Reviewing British Number One Singles from the Year 2002: Mid October-End of December
Date of Number 1: 26.10.2002
Number of weeks at the top: 2
Artist: Nelly feat. Kelly Rowland
Song Name: Dilemma
Fact: Kelly had previously topped the charts twice as part of Destiny’s Child but this was the first solo (duo?) number 1 for both
My Take: Settle down, kids. I am here to tell you of the Great Long Ago. Back in the Great Long Ago, it was not clear which member of Destiny’s Child were going to break away as the stand out star. Sure, sure, Destiny’s Child was always a vehicle for B’s ego that went through members like a particularly catty sorority, but her plan for worldwide domination was derailed slightly by a clumsy effort to become an actress. Thus paving the way for Kelly Rowland to be the first DC star to release a solo record. While Beyonce donned an afro and an innocent smile for an Austin Powers sequel and a crappy feel good film about a choir respectively, Kelly was scoring a worldwide smash with Southern hop hop rapper Nelly. But Beyonce was not going to take the success of a lifelong friend lying down.
She set to work releasing her own duet with a marketable rapper type, her then secret boyfriend Jay-Z. While ‘Bonnie and Clyde ’03’ was critically acclaimed it also had to face down accusations of plagiarism and while it did well it was not as commercially successful as the Nelly/Kelly collaboration. 1-0 Kelly. Yes, children. There was a time when Beyonce being the most important person in the whole frigging world was NOT a forgone conclusion. And mobile phones looked like this:
What does it want from us???
Yes it is fair to say that way, way back in ’02 things were looking pretty damn sweet for Kelly Rowland. And it shows in the video for ‘Dilemma.’ she is confident, charming and lookin’ fine. But the song, you ask, is it a good music? The melody is sweet and catchy and, like a lot of songs that year, completely inescapable at that time. Unlike Kelly, I am not crazy about Nelly. Maybe it is his cockiness, the lack of emotion in his delivery or his annoying little face plaster and gormless face. Who knows? (The answer is all of those things but especially the plaster one) But this song is very easy to consume and the chorus is painfully easy to retain. In fact, the star of the show (apart from the old school phone in the video) is definitely Kelly Rowland.
It is hardly a new idea for a rapper to bring in a suitable female vocalist to warble sweetly over the chorus to add a softer, feminine mood to a love song. However normally the girl has been seemingly chosen at random and is fairly generic. But the narrative of the song and accompanying video is actually quite easy to get invested in (for four and a half minutes) because Kelly brings a lot of personality to her character. I had never consciously heard the word ‘boo’ used to describe a boyfriend before and I really like its inclusion and her delivery here. It is pretty sweet. Plus the look she gives the girl Nelly has taken to the movie is just solid gold. I have spent quite a long time looking for it online but you will have to settle for another shot of the really old phone:
Round 2 of Kelly vs Beyonce: The Solo Careers didn’t end so hot for Kelly (More on that if I ever get round to writing about 2003) but cheer up girl: Round 1 went well.
Did I own it: No. At the time it annoyed the hell out of me because the chorus would get stuck in my head for days. I have mellowed on it now.
Could I sing along now: We have talked about me and rapping…But yes.
Worth remembering: Hmmm…I have to say not really. It is good but the only thing that elevates beyond many, many duets like it was the chemistry between Nelly and Kelly (the rhyming names mean it was meant to be) and that God damn ear worm of a chorus.
Date of Number 1: 9.11.2002
Number of weeks at the top: 1
Artist: DJ Sammy & Yanou feat. Do. (Yes, Do. That’s the end of their name.)
Song Name: Heaven
Fact: This is a Bryan Aadams song remixed by a Spanish DJ, a German producer and sung by a Dutch singer. It sounds like the set up of mildly xenophobic joke, but it is just a fact. I wouldn’t joke in the fact section.
My Take: Hypocrisy thy name is…Well still Paul McCartney but also me. I am a hypocrite. I wrote off the Ketchup Nonsense because they rereleased it within the year but DJ Sammy did the same thing, bringing out this dance track as a stripped back ballad known as the ‘candlelight mix’ mere minutes after the success of the clubbing version. Even worse, there was a third edit made especially to capitalise on 9/11 grief in America which includes a little girl talking about her Dad. People assumed her Dad died in the two towers attacks in 2001, and her voice on the track was a sobering reminder to cherish the innocent…Actually she was just a random DJ’s kid who was told exactly what to say and given emotional direction. Lovely. I have decided not to try and find that version, dubbed the 9/11 remix, because I like my ears and I don’t want to have to cut them off.
