Jan 17

WILL YOUNG – “Anything Is Possible” / “Evergreen”

Popular38 comments • 4,658 views

#921, 9th March 2002

willyoung It was not immediately obvious that everything had changed. I was at an engagement party, and was introduced as a music fan to someone, and they asked me a question: “Will or Gareth?”. I didn’t really get what they were talking about. Pop Idol, of course. Oh, I haven’t been watching it. “You haven’t?” It seemed bizarre to them, that someone into pop music wouldn’t have felt the show was important. They were right.

There is an economic maxim called Goodhart’s Law: when a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure. Reality TV pop was the application of this to the charts. Being number one was the measure, already a shakily symbolic one, of popularity and fame. To be a pop idol meant having massive pop hits. And so the winner of Pop Idol would have the biggest hits anyone could. But what actually happened was the colonisation of the charts by TV, for several weeks a year. It became an annual event, like the flooding of the Nile delta. Instead of proving that Will or Gareth or Darius or anyone else could compete with the best, it made the weakness of the charts as a metric of best-ness – or anything else – absurdly obvious.

It wasn’t that Will or Gareth weren’t culturally salient – they were the hottest topic around. The public cared about them far more than about, say, Westlife or Atomic Kitten. But people cared about them as a TV phenomenon, as participants in a game show. And this, it turned out, was the saving grace of the whole Pop Idol process; the glimmer of potential, rarely realised, in the reality pop mechanism.

If the pop audience of 2002 had taken the show’s remit entirely seriously – if they’d voted purely and simply on which contestant would make the best “Pop Idol” – the results would have been worse. We’d have ended up with knock-offs – an own-brand Robbie or a Poundland Britney. As the process ground on for year upon year, and the talent pool thinned, several of those won anyhow. But Will Young wasn’t one of them. He’s thoughtful, self-effacing, versatile and impeccably pleasant. In other words, he’s a combination the reality pop method is well designed to locate: somebody with the talent to be a pop singer but the personality to win a TV show.

Like the switch from art school to stage school as the proving ground of British pop stars, this was helping to re-forge the pre-Beatles link between pop and light entertainment. The format has a bias towards ‘niceness’ which pop had spent four decades tacking away from. But at its best – Young, Kelly Clarkson, One Direction – it gave you stars who seemed unusually genuine, able to connect with and nourish especially loyal fandoms. The quality that won them their chance – they’re the kind of people you root for – managed to sustain itself beyond the narrative cycle of the show. For most, that didn’t happen, for reasons we’ll get generous chances to explore. But here, at the start, it worked. The public’s surprise choice – Will, not Gareth – turned out to be the right one.

Before he got the chance to prove it, there was “Evergreen” to sit through. “Evergreen” sounds like a Westlife song because it was a Westlife song – a non-single from the World Of Our Own album, written by Cheiron’s reliable ballad-wrangler Per Magnusson. It would have been one of their better singles, as Magnusson does a solid job with the soaring formula. And Will Young handles it better than the Irish lads, finding a querulous vulnerability in the song. It must have been a pleasant novelty for the writers to hear someone treat their verses as something to be given a reading rather than a staging post before the chorus thumps in.

Even then, “Evergreen” suffers from the same problem “Pure And Simple” did – because it has to suit any one of three singers, it can’t really attach itself to any of them. It’s written to be generic, the kind of song that pop stars sing and the kind of song a neophyte can master quickly. Still, it’s competent and brushes the memorable, which is more than you can say for “Anything Is Possible”, its AA-side.

“Anything” is our first encounter with one of the great curses of the reality pop era – the winner’s single about winning. As a narrative move, it’s necessary and savvy, which is why it later became such an unshiftable part of the process. It caps the story and gives the viewers closure, so the new ‘star’ can get on with the real work of making a debut album. But as pop, it’s almost always glurge: heavy-handed, pseudo-inspirational, and mawkish. Young does his best with “Anything Is Possible”, but it’s junk, built to serve the storyline not the listener.

And serving the storyline is the signature difference between Popstars and Pop Idol. With the introduction of the public vote, reality pop dropped its documentary pretension and became a gameshow, but one with colossal potential for engaging and soaking its viewers. Pop Idol offered producers Eurovision’s phoneline jackpot every week, but bigger and meaner. That shift coincides with the final slouch toward centre stage of Simon Cowell, the true breakout Idol star and the format’s master of narrative. Cowell is the single most prominent figure in the next decade of British pop, which is unfortunate, as he may very well detest it.

(To be continued.)



