A Cultural Abomination

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Ladies and gentlemen of the Britpop community…and it really is a community…here, from 2014, are the considered thoughts of a professional journalist on the biggest moment and movement in British popular music since the 1960’s and, arguably, the last great British youth cultural movement.

Before I present the argument from professional journalist Michael Hann why don’t you take a few moments to take a look at Michael’s profile pic…it’s up there, just to the left of the iconic image of Noel Gallagher.

See him?

Beard…not a sort of hipster chic style beard, perfectly maintained with a little comb and some lovely beard oil but, instead, he looks a bit like “Wooly Willy” but ginger.  Remember “Wooly Willy”?

No.

Here he is…

wooly

Now look at Michael again.

Tellingly Wooly Willy is hailed for his “magnetic personality”…you can judge for yourself whether that applies to Michael in a bit.

We’ve got the beard/clump of hair…now take a look at the shirt he’s wearing.

That’s right.

He’s wearing a dress shirt with no tie…he looks like an overworked city executive heading home after a particularly gruelling day at the office.  But Michael isn’t an overworked city executive, he’s a Guardian journalist who knew he was having a professional photograph taken to accompany every single article he will write for that once august journal.

Think about that for a second.

You’re boss comes to you and says “We’re going to have a professional photographer coming in tomorrow, we thought it would be a good idea to put people’s photographs on the company website so that people can put a face to the name when they are contacting us.  Alright?”  The next morning you would think to yourself “Oh yeah, photograph today…better dig out something nice to wear, want to make a good impression.”

Wouldn’t you?

Course you would.

Not Michael.

He picked up the sort of shirt they sell in a twin-pack in Tesco and thought “That’ll do, that will send out exactly the right message to the readers of my work.”

Amazing innit?

Now, some people will tell you that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.

That’s a lovely sentiment.

It’s cobblers though.

I read somewhere that only a fool does not judge a book by its cover…it sounds Wildean but I don’t think it was Oscar.  Maybe it was me?  That would be good.  It wasn’t…it was someone clever.

Anyway, I’m judging Michael based on the beard and the shirt.

Mainly on the shirt.

Actually, it’s almost exclusively the shirt.

I can’t trust someone who makes that little effort.

But let’s give Michael the benefit of the doubt.

Just because he dresses with all the style and flair of a man who has had all of his style and flair surgically removed doesn’t mean that his views on something as vibrant, exciting, thrilling and wondrous as Britpop should be dismissed without giving them any serious analysis.

What words of wisdom does Michael offer us all on Britpop then…let’s take a looksy shall we?

During the heyday of Blur and Oasis, ruthless ambition became the order of the day, as scores of unrelentingly pedestrian bands ditched everything that once made British pop music interesting

Oh dear.

One sentence in and we’ve already got a problem.

Two problems actually.

First of all…what’s wrong with ruthless ambition?

Wanting to be the best, wanting to get on, wanting to get ahead and wanting to make something of your life isn’t a negative thing.  Remember, we’re not talking about corporate executives who would happily, and literally, throw their own mothers under the wheels of a ten tonne truck if it meant they got their bonus at the end of the year, we’re talking about young musicians who made bold claims about their own brilliance…the sort of thing musicians have been doing since, well, forever.  John Lennon hailed his band of skiffle musicians from Liverpool as being bigger than Jesus.  It’s just what pop stars do.

Secondly, who were these ruthlessly ambitious people who were the order of the day?

Noel and Liam weren’t backwards at coming forwards and Damon was always happy to talk about himself…but Jarvis Cocker was a humble sort of bloke, Sonya Madan has had her photograph replace the words in the O.E.D for “humility” and most of the other big Britpop hitters were too busy being silly, making records, touring and having a whale of a time to be “ruthlessly ambitious”.

Oh, there’s another problem isn’t there?

“…unrelentingly pedestrian bands…”

Michael, the only pedestrian thing on display here is your bloody wardrobe darling heart.

Pedestrian?

The art school weird of Pulp.

The pop experimentation of blur.

The primitive, primal, scream of pure rock and roll that was Oasis.

The gothic glamour of Suede.

The magpie eyes of Thurman.

The multicultural glory of Echobelly.

The post-punk thrills of Elastica.

The giddy pop thrills of Sleeper.

I could go on and on.

Michael doesn’t see any of that.

He sounds like a man who once heard someone else say something snarky about Britpop that a pretty girl had laughed at and now he’s trying to see if he can get that girl to laugh when he does the same thing.

She’s not laughing at your sneering attitude towards something lovely Michael.

It’s the shirt again.

But it’s also fitting, because a grotesque simplification is what Britpop became, a collection of lowest common denominators that ended up setting music back: a slavish devotion to a set of signifiers that included 60s music, mod fashion, football, and intoxication. None of those are bad things in isolation.