So why am I a hypocrite? Sure I think it is cheap and lazy to keep bringing out the same song over and over and I think the twice released 9/11 remix, which it should be noted was an unauthorized production, is pretty fucking gross. But…I really, really like this song.
Now I don’t usually get dance music and I don’t really see the appeal of clubbing. I love a dance but not to dance music. I just find it tediously repetitive. Not like writing about chart music that is always fresh and fun…Look how much fun I am having!!!!
But this track…It has what it takes to get me on the dance floor. I can move to it, it builds to a fist pumping chorus, the vocal is pretty but not demanding my full concentration, it is largely distinguishable from other dance tracks but has that tried and tested feel to it, it is different enough from the original that the two are not really comparable and similar enough that the genre swap is not offensive, the lyrics are easy to remember and shout out along with the track, the beat means that you can jump up and down while lights go flash/flash/flash and it is totally, enjoyable naff.
All the ingredients are there. And it makes a sweet trance like cake. Heavenly.
Yes I went there.
Did I own it: No actually. I wasn’t yet at an age when I was going out a lot (Well, I never did reach that age but there was deffo a point when I was going out MORE.) so I never really wanted to listen to this kind of thing. It is only with time that I recognise the appeal of ‘Heaven.’
Could I sing along now: Yes. Would you like me to? I warn you, my vocal is fearless and filled with passion.
Worth remembering: Hard to say. Compared to the other Euro dance songs I have endured as part of this project this is fantastic but on a large scale…I am going to say yes just because I enjoyed it SO much more than I remembered.
Date of Number 1: 16.11.2002
Number of weeks at the top: 1
Song Name: Unbreakable
Fact: This Number 1 marked the 50th Anniversary of the UK Singles charts. I wonder if it considered asking for a divorce?
My Take: So I am not allowed to have fun anymore? I enjoy one silly dance song and have some nice words for Kelly Rowland and suddenly I’m the bad guy? I have already sat through a Beatles cover by Gareth Gates have I not served my time yet???
This is just so boring. It doesn’t even sound like a real song. It sounds like something constructed in a lab designed to test just how badly innocent drivers want to live. If this came on the radio while you were driving home, could you stay awake? I would rather take my chances in the never recommended sport of Sleep Driving than ever listen to that from start to finish again.
I am never nice about Westlife but this, funnily enough given the title, has broken me. It is the worst of a bad lot. It feels like someone is very, very slowly licking my face. But not someone pretty. Someone like Jeff Goldblum in the second act of The Fly.
5 boring Irish guys actually willingly sang a song this fucking dull. Nobody made them do it. They did not arrive in a foreign land wanting to make it as a dancer only to be kidnapped and forced into a studio to shake their souls for a quick buck. This was their career…their 11th cocking number 1. Why aren’t they good at it yet??? WHY???
Did I own it: No
Could I sing along now: More
Worth remembering: Westlife. Please 2002/3 I am counting on you!
Date of Number 1: 23.11.2002
Number of weeks at the top: 2
Artist: Christina Aguilera
Song Name: Dirrty
Fact: This did pretty well here despite her new ‘raunchy’ image being a turn off for her fans state side: In the US ‘Dirrty’ failed to make the top 20.
My Take: Oh thank God…This isn’t Westlife. Thanks Chris, babe. I mean that. Because there was a point when there wasn’t a huge difference between the dross she sang and the awful crap Westlife churned out. She was singing naff ballads and hitting everyone over the head with the oversized mallet that is her voice for a good year and a half before…this.
What has been great about looking back at ‘Dirrty’ is the reminder that everything cycles around. Right now, at the time of writing, people are going a bit apeshit over Miley Cyrus and her choice to wear less clothes and wiggle her arse when cameras are pointed at her. People are questioning her sanity because she likes pot and sticks her tongue out a lot. None of this would be anymore than a mild nuisance to the average member of the press if it wasn’t for the fact that she had been the property of Disney throughout her adolescence. That transition from child star to young adult is not an easy one. But how quickly we forget: This is not new. Hell, just over a decade ago people were watching Christina rock up in assless chaps and wondering if she had lost her damn mind.