  1. 1
    Shiny Dave on 16 Jan 2017 #

    As I mentioned in the last entry, “Evergreen” was the track immediately before the title track on the World of Our Own album. It was probably good enough to be a single for them, in retrospect. Notable feature of handing it to one of three singers and not hugely caring whether it stuck or not was that it meant Will sung about a heterosexual love – notable, of course, because Will is gay, and didn’t come out as such until after he’d won the public vote. The mere idea of spending an entire season of a pop game show in the closet seemed unthinkable not that many years later. (Is it back to being thinkable in 2017, in a world where virulent social conservative populism is taking over politics?)

    Magnificent ending, Tom! This one deserved such a flourish, purely for its narrative influence. The song doesn’t, and I’m not even going to go back to listen to “Anything is Possible” because I dread to think how bad it is. For “Evergreen” alone, I’ll go for a 5 – a slightly weaker song than the one after it on the album, but Young gives it a better reading, leading to the same mark.

  2. 2
    James Masterton on 17 Jan 2017 #

    ‘Evergreen’ was the song at the top of the charts during the period that my wife first captured my heart and soul so I cannot bring myself to be negative about it. This was the soundtrack to the moment my entire life changed forever.

    But that’s not the most interesting thing about the single. It is the fact that in its first week on sale, released in the immediate aftermath of the Pop Idol final, it sold 1,108,269 copies. More copies in a single week than any other single save for The Fucking Diana Record of which we do not speak. No ‘ordinary’ single before or since has come close to shifting a million copies inside seven days. That’s just how big this was.

  3. 3
    Mark M on 17 Jan 2017 #

    Re1: Your question about whether a 2017 Young equivalent would stay in the closet on X Factor/The Voice etc – have I missed a particular new turn towards homophobia in British politics, broadcasting or society in general? (Obviously it never went away but did get quieter). If not, I don’t think it’s useful to anticipate broad-ranging effects that are by no means a necessary consequence of Brexit etc (indeed, there are two out members of the May cabinet).

  4. 4
    will on 17 Jan 2017 #

    To me, Pop Idol didn’t seem to have any more to do with pop music than Bob Says Opportunity Knocks. It was TV for grannies. Anyone with any sort of passing interest in chart music would ignore it.

    So that’s what I did. I still can feel the rising indignation I felt that winter that people were actually taking this seriously. Come the end of February – you’re right Tom – it was all everyone was talking about. I still find it utterly baffling when my current partner recalls that she voted for Will Young 16 times and even bought an ‘I Voted For Will’ T shirt.

    What was I doing? Probably watching the other side. 2

  5. 5
    flahr on 17 Jan 2017 #

    I think we (our household went for a single bloc vote, an electoral college of pop) voted for Gareth. My sister and I were exactly the right age to buy this sort of theatre, me very much on her coattails (as by this point in the tale I still have no real interest in pop music), and subsequently of course to buy this single.

    “Anything is Possible” being listed before “Evergreen” on the sleeve surely the result of an intern who didn’t listen to the songs but did know what order the alphabet goes in.

    “To be continued” is in my mind properly typeset “To be continued…?“.

  6. 6
    AMZ1981 on 17 Jan 2017 #

    This is a very difficult entry to discuss because there are so many bunnies involved. We only meet Will Young a relatively modest two and a half times more (and only once with an original song) but both the full entries offer more scope for discussing his talents and his wider career. The runner up on Pop Idol 2002 is up next with further bunnies and we’ll meet the third placed contestant in due course.

    Which takes me on to a name we won’t meet, Rik Waller, who was the early favourite on the show before a throat infection prevented him from taking part in the series finals. One can only speculate on how he might have done if ill health hadn’t tripped him up at the worst possible time and, having long ago quit the music industry, I can only assume he must spend every day speculating as well. As it was his single, a cover of I Will Always Love You, entered at six the week after Evergreen.

    The other parallel universe scenario is if the next bunnied artist had pipped Will Young to the post as everyone expected. Had that been the case he would almost certainly have been here singing Evergreen and I suspect Will Young would have shortly released what would ultimately be his second single. Whether that would have been bunnied or how their subsequent careers might have developed is impossible to predict.

    It’s a strange thing but I didn’t follow the TV show, except for catching one specific scene (I think my Mum had the television on as I was going downstairs). That was the moment where Will Young stood up to the judges and told them exactly what he thought of them. That might also have been the moment that won him the series and the `right` to sing Evergreen, which makes it the critical point as far as this chart topper is concerned.

    And finally; because Evergreen got to number one two singles didn’t. In yet another parallel universe where there was no Pop Idol we’d be talking about our introduction to Shakira whose magnificent Whenever Wherever was selling more than enough to be number one in a normal week (we will of course meet her eventually). On its heels in the runner up slot was the duet Me Julie which would have given us a final chance to discuss Shaggy and our one opportunity to chew the cud over Sasha Baren Cohen (as Ali G).

