repeat in minor variation for eternity.

28
Dec 14

CLIFF RICHARD – “The Millennium Prayer”

Popular54 comments • 2,678 views

#843, 4th December 1999

cliffprayer How do you mark a millennium? British pop culture has its rituals to accompany a change of the date: fireworks, lists, and Jools Holland feature prominently. They’re geared for a shift in year. They can be scaled up, just about, to a decade. But a century? A millennium? We were, with hindsight, hopelessly and inevitably unequal to the event, however arbitrary it was. Schedulers flailed, putting together “best of the millennium” shows in which – and how could it have been otherwise? – 900 years went begging. In a milieu where “of all time” means a lifetime at best, a millennium is a preposterous span. Imagining people could think about it seriously was always folly. But in the gap between people’s sense of what the occasion ought to merit, and what was actually on offer, strange things could thrive. This is one of them.

23
Dec 14

WAMDUE PROJECT – “King Of My Castle”

Popular41 comments • 2,064 views

#842, 27th November 1999

wamdue A question that haunts a project like Popular is how you review things that have a very specific context – no, more than a context, a specific use – when you have never put them to that use. We’re now shifting out of the time when I was going, even occasionally, to clubs that played mainstream dance music, and a record like “King Of My Castle” is plainly built for those clubs. Not just in an “it’s good to dance to” sense. While the Wamdue Project obviously bring a hook or two, this is still one of the track-iest of number ones, built from the crunchy house beat out.