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April 28th, 2014
Britpop, the mid-’90s musical movement that arrived in the wake of Kurt Cobain’s death and succeeded grunge, has just turned 20 years old this month. In the UK, every music-based website and newspaper is losing its mind in nostalgia for it. Some, like the Guardian, have even gone as far as writing both fond and damning op-eds. Even the Yanks over at Stereogum spent an entire week looking back. But, instead of numbing your mind with another thinkpiece or an arbitrary list of which B-sides were the best (although Pulp’s “Seconds” deserves the honour), here is a list of ten facts that suggest Britpop was an exciting time worth remembering.
1. In early 1993, the now defunct Select Magazine put Suede’s Brett Anderson on the cover in front of a Union Jack proclaiming there was a “Battle for Britain.” This act of UK press sensationalism soon caught on and ignited a craze, despite Suede’s refusal to play any part. Really this magazine cover is to blame. I mean, thank.
2. After a disastrous North American tour for their first album, Leisure, Blur arrived back home to London and began working on their second album. Turned off by the dominant grunge scene in America, Blur were originally going to call the album, Britain Versus America. Instead they settled on Modern Life Is Rubbish, and this so-called vendetta inspired the band’s embrace of Englishness on tracks like “Popscene.”
3. It almost wasn’t Britpop but something called the New Wave of New Wave. Though Elastica was one of the more successful Britpop acts, the year before the quartet were be hailed as one of the bands at the forefront of a movement called the New Wave of New Wave. Along with bands like S*M*A*S*H and These Animal Men, NWONW borrowed from late ’70s new wave and post-punk acts like the Stranglers, Blondie and Wire, who successfully sued Elastica for sampling their song “Three Girl Rhumba.”
4. There appears to be a bit of controversy over who coined the term “Britpop.” Respected music journalist Stuart Maconie is said to have come up with the name in 1994 for Select Magazine. He even admitted to doing so in a BBC interview. However, fellow journalist John Robb wrote a piece for music site Louder Than War claiming he was the one behind the word, years prior. I give the edge to Maconie though, strictly for his expertise that resulted in authoring the excellent, 3862 Days: The Official History of Blur book. Plus, how hard is it to merge Brit with pop?
5. Blur and Oasis were involved in something the news dubbed “The Battle of Britpop.” Garnering comparisons to The Beatles versus The Rolling Stones, this battle featured more than its fair share of nasty back-and-forth barbs. Noel Gallagher won the war of words with this quote: “I hate that Alex [James] and Damon [Albarn]. I hope they catch AIDS and die.” However, Blur won the battle, selling more copies of their single “Country House” over Oasis’ “Roll With It.” In all fairness though, Oasis would ultimately win, as their album, (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?, would far outsell Blur’s The Great Escape.
6. Pulp were the most inadvertently controversial act in Britpop. Pulp’s 1995 single was titled, “Sorted for E’s & Wizz,” a reference to using recreational drugs ecstasy and speed. The single’s inlay sleeve demonstrated how to make an origami wrap “offering teenage fans a DIY guide on hiding illegal drugs.” UK tabloid The Daily Mirror tried to have the single banned, going so far as printing “BAN THIS SICK STUNT” on its front page. Frontman Jarvis Cocker issued a statement saying, “I honestly was not expecting the kind of controversy that followed the release of our new single. I don’t want the sleeve to get in the way of this record being taken seriously because Sorted For E’s & Wizz is not a pro-drugs song. Because of the controversy surrounding it yesterday I’m quite prepared for the sleeve to be changed and the diagrams removed.”
But that paled in comparison to what occurred at the 1996 BRIT Awards. Nominated for four awards and performers on the night, Pulp were one of the big names in attendance that year, but not the biggest. The King of Pop himself, Michael Jackson, performed his song “Earthsong,” in a ridiculously over the top production that saw him surrounded by children. In protest, Cocker ran on stage during the performance and pointed his bottom at the cameras, making a flicking motion to humiliate MJ. He was immediately removed and kicked out of the ceremony. In a statement, Cocker admitted, “My actions were a form of protest at the way Michael Jackson sees himself as some kind of Christ-like figure with the power of healing. The music industry allows him to indulge his fantasies because of his wealth and power.”
7. One of Britpop’s brightest young bands Supergrass became heartthrobs after releasing their debut album, I Should Coco, in 1995. One person who took notice was Hollywood director Steven Spielberg, who reportedly offered the band their own TV series in the style of ’60s musical sitcom, The Monkees, after watching their video for the single “Alright.” Sadly, it never transpired. Supergrass frontman Gaz Coombes later told Vulture, “That was after the first record, right when we were recording In It for the Money, and we met up and went over ideas. It was a nice compliment, but we wanted to make our record at the time.”
8. Oasis were by the far the biggest and most influential band of the Britpop era. Their two shows at Knebworth, just outside of London, saw them play to 300,000 in two days; astonishingly though, 2.6 million applied for tickets to the show. They also influenced a number of copycat bands (see Northern Uproar, Hurricane #1), but none more copycat than their very own tribute band called No Way Sis. Noel Gallagher was so impressed by the tribute act that he even declared them “the second best band in the world.” Remarkably, their debut single, a cover of “I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing” charted in the Top 40.
9. To quote Gaz Coombes of Supergrass, “The Britpop scene was overrated with a lot of mediocre bands making average music.” For every Pulp, Blur and Oasis, there was a My Life Story, Salad and Octopus, bands that appeared one moment, only to release one single and then fade like a flash in the pan. But no band exemplified this more than London try-hards Menswe@r. Appearing on the cover of weekly music paper Melody Maker before they recorded any music, the quintet were the prototype Britpop band, built to hype the movement with their “style over substance” approach. Surprisingly, it worked, and they managed a string of hit singles, as well as a 1995 debut album called Nuisance that wasn’t a flop. While they were more successful than a good deal of their peers, Menswe@r will forever be remembered as everything that was wrong with Britpop.
10. Damon Albarn and Noel Gallagher killed Britpop. Or so alleges Liam Gallagher when he spoke to the NME last year. “What killed Britpop? The fucking fakest cuddle in my entire life, that’s what fucking killed Britpop,” said Liam. “Noel and Damon Albarn killed Britpop. Why? Because they thought they invented it, that’s why. And when? You know when, ha ha.” Okay… Another theory (of mine) is that the emergence of the Spice Girls, most specifically Geri Halliwell’s famous dress, murdered Britpop.Tweet