  7. 7
    AMZ1981 on 17 Jan 2017 #

    I knew I’d come up with a footnote. Anything Is Possible/ Evergreen is by some distance the biggest selling UK single of the noughties and almost the biggest selling single of the 21st century (a late 2013 bunny has now overtaken it). More interestingly it is the only song from the noughties to rank in the top 40 biggest selling singles in the UK ever (the 1990s and 2010s are reasonably well represented). Obviously there is a reason for this; not least the collapse of the physical market at the end of the decade; but it is a point to bear in mind.

  8. 8
    Shiny Dave on 17 Jan 2017 #

    3. Yes, you’re quite right, and actually that’s interesting in itself. We are in a post-Brexit era of intolerance, but that seems to very definitely not include homophobia. I think it was in one of the 5ive threads that someone suggested that the trend of the 2000s was society becoming less openly homophobic and more openly racist? And a cabinet with openly gay ministers – plural! – guiding the UK out of the EU on the basis of a xenophobia-driven plebiscite is the epitome of that.

    Trumpism might have worked a bit differently, but again it was racism/xenophobia that was the main driver of that, cf 2004 where Bush won in at least some part due to his base being fired up by explicitly anti-gay state constitutional amendments being put to referendum on the same ballot paper.

    6. Whenever Wherever was indeed a cracker. Whether that was in spite of or in part due to those lyrics – awkward yet striking, in a way that could only come from a poetic non-native speaker – I’m not sure. But that was one of the more exciting pop records of the era and Popular is worse off for not covering it. At least it does get to cover Shakira!

  9. 9
    lonepilgrim on 17 Jan 2017 #

    Will Young has developed into a more interesting performer than this bland product would suggest. I find the production irritatingly tasteful and only the middle eight(?) hints at anything more interesting.

  10. 10
    Lazarus on 17 Jan 2017 #

    #6 – those of us who don’t bother with these glorified karaoke shows but who still have a soft spot for ‘Strictly’ were witness to another time when Young ‘stood up and told the judges what he thought of them’ – followed immediately afterwards by his exit from the show. I wonder if we’ll ever hear the full story behind that. Others have left the programme voluntarily – Jimmy Tarbuck on medical advice, John Sargeant because, in his own words, the joke had gone too far, but this appeared to be a massive hissy fit by the singer, who was kept in the opening titles but either declined, or wasn’t asked to appear in the group dance in the final. For those who didn’t see it, this is his brief contretemps with head judge Len Goodman: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uLcN99WiL94

    As for Evergreen, NMCOT but then as a male staring down the barrel of 40 at that point, I was hardly the target audience. 4 I suppose.

  11. 11
    James BC on 17 Jan 2017 #

    It’s interesting you say that Evergreen had to be chosen to suit three different singers equally. The story I heard at the time was that the other guy was seen by the producers as such a certainty to win that they picked this song specifically to suit him, intending Young’s first single to be the 50s cover version that ended up being single 1 for the other guy. The voting public failed to cooperate and the two of them ended up having to swap, getting to number 1 and selling bucketloads with songs that in both cases didn’t quite suit them.

    No idea if that’s actually what happened, and Young does a pretty good job anyway – not exactly Reggie and Bollie doing Forever Young on the X Factor last year.

  12. 12
    thefatgit on 17 Jan 2017 #

    Perhaps underlining the disposable nature of Reality Pop, I have successfully forgotten both of these songs existed. Will Young had my vote FWIW, while my wife at the time was supporting Gareth. Perhaps it was indicative of our soon-to-end marriage, that we argued over the merits of each contestant, but at least we were talking.

    On re-inspection, Will’s “Evergreen” is indeed a more palatable prospect than the smoothed out effort from Westlife. But it’s still unforgiving, unflattering lycra, so if you’re a buff performer then great! If you’re carrying a bit of flab, then it’ll show all those lumps and bumps. Playing the two versions back to back: even the production doesn’t make either feel exceptional. No wonder I forgot how they went.

    “Anything Is Possible” is a trudge through sludge.


  13. 13
    Adam Puke on 17 Jan 2017 #

    #1 #3 #8 I remember the left-leaning Scottish broadsheet the Sunday Herald describing Will Young as something along the lines of “Britain’s most boring homosexual” shortly after- a very cringey remark at the time, which would seem even more shockingly ignorant a few short years later. Yet I could understand how a left-leaning journalist of that era (with the battles around Section 28 and the initial impact of AIDS still fresh in their minds) may hold such (unexamined?) notions.

    The late 00s were arguably peak de-politicised LGBT culture (for a variety of reasons), so it’s sadly inevitable the LGBT re-politicisation of the last few years (along with the re-politicisation of almost everything else) will attract a backlash from the right. It’s not like the fact of most mainstream parties featuring prominent ethnic minority members has prevented anti-immigration becoming the vote winner de jour, after all. And fuck knows what societal currents Trump’s attack on womens’ resources is likely to trigger- misogyny being a major component of homophobia and that.

