“Can you remember what you were doing at the height of Britpop? Perhaps you were running the country? Bands like Damon Albarn’s Blur furnished the soundtrack to the early Blair Years, ‘Cool Britannia’ and all that’.
Eh? No, except they didn’t did they?
Britpop was at its zenith between 1992-1995 (at its peak around 1995’s Oasis Vs Blur feud) all firmly within and during the Conservative years of John Major’s government and by the time Blair gained power in 1997 and attempted to co-opt the sound and cool factor for New Labour propaganda it was, as a scene pretty much on its way out and maturing into something quite different in the face of mainstream media hype and anyone who used the term ‘Britpop’ to describe their musical tastes in ’97 would have been seen as being rather naff and possibly a bit of a late coming poseur than a fan. Certainly I don’t think I ever heard anyone describe themselves as being a fan of ‘Britpop’ during that period, many favoured just the term ‘Indie’ or even ‘Pop’.
It’s true though that both Pulp & Blur released what I think are their best albums of that scene around that period. Blur with ‘Blur’ in ’97 and Pulp with the wonderful ‘This Is Hardcore’ in ’98 but that was a last surge of scene creativity as things seemed to come to a natural halt all round with the bands who’d been slogging away and ever changing their style since the 1980s C86 shoegazing movement, then hurriedly through both the ‘Grebo’ & ‘Baggy’ fashions just folded in the wake of the Britpop storm. Some clearly worn out after years of slog to noticed by the NME never mind getting onto Top Of The Pops long before the Britpop craze reached its peak. Others were clearly keen to shift indie on into other areas and reinvent themselves for a new decade such as the a more clearly ‘rock’ based sound which was finding favour during a resurgence in the generic ‘Alternative’ music scene which would dominate for most of the late 1990s and early 2000s.
These early New Labour years actually saw most of the leading lights of ‘Britpop’ split up. Between the years 1997/1998 such stalwarts as- Sleeper, Lush, These Animal Men, Menswear and more decided to call it a day, so it can hardly be said that Blair rode in on a wave of Cool Britannia rather than he attempted to go for a bit of a paddle as the tide was hurriedly going out.
I’m not sure where this New Labour/Britpop myth originates but I think it could very well be with Blair alone, after all New Labour were brilliant at self-promotion and smarmily latching onto things which seemed to offer some semblance of credibility with the young voters. Or maybe we remember it that way because we’d like to think that the biggest explosion in national creativity and self-confidence to express the same sort of British identity for the modern age which we last saw in the 1960s (whilst being nostalgic was undeniably of the ‘now’) was ushering in a new age for Britain rather than bookending the previous Conservative rule, a whooping 18 years from 1979 until 1997.
For brief a moment in time we just couldn’t go wrong in everything from fashion, music, film- ‘Trainspotting’ featuring a suitably Britpop soundtrack of sorts was hailed as revitalising the British Film (although it also opened the flood gates to a host of various poor imitators) Art became sexy and daring with the YBA’s ushering in the ‘BritArt’ and even Comedy saw a boon with the rise of theatre and stadium stand-up acts such as Newman and Baddiel (now free from The Mary Whitehouse Experience) and on TV with things like ‘Fist of Fun’. For much of the 1990s comedy was being touted as being the ‘New Rock n’ Roll’ at the time when oddly enough Britpop was being hailed as such. Union Jack flags were duly slapped onto any old tat and onto the covers of a rash of hurriedly rushed out compilation albums. Like other retro tinged music genres which saw revivals in related or similar scenes Britpop’s umbrella saw the Mod scene enjoy a fresh resurgence and 1960s styles and pop gained new appreciation amongst the young music fan. Britpop also oddly enough saw a sort of retrospective for the previous indie pop of the Madchester movement with Baggy and older Post-Punk bands (The Cure, The Smiths etc) ( and even some so called Grebo ones ) often being lumped together with the more current groups on comp albums and in articles being cited as natural precursors, laying the foundations for Britpop to build its success upon.
Maybe at the end of the say we would all just rather pretend that it didn’t happen under the watch of a Prime Minister so devoid of the wow factor, so utterly characterless and bland that he was often portrayed as having grey pallor skin and the epitome of a nerdy voice by the Spitting Image team as well as by the cartoonist Steve Bell. So in the end Blair got all the glory and in the process he also possibly killed Britpop, for without anything to kick against anything approaching the sort of angst often attributed to a Tory majority government and which often sees a rise in such creativity that spurs on bands the spark soon fizzled out. Britpop just faded out, morphing into other tangents as Noel Gallagher supped champers with Tony at Number 10 happily posing for the press and Albarn legged it to Iceland for a bit in a sort of self-imposed exile leaving Coxon to steer Blur into the very American College Radio rock sound they’d been pushing against with their overly British band persona.
Anyway, politicians of any stripe pretending to know or care about pop culture are just as embarrassing as the shyster talking heads for hire and self-professed street culture experts who propagate these half remembered things as facts on TV items and thoughtful articles (such as this one).
As for what I was doing during the height of Britpop, well for the latter half I was pretending to be at Art College whilst doing very little to be creative and wore the then appropriate ‘Indie Kid Uniform’ of charity shop long black overcoat, clumpy boots and floppy home cut fringed hair making me the sort of cliché which gave rise to the Student Grant character in the comic Viz.