I am not going to get on a soapbox about the pressure female stars have in particular to behave/look/eat/smile a certain way, because what can I say that you don’t already know? But it is still fun/depressing to see that we as a society are easily distracted by stupid ass nonsense that doesn’t really matter. (Welcome to my blog!) Miley might keep working. She might not. She might be in trouble. She might know exactly what she is doing. It might be she is genuinely exploring the type of woman she wants to be. It might be a cold and calculated business plan.
But back to 2002. If Christina’s attempt to reinvent herself was a business choice it was not a lucrative one at least not at first. I mentioned back in the ‘Lady Marmalade’ review that she was already starting to distance herself from the squeaky clean Disney shtick and experiment with bizarre hair and revealing clothes. So new. But it would seem that, by and large, the world was not ready as it didn’t garner good sales in the USA although the second single (you may have heard of it) undid some of the damage. But the marketing gimmick of ‘I’m not a little girl anymore’ did serve a purpose. People talked about the video. People talked about her. Despite the fact that critics were unimpressed with ‘Dirrty’ as an example of her new material it sent a clear message to the music world: I am done singing big cheesy ballads.
Until this flops. Then it is right back to the cheesy ballads!
Ok, now on with the song. Hilariously, I fell for this whole thing at first. I was 14 when this came out and I remember listening to the lyrics and actually thinking: ‘What a wild party she is having! Gosh! It has spilled over into the parking lot you say? Oh Christina, you rascal!’ Now, I cringe at how naked this whole charade is. Of course this was a business decision, of course she is deliberately trying to provoke shock and outrage, OF COURSE those trousers are uncomfortable and a misguided statement of independence. How spent, how done. I mean, how many ways are there to say: ‘This party is off the hook?’ It turns out not that many. There is nothing original about ‘Dirrty.’ Not one thing.
Having said that, I used to dance inappropriately to it a lot and it is still works in that regard. Also I believe the way she acts in the video…felt right to her. She seems to be quite at home rolling around in a boxing ring. Sure, the whole thing is desperate as all hell, but she actually seems to be enjoying this more than when she had to do that whole lip biting Disney princess routine. I may cringe at her attempts to be controversial but I am pleased that nobody seems to have made her do it.
The musical arrangement is fine if not especially memorable, her vocal is actually quite good: The nature of the song means she can’t riff it to death so she is left having to bark that distinctive yelp rather than OD on vibrato and I quite like it. She makes this partying business sound really serious, a quality I always find appealing in cheesy pop songs. I mean how can you not enjoy lines as simple as ‘sweat dripping over my body’ delivered like this: ‘Sweat dripping over my BOD-EY!’ We get it Xtina, you don’t have to yell at us.
Redman’s rap is a pretty uninspired conclusion though. I feel that name checking other, better rappers on his guest verse was an error. It just made me want to go listen to some Lauryn Hill or Ol’ Dirty Bastard. Christina seems to know instinctively that she needs a hook for that last round of choruses and she went with the always popular dirty bathroom orgy:
Yes I Googled this…Shut up, it is research…
Christina’s ‘arrival’ may not have worked for everyone but her career would soon be receiving one hell of a boost…Until then it was up to us Brits to appreciate her ‘dirrty’ side. You are welcome ‘Tina.
Did I own it: I taped it off the radio before purchasing the album it came from after being encouraged to by my Fair-weathered Friend who lived across the road from me. She kept saying I should buy it and, sick of hearing her go on about it, I did. She immediately borrowed it and didn’t return it for months. I wasn’t as sharp at 14 as I am now.
Could I sing along now: Yes. It is very fun emulating the distinctive, impressive and ridiculous style of Ms A. She is both an excellent and terrible singer at the same time, quite a feat.
Worth remembering: No. If it wasn’t for all the silliness that was her image shift and her gurning performance I wouldn’t have remembered it at all and I had nearly forgotten. The same cannot be said for Single the Second from ‘Stripped’ the album. But that is another story for another day.