    Sorry, off on a bit of a rant there. As for the record, I admit enjoying the series but it didn’t strike me at the time that any resulting single would be something masses of people could actually be arsed buying. Naive me!

  14. 14
    JLucas on 17 Jan 2017 #

    Whenever Wherever really deserves to be discussed alongside the likes of ‘Bittersweet Symphony’ and ‘Vienna’ in terms of great lost chart-toppers. Truly magnificent, oddball lyrics and all. It has such a fabulous sense of urgency, and Shakira’s delivery manages to be playful, sexy and commanding all at once.

    Evergreen is none of those things, but it’s a passable ballad that’s definitely more notable for what it represents than for what it is. I don’t think I’ve heard Anything Is Possible since 2002, and I certainly can’t remember how it goes.

    We’ll also get a chance to talk about the artist Will Young became later on, although I do think it’s interesting that both Pop Idol and its American equivalent found their most enduring stars in their tentative first seasons, with future winners generally experiencing a much faster burn rate. Coincidence, or was the uncertainty of the format at the time better suited to two unconventional individuals with genuine star quality over the stage school belters who followed them?

    Another interesting feature of the first series of Pop Idol is just how many pop careers came out of it – albeit most of them pretty brief. We’ll get to Gareth and Darius in due course, but the following contestants also charted.

    4th placed Zoe Birkett and rumoured Gareth Gates love interest reached #12 with ‘Treat Me Like a Lady’.

    6th placed Rosie Ribbons – an early fave who crashed out after a jaw-dropping rendition of ABBA’s The Winner Takes It All – scored two top twenty hits with Blink (#12) and A Little Bit (#19).

    Jessica Garlick went on to finish 3rd at the 2002 Eurovision Song Contest – still the UK’s best result of the 21st century – and subsequently reached #13 with her entry ‘Come Back’.

    Rik Waller released a ghastly version of I Will Always Love You, complete with one of the most unintentionally comedic promo videos I’ve ever seen.

    Sarah Whatmore, who did not make the live finals, got a record deal anyway and released what is to my mind the best non-Will Young related single of the bunch in the slinky #6 hit ‘When I Lost You’. Sadly her follow-up ‘Automatic’ was a limp Jennifer Lopez reject which missed the top ten and stalled her career.

    By contrast, only the top two of the second season would see any chart action at all, and neither had record deals that survived the year. The X Factor rebranding upped the hit rate a little bit, but I don’t know that any season can match this one in terms of just how much chart material came out of it, even if the majority of it was eminently forgettable.

  15. 15
    Steve Williams on 17 Jan 2017 #

    One other interesting thing about this is that Will didn’t appear on Top of the Pops the week it got to number one, due to his management saying he would perform both sides of the record, or not at all. So Pops decided it would be not at all. But tabloid hoo-ha successfully delivered, he did come on the following week. And performed only once.

    Anyway, I really enjoyed Pop Idol at the time and for all that it led to, it did feel quite democratic and on the side of the audience. We’d seen that on Popstars where seemingly everything was filmed and shown to the audience, so when nobody turned up to the auditions in Belfast, they admitted as such on air that barely anyone was there. And that seemed to continue on Pop Idol, most obviously when Rik Waller had to pull out due to illness. The initial idea was that he’d get a bye, and they actually discussed the merits of this on air and why they’d decided to do that, and invited the audience to ask questions to the judges. And that seemed incredibly refreshing at the time, as previous series would have swept all that under the carpet. Although you could also argue that it was something of a side-effect of digital TV and all its spin-off programmes (in the second series Pop Idol Extra ran for three hours a day on ITV2) where they had so much time to fill they would talk about absolutely everything.

    But I do think it’s a bit of a shame when The X Factor and the like now get criticism for manipulating things and hiding stuff from the audience, when at this point they felt like a new era of likeable and open television. Also as well it all felt quite intimate, very much unlike the bloated spectacles we get these days.

    The other interesting thing about Pop Idol as a series is that it was the first time we had the same contestants every week, with one being eliminated each time. I remember when that was announced it struck me as very odd, as it would surely make for very boring viewing watching the same people every week, as opposed to the traditional format of heats and semi-finals and a final and so on. But in fact it turned out to have valid artistic reasons because you did get to know the contestants as people and, I would argue, you got a much more talented and versatile winner as a result. If you’d done Pop Idol the old way Gareth or Rik Waller would have run away with it, because they made the most immediate impact, but over the course of the series you got to change your opinion.

