Focus Group 1999

Nov 99

Intro: Macy Gray Proved Boring BY SCIENCE!

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The Freaky Trigger Pop Music Focus Group 1999

(Special Acknowledgement: The format and ideas of the FTPMFG are entirely ripped off from Phil Dellio’s Radio On poll format, which attracts critics of the calibre of the awesome Chuck Eddy, and can be found at Popped!)

A very 90s instrument of democracy, the Focus Group: credited by some for ensuring New Labour’s 1997 landslide in the UK’s general election, seen by others as a preposterous mockery, easily manipulated and subject to weaselly interpretation.

However we at Freaky Trigger have absolute faith in the focus group concept, and on November 5th a select group of opinion formers and drunks convened at Trigger Mansions, Southgate, to hear and consider an arbitrary selection of the year’s most important or inescapable tunes, and the Lanterns too. Everyone else reading this – you missed a fantastic party. Those enforced and grape-fuelled opinions were then combined with the votes of our ‘internet jury’ to create the table of quality you see below, an ABSOLUTELY OBJECTIVE ASSESSMENT of the, hem hem, platters that mattered in 1999. Prepare for a barrage of unsupportable opinions and gross national stereotyping that will replace criticism as we know it!


If you’d have liked to take part and I didnt send you the survey, my apologies. If you’d like to take part next year, you have only to ask: this will most certainly be an annual event and next year the selection won’t be quite so dependent on what I’ve got on MP3. Immense thanks to everybody who did join in: I’m sorry I’ve had to edit people’s comments for space, but I think the results are pretty entertaining. Comments have not been selected to represent the range of opinions aroused by the record.

The rules: Every record could be given a score between 0 and 10. As well as the average score resulting, a ‘controversy index’ is given to reflect how bitterly each tune divided opinion – the higher it is, the more controversial.

Your esteemed critics are as follows:
Karim Adab (KA), Magnus Anderson (MA), Pete Baran (PB), Mike Daddino (MD), Gruf Evans (GE), Al Ewing (AE), Tom Ewing (TE), Guy Flower (GF), Kate Griffiths (KG), Persinthia Lawdro (PL), Mark Lenel (ML), John McGhee (JM), Irene O’Dowd (IOD), Ned Raggett (NR), David Sim (DS), Isabel Smith (IS), Fred Solinger (FS), Alex Thomson (AT), Nicole W (NW)

You can hear many of the songs, in order, on a Spotify playlist here.

1. EMINEM – “My Name Is…”

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Average: 8.02 Controversy: 1.51
JM: Shouting and swearing – excellent (though not as good as “Guilty Conscience”) 10
TE: If Tex Avery made a hip-hop record it wouldn’t sound too far off this. “Wanna copy me and do exactly like I did?” asks Eminem and you can hear the consciences of the nation spitting as he sing-song raps their arguments right back at them. As funny as Licensed To Ill, and as clever too. A deserving victor. 9
PL: Brilliant novelty track. Eminem may not last too long, but he won’t be forgotten. 9
MA: Lyrics don’t get worse than this. But just imagine it in French and it can’t help but get a 9
FS: Nice Dre production, one of Eminem’s poorer performances. 5

2. THE AUTEURS – “The Rubettes”

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Average: 7.88 Controversy: 1.71
KG: Glorious. He says “darnce”. Where have all the lovely records like this gone? 10
GE: Travis should be made to clean Mr.Haines’ boots for a year. 8
NW: Glam style Cliff Jones would kill for. 8
TE: Unremittingly horrible, which is no more than we expect or deserve. 8
PB: Relies far too much on its fantastic chorus. But then that’s a) sampling, and b) the point. 7
AT: Sorry Luke – keep the handclaps and ditch the rest. 5

3. BRITNEY SPEARS – “…Baby One More Time”

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BRITNEY SPEARS – Baby One More Time
Average: 7.59 Controversy: 2.57
NW: Single of the year. No, stop laughing. Of all the pop acts to come out this year, it’s Britney that manages to get under the skin the most. There’s something dirty, something not quite right about this song that makes it a little more memorable than some of the blander pop singles out this year — and that’s down to lyrics alone, not even mentioning Britney’s image (that’s a whole ‘nother article). “When I’m not with you I lose my mind?” — the most twisted case of obsession to hit the charts since “Every Breath You Take”. And much more fun as well. 10
AE: Raw, thumping, hardcore excitement as the teenage queen growls her song of LUST. Gets the party started, and how. I cannot praise this record enough and I only wish I had a copy. Hearing this song is better than a sustained belief in God. 10
KG: Single of the year – she’s so dirty. 9
GE: As teen pop goes my fave of the year, especially the bits where she gets kind of sultry. Whether dressing up like a schoolgirl affected my decision i’d rather not say. 8
AT: Top masochistic pop, though not as affecting as Billie dressed in rubber for London Pride.8
DS: Great song, despite the dodgy sentiments and video. 7