Date of Number 1: 7.12.2002
Number of weeks at the top: 1
Artist: Daniel Bedingfield
Song Name: If You’re Not the One
Fact: This was released 12 months after his début single
My Take: This song got made fun of a lot by a boy at my school who liked doing the falsetto leap in the chorus. Badly. I associate the ‘silly voice’ version I heard so often with this track to the point that I was surprised to hear it again after several years and learn that Daniel actually has a very strong voice. I much prefer his voice in the first bit of the chorus which has a gorgeous quality…To me the falsetto is overkill and made the track ripe for mockery. He is clearly talented and musically competent…But…Ick. Ick is my takeaway from this song.
In fact the whole thing makes me uncomfortable. Kind of like ‘Hero’ in the first half of 2002, Bedingfield is just so over earnest and intense: He has a lot of feelings and by Golly is he going to share ’em!
He doesn’t even go here!
In this song he reminds me of Jason Segal’s Nick Andopolis in ‘Freaks and Geeks’ and I am Seth Rogen’s Ken Miller as the listener. It is just so awkward to hear someone that ok with being vulnerable in that sickly, needy way. It crosses a line. Oh and in case you don’t get the reference, a gift for you:
DB: As long as I am using my real emotions, that’s all that matters.
Me: Lots of wackos use their real emotions.
I love that show…Anyway…
I am ok with him being in touch with his emotions but recording it naked so as to be truly vulnerable (true story) and then releasing it into the world was a step too far. It is like walking in on someone masturbating: It is ok that they have stuff that needs a release but I don’t need to see, hear or think about it. Ever.
Did I own it: No. Hated it then, embarrassed by it now.
Could I sing along now: Only the chorus. And not without cringing.
Worth remembering: I guess this was his most memorable hit…I am going to say no though.
Date of Number 1: 14.12.2002
Number of weeks at the top: 1
Song Name: Lose Yourself
Fact: Taken from the soundtrack to his movie ‘8 Mile’ this song would go on to win the Academy Award for Best Song
My Take: Arguably at the peak of his commercial and critical success, Eminem succeeded where so many musicians had failed and made a smooth transition into the movies. So smooth in fact that he made it look easy. ‘8 Mile’ is the semi-autobiographical account of Eminem’s rocky road to becoming a confident, legitimate rap artist but the film ends way before he gets famous leaving lead single ‘Lose Yourself’ to inform us of some of the consequences of fame and the pitfalls of success. You will never guess…It is not as fun as it looks. I know! I was shocked too!
‘Lose Yourself’ is a strange beast. It plays with clichés but somehow emerges as something original: And it is all in the delivery. A call to rise up and chase your dreams until they are caught? Heard it. A famous person whining about feeling like people only like them for their money and success? Yawn. Determined to succeed and failure is not an option? Got it. The bits where he talks almost sound like parody lines of inspirational posters: ‘You can do anything if you set your mind to it, man’ Oh can I Slim, can I? Then that settles it! I am going to build that ship made of Jelly Beans I always wanted to live in and set out on the high seas and I shall call it: Marshall Mathers the 2nd: The Dream Believer Man.
But pushing the Jelly Bean ship aside, and I never say that lightly; he sounds so bitter, so confused, so determined, so angry…When he says ‘best believe somebody’s payin’ the Pied Piper’ another rapper may have tried to sell that as a wry little joke, but Eminem’s delivery always has me reaching for my wallet: He can have my money if he wants it that badly. I just…believe him. The guy was meant to go into acting. I am sorry he hasn’t done more.
But then, first and foremost he is a rapper. His flow is so natural, so quick, simultaneously controlled and raw but also real: it could be generalised emotion like Pink, it could be emotional overkill like Dan, but in the hands of Eminem ‘Lose Yourself’ with all its standard talk of taking your moment when it comes your way sounds like an indignant howl that will not be ignored. And that is because it is based on his reality as he knew it. I am not totally convinced that everything he says happened the way he claimed but I think he sees it that way. And as he is the narrator, his word is law.
This song makes my adrenaline buzz, my blood pump and my feet tap. It is a masterpiece about conquering performance anxiety and coming out of unpleasant experiences with cold eyed determination. While the cynic in me who never sleeps finds some of the lines corny and the sentiment cliché, the part of me that feels things believes in Eminem. Give him the Oscars. Give him all the Oscars. And I’ll go get started on my Jelly Bean ship.
Did I own it: Yes. I liked it then, I liked it now and although I liked the film fine when I saw it many years ago I have to say the highlight was by far the last ten minutes of rap battles which are phenomenal and showcase what makes him special much more than any one single ever could.