  16. 16
    AMZ1981 on 17 Jan 2017 #

    2002 was the peak year for the reality TV genre; out of 30 chart toppers (I’ve discounted the two holdovers) no less than 8 were by reality TV contestants which is just over a quarter. Perhaps more impressively they accrued 18 weeks at number one between them to hold down the top spot for over a third of the year (just in case anybody checks the count, the last bunny was a four weeker but three of those weeks were in 2003).

    The reason the Pop Idol class of 2002 did so well is that they were the pioneer generation and were perhaps helped by a bunny later this year that showed how also rans could do well with the right song. Future series (not just Pop Idol and X Factor, the BBC made their own stab at reality TV and we meet the first winner at the start of 2003) would see the contestants having to compete with previous winners, runners up, also rans and even novelty acts trying to hold on to their careers while the physical singles market crumbles around them.

  17. 17
    ThePensmith on 17 Jan 2017 #

    I headed onto YouTube ahead of this entry (and the next) to watch some of the first Pop Idol again. It all seems from a different era now compared to what we’re used to nowadays with your X Factors and your Voices. I was 12 when the first series went out, and it was a talking point of pretty much my entire year group at school.

    I was barely a few months old when the whole “Kylie & Jason” thing happened over a decade previously, but with hindsight that’s what the whole “Will & Gareth” thing felt like for me – that same pop cultural obsession that takes hold of you regardless of if it’s your thing or not.

    As Amz1981 pointed we are to meet Will thrice more between now and the 2003 bunnies, so I will save my thoughts for each as we go along. For me, as I’m sure others will agree, when he made his infamous stand of diplomacy to Simon in the final 50 rounds, I got the sense he was going to be in it for the long run, regardless of him coming from a TV talent show. When he did “Ain’t No Sunshine” on the live finals was when it sealed the deal.

    As for the single itself, he said himself he wasn’t a fan of either tracks at the time. “Anything is Possible” is a Cathy Dennis co-write true, but sounds like a rejected S Club cast off and was not her finest hour. “Evergreen”, it’s Westlife roots and Cherion-esque production deeply entrenched throughout was obviously intended for who Simon wanted to win (more on that with the next bunny) so musically and stylistically doesn’t really suit Will but he gives it a ruddy good go vocally. In fact, this stripped back version he did in 2009 on The Paul O’Grady Show whilst promoting his greatest hits album really highlighted that: https://youtu.be/ZOLyr9qvpIc

    His vocals as a performer have always counted in his favour, and he’s one of the few to sound as good live as on studio. A 3 for “Anything is Possible”, and a 5 for “Evergreen” overall from me.

  18. 18
    ThePensmith on 17 Jan 2017 #

    #15 – I’d forgotten about that TOTP debacle (again, YouTube is our friend. Such a 2002 outfit of tracksuit top and combats he has on here as well: https://youtu.be/mA1pFqzlgWY). It wouldn’t surprise me in the least bit if that was all a bit of publicity. Bad press is good press etc. He did perform on there again with his subsequent bunnies and of course on the Christmas Day edition.

  19. 19
    flahr on 17 Jan 2017 #

    #16 I think describing it as a peak year suggests more strongly than is the case that the reality contingent are gone from our lives and our charts. (To be mightily pedantic, 3/11 last year is a slightly higher proportion.)

  20. 20
    Adam Puke on 17 Jan 2017 #

    Have to agree with the “Whenever, Wherever” love here. As #14 suggests, shame it doesn’t seem to have joined the pantheon of great lost #1s in the public imagination, a mere five years after “Bittersweet Symphony” (which has). A lot can happen in that time.

  21. 21
    Kit on 18 Jan 2017 #

    Fifteen years later, I’ve still heard not a note of any Pop Idol competitor (and have barely heard any of even the winners of the seven series of Australian Idol). My introduction to it having been a cultural phenomenon came from yer man Fruit Bat, of Carter And The Unstoppable Sex Machines, enthusing in his cups after playing to a ¼ full pub in Sydney on a Thursday night. Having followed the show, without investing much in either competitor, he was thrilled at the way the vote had taken on social currency in the last stages. Despite the timeline discussed in comments above, Young’s sexuality must have been widely known, assumed or rumoured – in Mr Carter’s telling, there had been homophobic rumblings against him as the vote approached, and a significant part of the win came from an informal campaign of text messages “going around” saying “vote for the wee gay fella” as a counter to this.