4. BASEMENT JAXX – “Rendez-Vu”

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Average: 6.95 Controversy: 1.92
PL: Didn’t like the Jaxx when I first heard them. Now I think they may be the best dance act to come along in ages. Pure dance genius! 10
PB: There are no bad records that a) use Vocoders and b) Go “dum-dum-dum”. Yet, most records with Spanish guitar are rubbish. So it wins 2-1. 8
KG: Building on the heritage of Roger Troutman. Piss-poor masks, so I give it a 6

5. MR OIZO – “Flat Beat”

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Average: 6.7 Controversy: 2.47
JM: Record of the year, or at least record of the list. Morse code dance tune. 10
GE: Loved the record and the idea that a piece of minimal techno could get played and bought purely on the strength of an advert. There were probably hundreds of better techno records made but i’ve only got this one. Liked Flat Eric too. 9
KG: Not as good without the iconography, but nonetheless a pretty classy record. 8
TE: An Orville for the 90s, Flat Eric is great because he looks like the kind of toy you find at jumble sales, knitted one Christmas by a forgotten aunt. Ace gurgly techno noises to boot. 7
AE: I don’t see it. 5
PB: The best titled song of the year. 4

6. MADONNA – “Beautiful Stranger”

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Average: 6.6 Controversy: 2.56
NW: A summer song that slowly insinuates itself into your head, this is the sound of Madonna not trying too hard. The neo-sixties vibe to the song feels fresh rather than deliberately kitsch or retro: do call it a comeback. 9
AE: Groovy yeah etc. Combines groovy psychedelic-type riff with lyrics about a stranger. Not an ugly stranger. No. A beautiful one, and not in a girly way either. A return to form for Madonna, but I’m afraid just a blip in an otherwise downward trajectory. 8
MA: Strikes me as rather derivative, in fact almost note-for-note like “The Party” by Marillion. Is it worse that she ripped it off or that I noticed? 7
FS: One of the best things she’s done lately, not that that’s saying much. Only a hook away from an 8. 6
AT: Repetition has killed it. Sorry Maddy. 5

7. TRICKY – “For Real”

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Average: 6.45 Controversy: 2.5
FS: One of my favourite singles of the year – Tricky’s at his best when he’s at his poppiest. 9
KG: Enjoyable drums, quite well-paced, and, dammit, well-constructed record. 8

8. TLC – “Unpretty”

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Average: 6.11 Controversy: 2.88
PL: They keep pumping out the PHAT tracks! 9
NW: Possibly TLC’s all time worst single, but still not that bad. Self-esteem and body image are intruiging topics for a pop song, but “Unpretty” barely manages to skim the surface. It tries to have a much more worthy and earnest sentiment than that of “No Scrubs”, but it never manages to touch that song in terms of tunes. There’s an Oprahfied sense of self pity here that grates, but it doesn’t manage to completely ruin the TLC charm. Bonus points for mentioning Mac in the chorus, too. 6
KG: Lame breast-augmentation record. 4

9. STEPS – “Love’s Got A Hold On My Heart”

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Average: 6.09 Controversy: 2.74
KA: Brilliantly infectious and utterly uplifting. I still think having a band member sharing his name with a hard drug is asking for trouble. 9
KG: It’s steptacular! I’m looking forward to pantomimes when their star finally falls, but meanwhile let the pop continue. 8
JM: The most important band of 1999. 6
MA: It’s easier to mark this up given that I don’t have to live here. 6
DS: There’s a gay bar in Soho where all the bar staff (male) jump up on the bar counter and perform the routine to this whenever it comes on. Makes getting a drink impossible, so 5
PB: Even without seeing it I know the dance routine. 4
IOD: If it’s a Steps song, it gets zero. That’s the rule. 0