Could I sing along now: Yes. Every word. But you will never hear it, you lucky people.
Worth remembering: Yes I think so. As did The Academy. Not that Eminem showed up. Legend has it he fell asleep watching cartoons with his young daughter and didn’t bother attending. He only found out about his victory the next day. That’s how he tells it anyway. As I said, he is in charge of his narrative…
Date of Number 1: 21.12.2002
Number of weeks at the top: 1
Artist: Blue feat. Elton John (Yes. That Elton John.)
Song Name: Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word
Fact: This was only Elton’s 5th Number 1 despite it being his 31st year in the ‘biz. It was Blue’s 3rd.
My Take: For some reason that I still don’t fully grasp, legitimate artists seemed to want to perform with Blue. Elton John isn’t really the type to do something because his record company suggest it. He appears, and I could be wrong, to be his own man. So does that mean…he respects Blue? Or was it just that if they were going to cover one of his songs he wanted to oversee it so it wasn’t butchered? Whatever the story behind it, it happened. And it wasn’t a fluke. Blue would go to duet with Stevie Wonder, who according to Anthony Costa of Blue when he was getting roasted on ‘Never Mind the Buzzcocks’ was a big fan and wanted to work with them.
Well whatever Mr John and Mr Wonder. You guys have earned your stripes and can do whatever makes you happy. But Blue…what are you looking so cocky about? Stop strutting around Elton’s piano and listen to me a sec’: Do you deserve my respect? What have you done to deserve my love? Prove to me you are worth it. Come on do it!!!
Well this is better than 5ive’s ‘We Will Rock You’ cover from 2000 because at least this fits in a sensible genre for them (sad love song) and they don’t dare try and change it up all that much from the original. Although they do sneak in an entirely unnecessary record scratch noise.
The message of the song itself is a simple idea. It kind of reminds me of a less fun version of ‘We can Work it Out’ by The Beatles, all about trying to manipulate someone into forgiving you and not wanting to take responsibility for a fight. It is not my favourite of Elton’s back catalogue by a long shot: (Oh since you ask it is a toss up between ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ and ‘This Train Don’t Stop There Anymore’ I think I’m going to listen to that instead, hold on…) but I don’t begrudge the existence of ‘Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word’ as it captures the ambivalence of an unsatisfying romance quite well and is pleasant to the ears.
But did it need to be remade? Of course it didn’t but is Blue’s attempt to sing it tolerable? In my last review of a Blue song I was obligated to compliment the vocal ability of Simon and Lee through gritted teeth. Nothing has changed in that regard. All 4 of them are competent and Simon and Lee continue to teeter on the line between ‘Satisfactory’ and ‘Good’ As boybands go, they all do an acceptable job. They don’t really bring anything exciting to their little moments to shine though. This is highlighted further by Elton’s chorus. He is not a great singer but he is a musician so has a technical understanding of what he is doing, already elevating him above the Blue boys plus he can emote without trying all that hard. Elton John phoning it in is was always going to sound more convincing than Blue giving it their all.
I have looked up them singing this live just to see for myself how much of their acceptable vocal comes from studio manipulation. My suspicions were first raised when I went to see my favourite musical on tour only to discover Anthony Costa was starring in it. He was a surprisingly competent comedic actor (things took a turn for the ‘no real training’ in Act 2 but props when they are due he did better than I had any right to expect) but his singing voice was terrible. From what I can gather, they are able to scrape through live as long as all the tough vocal bits are given to Lee Ryan.
Ah Lee Ryan. Lee Ryan. Mate. The recording shows potential but I personally object to the way he whines when he sings. It is annoying. It is all the more annoying by the fact that he clearly has one hell of a vocal range. In fact, Ryan claims that Elton John was so impressed with him that he encouraged him to go solo. Which he did. It didn’t work out well. One of the main reasons it didn’t work out well was Blue’s attempts to cross the pond to America were, errr, marred slightly by Lee Ryan’s passion for animal welfare. Yes you read that right. Lee Ryan really loves big animals such as whales and elephants and it makes him all kinds of mad that they are endangered. Here is a quote from a promotional interview he gave:
“What about whales? They are ignoring animals that are more important. Animals need saving and that’s more important. This New York thing is being blown out of proportion…Who gives a fuck about New York when elephants are being killed?”