    It’s fascinating to look back on this now, given the rise of: singing competition voting, of social media marketing, of the turning of fans from income streams to advertising outlet, of organised UK Christmas #1 campaigns, of social shifts in favour of, say, both gay marriage and bigotry openly expressed as protectionism…

    Also one of the only instances I ever encountered the notion of “text messages going around” – having never had a non-smart mobile phone, this still sounds bemusing to me. How accessible were these mechanisms for people to anonymously forward SMSes, as though they were bulletin board notices, email image macros, or fakebook news? The other instance I know of was largely false, but evidently based on the facility being widely known: Sydney right-wing radio hosts fomenting an actual race riot by claiming that “text messages were going around” encouraging young men of olive-skinned immigrant* backgrounds to conduct a race riot against young men of pink-skinned immigrant** backgrounds, and then newspapers reporting on the radio hosts claiming these texts were “going around.”

    *up to 70 years
    ** up to 210 years

  22. 22
    AMZ1981 on 18 Jan 2017 #

    #19 That’s a fair point and will teach me to double check my stats in future, although it could be argued that the 2016 chart toppers are reality show alumni who have (up to a point) transcended their beginnings. In 2002 it feels more like a pop culture moment similar to the Merseybeat explosion in the early sixties (although I hasten to add I do not insist in direct comparisons).

    Interestingly, after 2002 the wave does appear to recede slightly; I’ve said already that discussion is made difficult by the sheer number of bunnies but the next Pop Idol winner was a dud in the long term, as was the first X Factor winner. Fame Academy never really captured the public imagination. Then around the middle of the decade the wave hits again and we have plenty of opportunities to discuss how, and why.

  23. 23
    AMZ1981 on 18 Jan 2017 #

    I’m sorry to keep posting but another point needs highlighting. The same week Evergreen entered at the top, Nickelback entered at number five with their massive American hit How You Remind Me. This unashamedly luddite rock anthem would rise to number four the following week, a peak it would return to twice during a lengthy tour of the top ten. It would wind up the second biggest selling non chart topper of the year (after Shakira) and meant that of the four non bunnies in the end of year top twenty, three (Me Julie being the other) entered the chart during Evergreen’s reign.

    Nickelback are of course pretty widely reviled, even by rock fans. And yet a few years later they would get even closer to the bunny. I may be digging out that old copy of Silver Side Up later.

  24. 24
    DanusJonus on 18 Jan 2017 #

    #22 Surely if there’s a pop culture comparison to be made here, the more appropriate precursor was the glut of soap and TV stars releasing singles in the late 80’s? To take the analogy further, Neighbours descended into a popularity competition where the winners were immediately edged into a recording studio, usually with Stock Aitken and Waterman behind the controls. Jason Donovan, Kylie, Stefan Dennis, Craig McLaughlin, in-fact I’m surprised that Bouncer’s dream wasn’t used as the basis for a single.

    Cowell obviously saw the money spinning potential in taking faces known to millions from the TV and then marketing them to the appropriate demographic, hence the Robson & Jerome dirge we were subjected to before the talent show concept gathered momentum. I assume to then take unknown performers, rope them into less rewarding contracts but still expose them on TV prior to releasing a record was the natural progression?

  25. 25
    Mark M on 18 Jan 2017 #

    Re24: Except you’re putting Cowell a bit nearer to the centre of the action than he was early on (possibly by accident, your narrative makes it sound like he masterminded the whole thing). Both Tom Watkins (North And South in No Sweat) and Simon Fuller (S Club 7 in Miami 7) had tried the Monkees sitcom route with a certain amount of success in the late 1990s. Popstars – involving neither Fuller or Cowell – brought the talent show contest idea back in, along with Saturday evening TV slots (NS/M7 were CBBC shows) and then Pop Idol – ‘created’ by Fuller, starring Cowell – brought the evolution of the format into the beast we know and mostly don’t love today. Cowell’s coup against Fuller would come a couple of years later…

  26. 26
    EPG on 18 Jan 2017 #

    This didn’t do the business abroad, relative to its peers… ok, I mean the next one; maybe it wasn’t widely distributed? Ireland doesn’t count as it gets UK telly too. I assume that to be remembered as a great lost #1, your song can’t be so good that it’s just remembered as a really good song. I think the latter is the case for Shakira. Plus, isn’t the Verve Symphony remembered for its non-Verve-included authorship? I also assume that to be a lost #1, you have to be a Brit, ideally losing to a foreigner, not a foreigner losing to a Brit (so chart fans are nats too). The globalisation of music meant TV had to be recruited to boost England’s fortunes in the charts. People were listening to a hundred music channels, so how do you endow new talent with enough critical mass of appreciation (not necessarily mass of critical appreciation)? You go through a different medium and reach out to different people. Back to the theory of Westlife as entryists + a TV show. So British TV remains predominant cultural space vis-a-vis British music but as founder and shaper rather than mirror. PS Nickelback’s cred problem = could be faves of your dad + your kid brother.

