Popular

22
Feb 16

Together! We Will Learn And Teach

New York London Paris Munich + Popular9 comments • 959 views

I am delighted to share the news that Popular (or rather me) is GOING WEST, with a speaking slot at this year’s EMP Pop Conference in Seattle. You can find full details here. Come along if you happen to be in Seattle and otherwise stay tuned for publication of my paper right here.

What is it about? I’M GLAD YOU ASKED. Here is the, if you will, poposal that got the nod.

VOX POPULAR: The Charts As Soapbox In A Digital Era

18
Feb 16

FIVE – “Let’s Dance”

Popular33 comments • 2,186 views

#906, 25th August 2001

five lets dance Five were a band out of time. In the late 90s they’d made sense as a boyband who could appeal to the post-Spice audience, their Duplo version of hip-hop fitting nicely alongside Billie and B*Witched as pop aimed for youth. I had plenty of time for them – they were pushing a bright, colourful, hooky product that never pretended to be anything else, and in the early days they had a run of entertaining singles. It’s a redeeming feature of Simon Cowell projects – good or crap, and they’re largely crap, they rarely try to dupe you.

10
Feb 16

SO SOLID CREW – “21 Seconds”

Popular46 comments • 4,300 views

#905, 18th August 2001

sosolid WHAT YOU LAUGHIN AT?

Eight people rap or sing on “21 Seconds”. One more – producer G-Man – provides the music. But So Solid Crew as a concept contained multitudes, and became famous for it. A few other producers and MCs, for sure, but also backing singers, friends and family, local kids. They presented themselves as a clan, a Battersea estate moving en masse into the business of garage, into the charts. The size of So Solid, 20 or 30 strong, was a talking point, and an easy angle for mockery: it’s rare to find an old piece or profile that doesn’t boggle at it.

A group so large would be prone to split, you’d think. But the trouble with So Solid wasn’t division. The idea of the group, as formed by public leader Megaman and a couple of the other, older men in the Crew, proved entirely workable – if members fought over the spotlight, it didn’t show on record: there’s no animosity between the MCs on “21 Seconds”. If anything, the problem was loyalty. The wider any group gets, the more likely it is that one or two will be liabilities – whether in terms of talent, or looks, or behaviour. Successful acts played the industry game, cutting out problems. So Solid closed ranks, presented themselves as an all or nothing proposition even as the press smacked its lips over a growing reputation for trouble.

“21 Seconds” is an excellent record. But it’s more than that – it may be the last real shock of a Number One. It does two things, unusual in themselves, outstanding together. It’s the sound of a subculture in full cry – getting to Number One with one of its crucial tracks, not with some dribbled-out consolation record or opportunist rip-off. And it’s a Number One that, to use a rubbed-smooth phrase, ‘sounds like the future’. It seems to open doors, demonstrate new routes British pop could take. If British pop wanted to take them. But that was the question: did it?

28
Jan 16

ATOMIC KITTEN – “Eternal Flame”

Popular24 comments • 2,271 views

#904, 4th August 2001

kittenflame I feel I was harsh on “Eternal Flame” last time we met it. That may be because the Bangles’ original sounds like a masterclass in dynamics, production and passion next to the Kittens’ effort, which has the romance and mystery of a freshly starched Tesco uniform. In Atomic Kitten’s first appearance here, their glum ex-svengali Andy McCluskey lamented the way his pop experiment was derailed by success: here’s the proof, as the square peg of “Eternal Flame” is forced into a round “Whole Again”.

24
Jan 16

ROBBIE WILLIAMS – “Eternity” / “The Road To Mandalay”

Popular17 comments • 1,805 views

#903, 22nd July 2001

Robbie Eternity The album cycle that began with “Rock DJ” a year before staggers to its end four singles later with “The Road To Mandalay”, a bitter squib of a song, pulled from the end of Sing When You’re Winning and paired with new track “Eternity”. “Rock DJ” was a party song with an undercurrent of spite – by this double A-Side, the party’s been over for quite some time. The spite remains.