This is a direct quote. I read the transcript. To what New York thing is he referring, I hear you wonder? A fair question. So here is the answer: the 9/11 attacks. Feel free to read that again. While I can’t find the exact date the interview took place also sources use phrases such as ‘shortly after’ and ‘in the aftermath.’ According to the transcript, his bandmates tried desperately to shut him down, while imagining any Grammys they were going to get washing down a river of hopelessness I imagine, but he shouted over them claiming that he is the outspoken one of the group and says what needs to be said. Clearly in his own mind, Ryan is the Malcolm X of the animal kingdom:
‘Rational thought before engaging in rhetoric is overrated! Incidentally, there is this great new drink you have to try called PAINT!’
I feel Elton may have been backing the wrong horse there. Especially considering if Lee Ryan was a horse and the big race was his career he heard the gun go off, panicked, backed up and stumbled over breaking all his legs.
What was my point? Oh yeah…the cover version is ok but doesn’t need to exist. I feel like I say that a lot. And Lee Ryan is lucky he can sing because there is literally no other job he could do without accidentally killing someone.
Did I own it: No. I distinctly remember being annoyed about liking it as much as I did though. Which is sad. The only thing less cool than admiring a duet between Blue and Elton John is secretly admiring a duet between Blue and Elton John.
Could I sing along now: Yes. The lyrics are very easy to remember and I am pretty sure that, should the karaoke machine break while you are singing it, I could provide you with the lyrics at a moment’s notice.
Worth remembering: The song is about as inoffensive as it gets but I can’t honestly imagine ever choosing to listen to it again.
And now we arrive. It is time. They are here. I have paid my dues talking about Ketchup songs, Westlife, Blue, Gates…I am so excited. So much so I am going to temporarily abandon the format to talk about this. Because my excitement and enthusiasm for this group requires one very important thing: Context.
My Take: Look back over the singles chart in the UK 2001 and 2002. Do you notice a pattern beginning to emerge? Television had found a way to influence the Top 10 like never before. Greedy record company executives had discovered they could earn big bucks without needing to come up with innovative material by pushing new, undemanding stars through the medium of reality TV. People would see them, people would know them, people would like them, people would buy them. Rather than the more traditional audience finding an artist through their music, audiences could now find music through artists. Sure it is ass backwards, but the numbers indicate it really, really works.
In 2002, I was 14. Now, I am not going to go into detail about my life at this time, because why would I? But 2002 was a particularly memorable year for all the wrong reasons. But I am not going to sob story it up. I am going to instead focus on one of the few positives of that time. My Saturday Night Routine. It was off the hook. Get this: I would finish my dance/acting/singing school and then go get a cheeseburger and some chips, come home, smother them in ketchup, open a can of coke and watch Popstars: The Rivals. Bliss. It was my escape, my safe place. All would be well as long as I had that first bite of a really cheesy burger and the search for a new girl and boy band. I was really invested in the results of this particular show, because I needed to focus my emotional energy on something unimportant. And it helped. It really did.
I had watched the first Popstars show and most of Pop Idol. I would engage in the narrative, the whole shebang: The auditions, the bootcamp, the voting, the nerves, the families all crying about how hard their 17 year old has worked to be a popstar for so long (why isn’t she in school?) the crappy outfits, the awful puns from the judges, the final victory and then the confetti. The only bit that let me down was the music. That is when I would tune out. The story was over. When is it next on? Oh, Gareth Gates has an album out? Who cares?
And I wasn’t being unfair. Even Will Young, if you remember, has admitted the two songs that were his debut were dreadful. Gates released a cover he had performed on the show Pop Idol. If we flash forward a bit into the future the second Pop Idol winner would sing a song called ‘All This Time’ that told the story of her victory. In slow, ballad form with a key change before the last chorus and a choir. Obviously. Then the winner of Fame Academy, the BBC rival effort of Pop Idol, gave us David Sneddon who penned a song called ‘Stop Living the Lie’ a slow piano ballad about being true to yourself. I think. I wasn’t really listening.
Then The X Factor. Oh Lord, where do you start? The first winner did a cover of a Phil Collins song that had only been released by Westlife a few years earlier. The second winner did a song about his victory. It was a slow ballad with a key change before the last chorus and a choir. The third winner did a cover of the song that the first American Pop Idol winner sang as her winner’s song. It was a slow ballad about her victory with a key change before the last chorus. Oh and a choir.