  27. 27
    ThePensmith on 19 Jan 2017 #

    #24 – We do, interestingly, have another – and if I’m not mistaken last – example of the soap to pop route in a few bunnies time. It’s funny now that it doesn’t seem as commonplace, but then viewing figures for standard terrestrial TV isn’t what it used to be in the age of Netflix which is some of it.

    Also worth to note here in light of Amz1981’s observation re: the Pop Idol Xtra spin off show on ITV2. News has just broken tonight that The Xtra Factor will move online from next series, thus ending that channel’s 16 year attachment to being the home of the spin off show for the main show of Pop Idol or X Factor. A precursor for the channel itself, perhaps?

    Shakira “Whenever, Wherever”. Still a great pop record even to this day for me, although I remember Radio 1 cutting out the panpipe interludes after the choruses when they played it on the top 40 rundown. They did something similar with B*Witched, cutting out the Irish talky bits in “C’est La Vie”. This would also, had Pop Idol not happened, have marked Gloria Estefan’s first time as a UK chart topper, albeit as a credited writer.

  28. 28
    AMZ1981 on 19 Jan 2017 #

    Going a bit off topic but the crossover between acting and pop music is fairly understandable; any child with an interest in the performing arts is probably going to find themselves doing a bit of both. None of them remotely troubled the bunny but there are a fair few examples of Hollyoaks/ Coronation Street stars using their TV role to launch a pop career on the grounds that it was always their main interest. On the other hand Billie Piper is an obvious example of a pop singer who went the other way. The point is perhaps proven by the high percentage of young actors I’ve come across who have playing in a band as one of their hobbies.

    As with everything; the reality TV explosion is somebody hitting across a formula to create new stars and everybody else either trying to repeat the formula or squeezing the last bit of cash available from the also rans.

  29. 29
    Cumbrian on 19 Jan 2017 #

    26: I have not done any market research on this but the chances of anyone in the general population remembering Bittersweet Symphony for its contested ownership are, I would say, minimal at best. I appreciate that the prevailing critical line on this particular site is poptimist and thus not predisposed to The Verve in any sense (so this is likely to go down like a bucket of sick) but that song is likely to be remembered, if at all, for the video, the string hook and the chorus – because all of them are strong – and only people really paying attention will know that the string sample caused The Verve to lose half the royalties.

    The other thing that Bittersweet Symphony is going to be remembered for, for a lot of people, is being the theme for ITV’s coverage of England’s football matches for some years. Indeed, given that it’s now 20 years old – this is probably the primary association for anyone who recognises it under the age of about 26.

    Evergreen getting brickbats a bit here. It’s alright – nothing special – but alright. Will Young one of the better voices to come out of these sorts of series. As ever, when discussing the reality TV element of Popular, think it more interesting to compare and contrast Will Young’s two “slag the judges” moments and what it says about the evolution of these sorts of shows. They’re not massively comparable (Simon Cowell and Len Goodman at opposite ends of the likeability spectrum, probably, and also, on Strictly, the contestants are already famous) but standing up to the judges in Pop Idol in the early days of reality TV always more likely to go over better then than doing it now – because at the outset, the performers were the stars. Now it’s the judges that the public are likely to identify with, rather than the performers – particularly in the UK where, for some reason, the public now wants to identify with authority figures rather than with their fellow man.

  30. 30
    Andrew Farrell on 19 Jan 2017 #

    #29: Videos, hooks and choruses are all solidly poptimistic, I’d have thought – if you’d been claiming its longevity was due to its excellent musicianship or Lurch’s deep soulfulness that might be a different matter.

  31. 31
    Izzy on 19 Jan 2017 #

    Bittersweet Symphony doesn’t have a chorus!

  32. 32
    DanusJonus on 19 Jan 2017 #

    Re25 – It was purely accidental, the intention was just to link Cowell and his label back into the narrative and to remember that he had form for taking TV stars under his wing. Can I count Teletubbies as well? Basically, the idea wasn’t original (a la The Monkees ) or much of a risk. I was probably also trying to allude to the inherent deal or route mapped out for Pop Idol with a specific label. Although created by Fuller, I always thought that the agreement was that the winners would be signed by Cowell (and that because of that both he and Fuller pitched the idea to ITV), or he at least had the option to do so?

    But yes, I guess looking back it’s easy to forget he wasn’t masterminding everything in the early days.

    In regards to the mention of S Club 7/ North and South, didn’t Cleopatra also have a TV show alongside their launch, but on ITV?

  33. 33
    fivelongdays on 19 Jan 2017 #

    Nickleback’s problem among rock fans is that they’re a little bit, well, lowest common denominator. A lot of their stuff sounds like it was designed by committee, and is a wee bit too polished for those of us who like our songs with a bit of grit. They’ve probably been overplayed and I think they attract a lot of people who, as far as rock goes, listen to Nickleback and that’s it. Sort of like a North American equivalent of what late nineties/early noughties Oasis were over here. Plus, Chad Kroeger is an absolute berk.

