It should be so simple.
The clue is in the name…or at least that is what one would have thought.
When the members of B.O.B.S (British Board of Scribblers) gathered at their annual convention at some point in the early nineteen-nineties to decide which musical scenes they would both form and promote the first few passed with little discussion and in the intervening years they have promoted absolutely no discussion from the general public; N.W.O.N.W (new wave of new wave) was only of passing interest to indie kids and nerdy new wave punk guys huddled together at the back of Blessed Ethel concerts and the N.M.R (new Mod revival) was noteable only for not being as absolutely horrific as the earlier nineteen-eighties revival.
However, when the newly elected Chair of the Board suggested that the dominant musical scene that each member would initially promote, then hype and ultimately decry as xenophobic tosh was to be “Britpop” few of the other members of the Board could have foreseen quite what was being unleashed on the youth of the nation.
We praise your name while, with the same breath, we condemn you and your unholy works.
What seemed like a jolly jape at the time; lets bring together a gaggle of British bands to fight on the beaches against Cobain and Co. ultimately led to one of the ugliest moments in the history of the internet just a few nights ago when the curator of the Elastica Facebook page launched a purge of all who dared claim that the band were, in fact, Britpop.
This was like the opening moments of “Saving Private Ryan”…but without all the death and blood. Many brave Britpoppers fell beneath the weight of the keyboard strokes that condemned them to exile from the Elastica page. It was horrid. My own efforts on the battlefield revealed me to be a slightly pompous, pretentious and arrogant bore. I am not proud of the blows I struck…but I struck them for each of you.
War is Hell.
Since then literally hundreds of thousands of people have been attempting to define the term “Britpop”.
When I say hundreds of thousands I mean me and three other sad sacks on Twitter.
They know who they are.
There is no need to name names here.
And now, for your ecstasy and enchantment I bring you my own, rather muddled and clumsy, thoughts on what exactly Britpop…is…was…everyday to miss ’cause Saturday is TISWAS day.
The intitial problem lies with the British tag.
While it is undeniably true that the scene first came to public prominence thanks to Select magazine and their “Yanks Go Home” headline and Union Jack backdrop it is also eqaully true that not all of the bands associated with the scene were British.
Strong arguments can be made for Scandipopsters The Wannadies and The Cardigans as Britpop bands. In 1994 The Cardigans released their debut album “Emmerdale” which took its name from the rickety British soap opera of the same name and which featured a none more English vision on the front cover…a floppy eared dog gamboling across a sunkissed hill. Musically it was clearly inspired by the same things that were driving more obvious Britpop bands like blur. It was upbeat, soaked in the sixties and poppier than a vat of fizzy cola. In the same year The Wannadies releasd “Be a Girl” which spawned the monster hit “You and Me Song” which was similarly influenced by British guitar and pop music. The cover art too was Smithsy with a nod to Belle and Sebastian.
Britpop wasn’t neccessarily British then.
The second problem comes with the “pop” tag.
While bands of the era enjoyed success in the charts and regularly appeared on music and childrens television shows as well as on the cover of the likes of Smash Hits as well as more “serious” music journals the truth is that many of the bands were not making “pop” music.
Oasis, obviously, were a rock and roll band who happened to enjoy chart success.
Elastica were an arty, post-punk, Wire-d group.
Echobelly were an indie band.
Blur released pop records like “Parklife”, “Sunday Sunday” and “Country House” but they couldn’t really be called a pop group…they were not Pepsi and Shirley.
Then you have to take a band like Strangelove who were anything but a pop group…they were an experimental band, noisy and dischordant in places with the occasional burst of mainstream songwriting sensibilities breaking out from the melodic musings that drove them.
Britpop didn’t have to be “pop” then.
It should be clear why there is so much disagreement over which bands were and were not Britpop by now.
Some people have tried to throw in the idea that Britpop bands were guitar based but, for me, that doesn’t work because I am adamant about Shampoo being a Britpop group and I’m not sure that either one of the girls had ever seen a guitar let alone used one. For the hard of thinking I am, of course, joking to make a broader point!
What is curious about my including Shampoo is that I wouldn’t include either the Spice Girls with whom, on the surface, they had much in common or Garbage with whom they had nothing in common. The Spice Girls were a girl group…so were Shampoo. The Spice Girls didn’t use guitars…neither did Shampoo, at least not in the same way as Oasis. I’m starting to confuse myself…goodness only knows why you are still reading this. As for Garbage my issues lie in the fact that they were not, primarily British…although I’ve already argued that that doesn’t matter and that they were not “pop”…and I’ve argued that doesn’t matter either. With each passing syllable I am reminded of the last entry in the divine Kenneth Williams diary; “What’s the bloody point?”
If it isn’t about being British.
If it isn’t about being “pop”.
If it isn’t about guitars.
If the Spice Girls ain’t but Shampoo is.
If Garbage isn’t but The Wannadies is.
If Strangelove are but Fat Les are not.
Were The Charlatans?
What about James?
“Dagenham Dave” by Morrissey?
What the Hell is it then?
You can attempt to set all sorts of parameters for Britpop but the truth (this is MY truth, you can tell me yours on your blog or in the comments) is that Britpop isn’t about a sound, a style, a passport or any of that other gubbins…it is about the time and the mood.
Ultimately none of this matters of course, at least not to the majority of the population, but I think the safest thing to do is to go with your own gut instinct. If you think that “Whippin’ Piccadilly” and “You’re Gorgeous” by Gomez and Babybird respectively are Britpop anthems then you knock yourself out…the fact that I wouldn’t have them in my little list of Britpop bands (and I do actually have one) isn’t here or there.
Britpop is…whatever you decide.
As long as I approve.