21
Jan 16

ROGER SANCHEZ – “Another Chance”

Popular22 comments • 1,803 views

#902, 14th July 2001

Sanchez “Another Chance” is Roger Sanchez hearing something in the winsome intro of an old Toto hit, cutting it loose, and then letting this tiny scrap of song spin through seven minutes of house music. Or three in the single edit, not as effective: more of less is more. To the songwriters who had toiled to craft these soft rock hits, the use the shiny future put them to may have seemed dystopian –royalties aside, of course.

17
Jan 16

HEAR’SAY – “The Way To Your Love”

Popular22 comments • 1,572 views

#901, 7th July 2001

HearsayWay After the story, the appendix. Back in March, 550,000 people put a full stop on Popstars by making “Pure And Simple” number one. Around 1 in 7 of them showed up for the inevitable, pointless follow-up: “The Way To Your Love” makes it here by simple momentum. It exposes the problem with reality TV acts – the way the end of their story isn’t naturally a beginning of anything else.

Still, you might imagine that was enough interest for Hear’Say to eke out a career. But they were never more than the sum of their parts – recall how the viewing figures for Popstars plunged once the band was actually formed. And those parts – Kym and Myleene especially – were canny enough to realise they’d won themselves a future that would vanish again if they spend too much time flogging this nag.

Behind all that, a song. One which helps prove why the group had no future. The disjoint of five voices had been a potential selling point of “Pure And Simple”, at least – seeing how they might work together was a hook, of sorts. Here’s where it became obvious that the answer was “they don’t”. “The Way To Your Love” is built by producers Stargate along Backstreet Boys lines – individual voices rising together into a unity of yearning. As such, it’s serviceable, but it doesn’t fit a mixed-gender group and Hear’Say can’t give it the lift it needs. “We’ll be stronger together / Than we would be apart”, this record pleads. It’s a lie, and they know it.

14
Jan 16

CHRISTINA AGUILERA, LIL KIM, MYA AND PINK – “Lady Marmalade”

Popular23 comments • 1,807 views

#900, 30th June 2001

marmalade Patti Labelle was scandalised, so she said, to learn “Lady Marmalade” is about a hooker. But it’s also about a john – on paper, the payoff of the lyric is that last verse, where the guy goes back to his “grey flannel life” and can’t get Marmalade out of his head. Kenny Nolan and Bob Crewe were tapping into one of the world’s oldest folktales, likely without intention but that’s why folktales work: the man who spends a night of bliss in the otherworld with a magical temptress, returns to his world, and can never be the same.

That tale is rarely told from the temptress’ perspective. In the lyric, Marmalade of old New Orleans is there to be the Other – in race, in language, in location, in profession. But the song “Lady Marmalade” and its singer Patti Labelle fought against its lyric, took it back with a riff, a cry, a vocal hook that centres the song firmly on Marmalade, stops you caring what happens to the guy but still makes you feel what he was drawn to.

30
Dec 15

SHAGGY ft RAYVON – “Angel”

Popular23 comments • 1,698 views

#899, 9th June 2001

shaggy angel “Angel” looks like a momentum hit – a song carried along in its predecessor’s slipstream. It’s the weakest Shaggy song we meet, with none of the chutzpah or fun you’d expect from him. But three weeks at the top here and a Billboard #1 suggest this more reflective, romantic Shaggy won an audience in its own right. “Angel”, after all, is kit-built for wide appeal. It has the bassline from Steve Miller’s “The Joker”, the melody line from a much-recorded country standard, and Shaggy’s gruff toasting deployed – as on “It Wasn’t Me” – in brief, newcomer-friendly, patois-free bursts.

29
Dec 15

DJ PIED PIPER AND THE MASTER OF CEREMONY – “Do You Really Like It?”

Popular31 comments • 1,790 views

#898, 2nd June 2001

djpied “Jump, don’t ever stop”. One fascinating and melancholy thing lately has been watching dance music grow old. Not just as a genre, coming to terms with itself as something that has a history outside the annihilating 3AM now of the club. That work has proceeded as you might expect (lots of homages). But also as a public, a group of people who invested their youth in its sound and momentum, and now have boxes of records, decks in the shed and over-30s raves on a Saturday. Pride, and bittersweet fondness, no more or less than most of us take away from music.