I could keep going but you get the point. No effort. No passion for music, just a passion for making something that sounded festive and marketable to old ladies and young children. There are lots of those. Let’s give them another key change, they’ve earned it.
I have a point. It is coming. Context is everything.
So in December 2002 Popstars the Rivals came to an end. They had 5 boys in one band and 5 girls in the other and they were going to compete for the Christmas number 1. Boys v Girls! Battle of the sexes! The boys, right from the start, were the obvious winners. The girls by default were the underdogs because girls watch the show and girls like boy bands crooning about love. And what the target demographic wants, it gets. It was also acknowledged that the boys were tighter as vocalists and some people voiced the, somewhat misogynistic, view that boys tend to gel better than girls as people. It was a forgone conclusion.
The boys were christened One True Voice and managed by Pete Waterman, who gave them a cover of a Bee Gees song called Sacred Trust as their first song. It sounded like this:
If you can make through the seemingly never ending 4 minutes and 44 seconds then you are…Well…strange. And yes. One of them is significantly taller than the other 4. And yes, that is the best bit.
I am grateful now and I was then that it wasn’t a song about their victory with a choir. But it is still mind meltingly dull. But they didn’t care. They sang it and sat back and waited for their tween audience to carry them to the top of the charts.
Meanwhile Westlife and Boyzone manager Louis Walsh and Polydor records were assigned the unenviable task of taking care of the 5 girls. Louis had been very, very open about the fact that he didn’t ‘get’ girls and quickly fopped them off to his ‘team’ So what cover version would they be doing? Louis thought the bittersweet Christmas song by East 17 ‘Stay Another Day’ was a sound business plan. It nearly went that way and the girls did give a lacklustre performance of this on the B Side. But for the A Side…Remember Xenomania? The production house of wonders I talked about briefly in the last post? Man at the top Brian Higgins offered them a song.
Now I want you to imagine you are me. Not just me now. Me at 14. You have had a whole year of syco cover versions as a precedent and then the boys premièred their first video ‘Sacred Trust.’ Then the smiling presenters said: ‘And this is Girls Aloud’s single ‘Sound of the Underground.’ And then…I heard this:
And nothing ever hurt again. Thank you, thank you…weird silver teenagers!
Right from that surf guitar intro you know they have broken every rule about what a reality TV show first single should be. I am trying to calm down but it still has the same effect on me, more than 11 years later. I am welling up with joy. This was so much better than it had any right to be. This mash of electronic beats and solid rock, that sound so urgent, this dirty, dirty track, those girls that are not winking or pointing or even smiling. Did Brian Higgins know what he had? Did Sarah, Kimberly, Nadine, Nicola and Cheryl? Did Louis Walsh even listen to the damn thing before it was released? I still remember staring at the screen after it was over thinking: ‘What the fuck was that?’
I wasn’t the only one. Music critics all over the country who had been ready and willing to pour scorn on the song as a way of fighting back against the tide of reality TV musical acts had to lower the pitchforks and admit it wasn’t half bad. I remember at the time there was a lot of qualifying statements being wheeled out. A lot of: ‘It is good…for what it is’ Hell, even I am at it, what with all my ‘CONTEXT’ talk. That is why I want to just lay it out straight: I think it is a great song.
And it hasn’t dated. Lots of end of the decades magazines cited Girls Aloud and Xenomania for taking the pop world out of the dark: it wasn’t kid pop like Bwitched had been or overly sexual like Pussycat Dolls would be or a winner’s ballad or an American r n b snoozefest. It bypassed any route that had previously been on the map and it did it without trying to sound like it had edge. It is to the point, clipped, tight, and you can dance to it. It seems so obvious that this is what new pop acts should have been aiming for but nobody had wanted to rock the boat.
Now for the more musically high and mighty among you you might well be able to point to many similar tracks that were released before SOTU and say Xenomania were inspired by drum and bass, or they sampled this and the vocals are backed up by sessional singers and bla bla bla. Feel free to sit in the corner and take a nap because the point isn’t whether or not this song is actually exceptional. Maybe it isn’t. Hell, for a long time I was sick of it because I had listened to it too often. But you know what it wasn’t? Predictable. And for that reason alone I love it. I love every imperfect, messy, hollow, dazed, dead eyed moment of it.