He doesn’t sound like a particularly happy person does he?

Poor Michael.

What happened to you in 1994 Michael?

Whatever it was…you’re better than this.  Ditch the bitterness.  Embrace something more positive.  Speak to someone.  Hell, speak to me Michael.  Drop me a message on Twitter and I’ll give you my number.  I don’t like to think of anyone being this miserable.

In the world of Michael 1960’s music, Mod fashion, the old footyballs and having a few drinks are lowest common denominators.  He doesn’t mean it though because he acknowledges that on their own these things are not bad…but when put together they become some sort of toxic George’s Marvellous Medicine.  That’s not true though is it?  I mean…I like all of those things (bar the alcohol) and I like to think that I’m a fine fellow.

The racism of the hooligans was verboten, but the sense of Little England loomed large. While literal flagwaving – Noel Gallagher’s union jack guitar aside – was a rarity, the concentration on Britishness in lyrics, dress, attitudes was at odds with British pop’s historic magpie internationalism. Everything that made inspirations such as the Kinks or the Beatles interesting – their borrowings from black culture, filtered through suburban English eyes, or their wide-eyed sense of exploration – was left undigested.

Apparently a focus on Britishness is evidence of a sort of sub-rosa racism and a very limited racial and cultural set of influences.  He fails to recognise the presence of an Asian woman fronting a band with a Swedish guitarist and a black, gay, woman on guitar…the awe inspiring wonder of Skin from Skunk Anansie…the female fronted bands…the riffs stolen from Stevie Wonder by Oasis on “Step Out”…the presence of Europe in so many blur songs like the French vocal of “To the End” with Francoise Hardy…the dance culture influence on Saint Etienne…I could go on and on and on…again.  To view Britpop as some sort of “Britain’s First” of pop music, an exclusively white, male and heterosexual scene dominated by lumpen, meat and potatoes musicians is just wrong.

But Britpop’s imperial period, which began 20 years ago – with the release of Blur’s Parklife on 25 April 1994 – and lasted until the release of Oasis’s Be Here Now in August 1997, saw the quashing of the sense that outsiderdom was the defining feature of what was known as “indie” music.

Michael…if you don’t really understand a thing it’s probably best not to write about it.

This notion that “outsiderdom” had been quashed by the time Britpop hit its peak is just historical revisionism.  Jarvis Cocker was the ultimate outsider, Jaime Harding was writing about domestic violence and the pain and trauma of a troubled life, Patrick Duff was in the grip of addiction and was pushing his band, Strangelove, to go further than any other band of the time, Elcka were brilliantly peculiar, Cornershop were sitting at the top of the charts.  I was an outsider.  I was not quashed by “Be Here Now” Michael.

And with every hit by one band came a record deal for another, snapped up more and more quickly as the music industry – awash with cash at this point – threw contracts at bands who were patently not prepared for anything resembling a career, the likes of Menswe@r, leading yet more second- and third-rate bands to form in the hope of getting their own shower of cash.

What’s new here Michael?

How is it the fault of the scene that record labels chucked cash at chancers?

I hate this idea that because Michael doesn’t like certain bands (although I notice he can only cite Menswe@r as an example of what he is describing) as second or third rate.  Menswe@r were ace…a proper pop group, young kids chancing their arm, looking for their shot.  They wrote pop songs.  They were learning how to be song writers.  They were capable of flashes of brilliance…more than once they wrote genuinely glorious pop songs.  I guarantee too that not a single one of the bands Michael is alluding to were in it for the money…girls, fame, adoration, a place in history, yes, absolutely but money is never the motivating factor for kids who form bands.

The article fizzles out with some guff about Tim Lovejoy, “Be Here Now” and Italia ’90 all being mashed together to form a kind of Britpop Frankenstein’s monster…I don’t really get it to be honest with you but I am absolutely sure that Michael thought it was very, very clever.

It’s another article written by a journalist who clearly hates the scene.

I don’t know why you would waste your time Michael.

Write about something you do like…bad shirts, awful facial hair, being unimpressed by things and generally being a bit miserable.  Don’t spend time trying to over analyse something that brought untold joy to hundreds of thousands of kids from all across the world…that’s not your thing, your thing is being a former professional journalist for the Guardian and now freelance journalist.

You should be very proud of what you have achieved in life Michael…you’ve dragged yourself up from your humble beginnings to be a man who presented a show on talkSport and who got paid to be sniffy about things other people enjoy.  That’s quite the life you have lived.  Well done you.

As for the rest of us?

We’ll get cracking with listening to pop songs from a pivotal moment in our lives and dancing, singing and drinking along to them…all the while dressed immaculately.

One thought on “A Cultural Abomination

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