Britpop- A retrospective

25 Years on, RAZZ writer Ruth Hetherington looks back on the Britpop movement which had such a stranglehold on Britain in the 1990s.

What’s the story, Britpop Glory? A short-lived but immensely popular musical phenomenon of the 1990s, Britpop was meant to represent everything both British and cool. To an extent, it was a somewhat sarcastic and colourful response to the particularly dark grunge rock popular in America, but it was also a culmination of distinctly “British” cultures, in the shape of often snarly but good-looking boy bands. And we loved it! For a while, it was the defining genre of Britain, people lived for Britpop, Dad’s now in their mid-40s would’ve died for Britpop – what did it mean and what did it really represent? And what is its living legacy?

The creation and development of Britpop is not a straightforward one. Britpop was born out of concoction of other genres that were popular in Britain from the 1960’s onwards. In terms of musical style, the music of The Beatles and The Kinks are often cited as major influences, as well as the melancholic sound of The Smiths and Joy Division. Perhaps an interesting mixture, but it easy to see the links between classic British acts and Britpop bands, the guitar being the definitive instrument of the genre. The often more experimental and culturally critical tone of 1980’s music was also evident in lyricism of the music, with songs like Pulp’s Common People being a distinct criticism of the romanticisation of poverty. (Ironic, given that the genre allowed for a lot of people to pretend they were rougher and more common people than they actually were, but a notable theme nonetheless.) Other more niche and regional specific genres also influenced the music of Britpop – Shoegazing with its dreamy and psychedelic sound, a style often associated with the Home Counties, and Madchester – the late 1980s and early 90s vibrant indie-rave scene, centered around the clubs and rave spaces of the sprawling Northern Metropolis.

Britpop was also about attitude. In fact, it was as much about attitude as it was about music. The culture around Britpop showed a realignment with the culture of the Swinging Sixties, a time when London was the place to be. It had been the epicentre of cool, and Britpop aimed to reinvoke that sentiment. The stylistic links are evident – the colour and vibrancy of 60’s psychedelia is recreated yet modernised in the music videos of Blur, one of the two bands most associated with Britpop. Their music video sets were colourful and bold, often trying to imitate art installation pieces. They were confident and never appeared that serious – the modernity and coolness that the bands exuded defined ‘Cool Brittania’ and cemented the Britpop bands as iconic and unbothered. This effortless boldness went a lot further than it had in the 1960s – the addition of bands with distinct Northern or Southern identities regionalised the music. The aim of the bands was not only to show the world how fashionable Britain was, but allow both the North and South to prove to each other, simply how great they were, and how much better each region was than the other.

This rivalry was commodified by Blur and Oasis – the two most notorious Britpop bands. Both were fiercely representative of their respective cities, London and Manchester, and their competition with each other was actually something that came to define the genre. Blur were posers – they were prettier and a bit more untouchable than their brutalist brothers-in-arms counterpart Oasis, who embodied the buy your mate a beer but then chuck it at his head boisterousness that was also representative of the genre. Neither group were particularly charming and neither wanted to be. They defined cool and they didn’t even care. Their fierce rivalry did matter though, and it came to a head on 14th August 1995 when the two bands released singles on the same day, most likely in an attempt to prove who were the ultimate Kings of Britpop and subsequently, which region of the UK reigned supreme. In relation to the success of the singles, Blur were victorious. But, slow and steady does win the race, and in terms of album success, it was Oasis that came out on top, reinstating Manchester and the North as the resident rulers of music.

Many more groups contributed to the defiantly English genre, from the gentle laconic songs of The Verve to Elastica’s more punk rock inspired anthems, the genre encapsulated the British youth in the mid to late 90s. It encompassed this era’s the youth driven optimism. It crossed over with the Young British Artist movement, Damien Hirst, famously directing a music video for Blur, the consensus of being slightly outrageous and owning it, all whilst having a good time, definitely linked the musical movement to the art one. Even politics wanted to encompass what Britpop meant – all it took was a handshake between Tony Blair and Noel Gallagher to cement New Labour as the party of multicultural Britain

Whilst it didn’t represent the diversity of the UK in the slightest, the attitude and swagger-worthy status that Britpop embodied, all whilst maintaining an unbothered and comedic appeal, made it effortlessly cool – it was scene people wanted to be associated with. Its legacy continues – Britpop bands have been cited as influences and inspirations for the music of many immensely popular groups like Arctic Monkeys and The Strokes. On a cultural level, everybody knew of Britpop – the rivalry, the snarling brothers, the colours – the vibrant but brutishly British sound that all the musicians produced. It considered itself, the coolest, best British genre yet and it’s classically cocky way, it doesn’t think you’ll ever forget it.

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