    That said, I remember being in a shop where they were playing a lowest common denominator local radio station…and How You Remind Me came on and it sounded absolutely MASSIVE. And they’re probably the best at doing that big, North American, ice hockey arena, hot dog and fries, radio rock. And they aren’t Creed, which has to be a huge plus.

    A not about WW – as someone who (and if you recognise and remember my posts on this sort of thing previously) isn’t a pop fan – I read Popular for the writing and discussion more than the music – I honestly thought that was a number one. Massive song, played everywhere, and I can remember it now, which I can’t do with Evergreen. So who’s the winner really?

  34. 34
    ThePensmith on 19 Jan 2017 #

    #32 – RE: Cleopatra. They did have a TV show, called “Comin’ Atcha” on CITV in the late 90s for two series. That, “No Sweat”, the S Club series and the lesser remembered T4 mid 00s TV pop staple “Totally Frank”, starring Xenomania produced girl group with guitars Frank (brilliant album if you can get it 2nd hand) were all the work of Initial, the music TV production arm of Endemol, that produced, amongst other things, “Big Brother” whilst it was on Channel 4, and now produces “Pointless” for the Beeb.

  35. 35
    Steve Williams on 19 Jan 2017 #

    I’m not sure Simon Cowell was even very prominent when Pop Idol began, I recall Sir Peter Waterman was the main attraction at the start, though Cowell soon overshadowed him (of course, he’d turned down the role of a judge on Popstars).

    #29 Like the mention of Bitter Sweet Symphony as the theme tune for England matches on ITV, which they’ve now used for nearly a decade making it one of the longest-running sports themes on telly. Because of the issue with the royalties, though, it means ITV have to run end credits on every show – which is almost never the case with any other sport on telly these days – just to credit Bitter Sweet Symphony as “Jagger/Richards, lyrics by Richard Ashcroft”.

  36. 36
    cryptopian on 20 Jan 2017 #

    I remember Pop Idol being big at the time, but I wasn’t into it at the time (I had a very brief interest in The X Factor, but mostly just to laugh at the bad auditions). Mostly fleeting memories based on things I’d heard from my sister and her friends.

    I can see that the purpose of the winner’s song is to wrap up the story and show that the winner is thankful for all the support they’ve received from the public (or more likely the producers thankful for all the money), but they always come across to me as arrogant and over-dramatic. Massively unfair on the performer, who hasn’t written the song, especially in Will’s case. We’re yet to meet my very least favourite of these, but still only a 2 for this.

    Evergreen is… fine I guess. Westlife power ballad by the numbers.

  37. 37
    Stephen Emmett on 26 May 2020 #

    @36 Have you ever checked American comedian Rob Paravonian’s funny “American Idol” loser song, which I’ve dubbed the title as “I’m Peaking Right Now”? It’s really funny yet ironic, but I doubt that it would be a runner-up single on those reality TV shows. Rob stated that at the end of Season 1 of American Idol, they had a future 2006 bunny as their winners song (Kelly Clarkson did it first, kids) – but that wasn’t their initial choice. He then went on to state that he wrote a song for American Idol, but was rejected because it wasn’t the type of “On top of the world”-nonsense (e.g. a modern Broadway standard like “This is Me” from The Greatest Showman) for a TV talent show winners song (“I wrote a song for the people that WEREN’T GOING TO win”).

    Such lyrics took jabs at the fact you were never going to see the runner up again at all (“And though I think this ride will never end / The truth is you’ll never see me again…”), how the narrator will only be known for karaoke (“My career is at its’ height / It’s karaoke for the rest of my life / I’m peaking right now”), how most runner ups on TV talent shows get to be on stage shows (“My spotlight time’s been spent / Maybe if I’m lucky, I’ll make the touring cast of Rent”), the fact that he is forced to go into therapy for addiction (“The only things I have in store for me / are therapy and binge drinking / and stories of how I almost made it to anyone who’s listening”) and, of course, the ironic lyrics stating the runner up’s time is almost up [spookily clashed perfectly with the obligatory key change] (“I’m almost out of time / I’m only 20 and this is as high as I will climb”) and obligations that TV talent show runner ups must go back to doing minimum wage – the same that they did before taking part in the talent show nonetheless.

    Very sarcastically humorous, Rob’s song is a perfect antidote to this chart-topper and can be found here in the link (give it a watch): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-K2Yi_y7Y4w

  38. 38
    Gareth Parker on 5 Jun 2021 #

    5 for Evergreen, 3 for AIP, so a 4/10 for the total package for me.

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