This is the point where I should clarify: I know I can’t really give Girls Aloud too much credit for how well this record turned out. To be fair, they do a competent job, especially Nadine Coyle the 17 year old Irish girl who even made the key change tolerable through her commitment to the material, and considering they had been popstars for all of 11 minutes I think they deliver what was needed to make this song work. Others will disagree about their charisma and personality and I genuinely can’t argue for too long against this viewpoint: I like them, I get them and while they might not recognise the irony in the sincerely overblown lyrics, they sell it anyway.
My only major bone of contention is the lack of Nicola Roberts, the red head, who only gets one solo line and often slips out of frame in some ratios of the video which I don’t think was an accident. I have much to say about my love of Nicola Roberts but if your first introduction to her was this song you would be left baffled as to how I ended up so committed to her. It is a long story, that starts with the first 3 seconds of this performance:
And ends…never. It will never ends. Nicola Roberts is the love of my life. I am getting distracted. But I love her. She is the only popstar who could play Wembley and look like she would rather be anywhere else.
Pictured above: ‘The Ugly One’ Because the press are assholes. And so are people.
But the star of the show is and will remain Xenomania. Xenomania, particularity Higgins and Cooper, would go on to write and produce the majority of Girls Aloud material and thus a new age of pop was about to begin. An age so wonderful and so joy filled that I can’t contain my love. Because here is the thing: They were not done being awesome. Not by a long shot. First Xenomania saved the Christmas Number 1 from being a Bee Gees cover. It was a good start. But it was only the beginning.
Date of Number 1: 28.12.2002
Number of weeks at the top: 4
Artist: Girls Aloud
Song Name: Sound of the Underground
Fact: All that stuff I said above.
Did I own it: Do you know? I did. I have the single version in CD. I have got it in mp3 form. I have it on their first singles collection and I have the version from their live album. I really like Girls Aloud.
Could I sing along now: Do you know? I think I could.
Worth remembering: Do you know? I think it is.
Total Number of Number 1’s: 30
My Hopes for 2003: The oblivion of the traditional boy band and less key changes before the last chorus. The two are linked.
Do you need to ask? In fairness, let’s consider this. ‘Lose Yourself’ is pretty brilliant, George Harrison’s ‘My Sweet Lord’ has endured for a reason, although it is hardly representative of the era, the Sugababes had a solid year, I really like the Elvis remix…But no. This is my list and it has to be Girls Aloud. Here is a live version in case you wanted to hear it again. This was performed 10 years after their Popstars victory. It was one hell of a lap.
Tricky. While 2002 threw up a lot less than 2000 and 2001 it was still one disgusting baby. It is a toss up between Will Young’s ‘Anything is Possible’ and Westlife’s ‘Unbreakable’ both of which barley qualify as actual songs. I think it has to go to Westlife simply because while I was bored during the awful Will Young song this actually had me thrashing around in pain such was my body’s rejection of it.
Surprisingly Not Terrible:
I was not expecting my fist pumping, jumping up and down enthusiasm for a Bryan Adams dance record. That took me by surprise.
How did this happen? Song:
While I thought Elton John volunteering to sing with Lee Ryan would be a cinch for this category, I have to give it to Atomic Kitten because I am still wrapping my head around how this song became an international sensation and why I care so much.
I find myself coming back to ‘Just a Little’ for this one as this provides another great underdog story. I can’t explain why I like it but I do.
A Song to Save in the Time Capsule just to Confuse Historians:
‘If You’re Not the One’ so the historians can shuffle on their couch uncomfortably while Danny Bedingfield gaze into their eyes with a combination of lust and heartbreak…He has so many feelings you guys…But just a heads up he will take your soul so don’t look at it took long. He wants to die with you, he says so in this very song. Does that not sound like a threat?:
Next Time…Well here is the thing…Before I move onto to 2003 I am going to use this space to talk more about one of my favourite musical acts of all time and hopefully convince anyone out there who still remains cynical that Girls Aloud and Xenomania were the best thing to happen to chart music in the past 15 years. I have been working on this ever since their break up last year and in many ways I have been preparing for it all my life. Even if it changes just one person’s mind then all my hard work will have been…Actually no scrap that. One person is not enough! So Next Time…Whether you like it or not…Girls Aloud: A Retrospective