Sep 20

#1: La la la la la la-la-la

FT + New York London Paris Munich1 comment • 500 views

This bracket is for what you might call ‘pure pop’, though in the 2001 context that has very uncomfortable overtones, since the stuff in here – Kylie, Steps, Sophie Ellis-Bextor, and others – is mostly music that’s resisting the pull of R&B we’ll see elsewhere. Mainstream pop, maybe – or just traditional pop, pop that’s at least friendly to the tween audience of Smash Hits or Saturday morning TV.

It’s a space in transition, created by two very recent booms (the ‘98 UK pop explosion in the wake of the Spice Girls, and the ‘99 Backstreets/Britney US one) but with its original stars changing direction or fading out, and its machinery about to be part-replaced by reality TV.

In the context of the poll, it’s dominated by a single song – Kylie’s “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head”, which accounts for 50% of the entire bracket’s streams. It’s a track with markedly more effort behind it than most of the songs here – it’s at least trying to think about what 21st century pop might sound like, even if its answer turns out to be a little sterile. (Lesser-known “Come Into My World” repeats the motorik trick, and sounds fresher for not being so omnipresent).

Beyond Kylie, the most modern sounding song is Madonna’s “What It Feels Like For A Girl”, whose low-key bubbling has aged very well. The rest break down into three categories. There’s effortful, athletic, aggressive Cheiron-style pop – Britney’s own farewell to this style, “Overprotected”, is the best of it. There’s songs aimed at the kiddies – undemanding but usually remembering to pack a good tune. 

And there’s retro stuff – I had forgotten 2001’s fascination with disco and the 1970s, expressed with (Sophie Ellis-Bextor) or without (Alcazar) a sense of propriety. At the time I thought S E-B very chic and Alcazar a little too blatant: now the gusto of “Crying At The Discotheque” sounds a lot better than the arms-length genre exercise of “Take Me Home”. It doesn’t help that previous poll success has ruled Bextor’s best, and best-known, song out of this contest – “Murder On The Dancefloor” has life and swagger thanks to Gregg Alexander’s taste for a big hook. In its absence, her other tracks sound tired and diffident. Nobody else in this group is asking the questions Kylie and her team is, let alone coming up with convincing answers.

POSSIBLE WINNER: “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head” is one of the two big favourites at the start of the competition.

BEST TRACK: “Come Into My World” is like “Head” but warmer and (as you’d expect) more welcoming.

DARK HORSE: “Crying At The Discotheque” is a lot of fun and if it can squeeze through it might do well against more dour opposition.

DISCOVERY: allStars’ “Things That Go Bump In The Night” enjoys itself hugely as it fulfils its ‘Kids’ TV Thriller’ brief.


  1. 1
    koganbot on 10 Sep 2020 #

    Decided not to read these till I was done voting the qualifiers.

    I’ll quibble with the phrase “resisting the pull of R&B” – or anyway underscore the mostly to mean not entirely – ’cause what I was hearing in relevant ’90s Cheiron and post-Cheiron (Backstreet, *NSync, Britney) was the taking of a Bell Biv DeVoe template and pouring sugar on it; *NSync’s “Pop” is Timberlake defiantly pretending to redact the sugar and go with a Side One Of Dangerous severity; “Pop” felt on edge and wrong when I first heard it but as the year went on it hooked me (and still felt edgy and wrong and as such I’d have had no trouble voting it over the cool grooves in either of the Blige.Arie heats if it had shown up on Day 6, though on Day 1 I couldn’t put it ahead of Alcazar or Kylie). Followup “Gone” (like “Pop” a Timberlake-Robson composition) broke onto hip-hop/R&B radio and set Timberlake up for a solo career.

    I think part of the adventure of “Overprotected” is how Britney negotiates the Rhythm & Bumps of the groove.

    Don’t know if Alexander Bard has ever resisted the pull of anything; he helped create the best European reggae song in Midi, Maxi & Efti’s “Bad Bad Boys,” which has a beautiful slinky sad but optimistic feel very different from the sad-but-not-at-all-sad “Crying At The Discoteque,” anyhow “Spacer” is my favorite Edwards-Rodgers song and you can’t oversample it and Bard et al. obviously agree.

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