It stands for popular, you know...
Added on 15th October 2004
Feature courtesy of 'The Rope Technique', Written by Graeme
"Today we're going to talk about pop music." The very mention of the word pop has probably got half of you running for the hills. For those who stayed, congratulations - you win a prize. (Note, the prize is one of these metaphorical things - you don't actually get anything. Except piece of mind, which is very important.)
Did they start it?
Ask most people what they think about pop music and they'll probably tell you it's the spawn of Satan himself (or Pete Waterman, but is there any difference?), and it's the reason their favourite band can't get into the charts. It wasn't always like this though, pop music used to be great. From Good Vibrations by the Beach Boys to Tainted Love by Soft Cell, pop music was the ultimate form of music. Three minutes of masterful sounds, lyrics and ideas, wrapped up in a super-production package that EVERYBODY could enjoy. Listen to Video Killed The Radio Star by Buggles right now. Want to know the real reason why your favourite "serious" band can't top the charts? It's because they can't hope to ever produce something as perfect as Trevor Horn did with that song. That statement no doubt angered you, but only because the truth hurts.
Then, almost overnight in the early 90s, pop music became rubbish. Why this happened no-one really knows. You could blame Stock, Aitken and Waterman, but they were only operating in the British market - while the great pop slump occurred worldwide (besides, deep down you love at least one of the songs the Hit Factory put out). You could blame all the boybands that appeared in the wake of Take That's success, and all the girl groups trying to imitate the Spice Girls' success, but boy and girl groups existed throughout the 60s, 70s and 80s as well. Anyway, getting back on topic, the vast majority of pop was of a dire standard for the vast majority of the 90s, relying on either generic synth beats, horrible ballads or - worst of all - the "serious" acoustic sing-a-long (you know exactly the sort of toe curling effort I mean.).
In the 21st century however, it has all came full circle. Kickstarted by American super-producers like The Neptunes and Timbaland, pop music has become an art-form again. All of a sudden great pop music is slowly taking back the charts from the evil clutch of generic dance music (which I hope we can all agree IS the spawn of Satan). If you're scoffing as you read this, and still think all pop music is rubbish, then please do genuinely try some of the following, as I present to you:
Ten Classic Pop Songs Of The 21st Century So Far!
10. Destiny's Child - Survivor
The most driven and successful girl group of the modern era, Destiny's Child have always had a pretty good wheat to chaff ratio. However, it wasn't all smiles and laughs in the camp. Having spent much of 2000 in court dealing with a fairly ugly and public band line-up change, they needed Survivor to be something special to make their big comeback a success. It didn't disappoint. A frantic, and hugely addictive, skittering beat powered a thinly veiled (actually, not veiled at all) attack on their former band mates. The chorus is the single best thing they ever done as a group, and then there's that fantastic cascading harmony part halfway through. The best was yet to come from Miss Knowles, however.
Best Bit: 00:25 - 00:48 a relentless stream of venomous reasons why they are better without "someone". This wasn't at all an attack on LeToya Luckett and LaTavia Robertson. Not at all.
9. Sugababes - Freak Like Me
For some reason, over the past couple years the Sugababes have become the pop group it's acceptable to like. Everyone, regardless of musical alignment, can admit to liking at least one Sugababes song. Chances are it's Freak Like Me, aka the Gary Numan one. Freak Like Me didn't pioneer the "bootleg" pop song, but it certainly kicked off the boom. Built around the unforgettable riff of Gary Numan's "Are Friends Electric?", and featuring a vocal performance they'll never top, it's a streetwise upfront take on the "girl power" theme the Spice Girls used to peddle (though the Spice Girls never used to extoll the virtues of night long sex or bemoan men who couldn't keep up with them). Some people will tell you Round Round was a better single. Don't listen to them.
Best Bit: 00:43 - 00:54 the first time you hear that magical chorus line. It won't leave your head till the day you die.
8. So Solid Crew - 21 Seconds (Single Version)
Forget all the bad behaviour and the gangster posing, the So Solid Crew had pop sensibilities at heart, and they should have conquered the world putting out songs like this. The premise was simple, but hugely effective - each member had 21 seconds at the mic to rap over an incredibly brilliant garage beat. The full length version is a bit bloated, but the single version (2:44 in length) is cut down to near perfection, centered around Kaish's simply wonderful "I got 21 seconds to go" chorus, and featuring stellar performances from Lisa Maffia, Harvey and Romeo. It was all downhill from here (jail, a murder at a gig, being effectively banned from touring nationwide, oh and don't forget blowing it with the second album), but for this one brief moment they seemed untouchable.
Best Bit: 00:00 - 00:21 Kaish delivers his 21 seconds of pure magic, over the garage beat to end all garage beats.
7. Rachel Stevens - Sweet Dreams My LA Ex
Yeah, so S-Club 7 were pretty rubbish. Someone, however, decided that Rachel Stevens was going to be the next big thing as a solo artist, and gave her this incredible slice of pop genius to launch her solo career. A non-stop rollercoaster of ex-boyfriend baiting lyrics and tumbling melodies, it seems to comprised of at least four separate songs weaved together. There's the Spanish guitar bit, the bouncy synth bit, the harmony bit, the over-the-top brass bit, and then a sudden finish that leaves you thinking "What the hell was that?". A pity, then, that her next single was the atrocious Funky Dory.
Best Bit: 00:44 - 00:58 The first of the many "If I were in your shoes . . ." bits. Fantastic.
6. Justin Timberlake - Rock Your Body
Not unlike Rachel Stevens above, when it came to launching Justin Timberlake's solo career he was given the absolute best songwriting and production teams in order to try and turn him into the new Michael Jackson. The jury's still out, but another couple songs of this caliber would be just the job. In an ironic twist, Rock Your Body was apparently rejected by Michael Jackson for his 2001 comeback Invincible. Well, Jacko's loss was everyone elses gain, as Rock Your Body is a simply irresistible slice of R 'n' B pop. Every last note has been scientifically chosen to make the human body dance, and Timberlake's voice shines greater than it ever did in his previous career.
Best Bit: 01:34 - 01:44 That fantastic " . . . pass to the left, sail to the right" bridge.
5. Jamelia - Thank You
This is simply leagues ahead of anything else here in terms of the actual songwriting. Driven by a tasty clipped organ sound, and bolstered by that voice, it's one of the best pop songs by a British solo artist you'll hear all decade. The idea is easy enough - Jamelia is thanking an ex for all the ways in which she is better without him - but it's delivered in such an incredible way, particularly the superb "you hit, you spit . . ." bridge and the incredible chorus that features a career vocal performance. The follow up single, See It In A Boys Eyes, was written by Chris Martin of Coldplay. It's nowhere near as good as this.
Best Bit: 01:33 - 02:02 The full chorus, complete with the "Thankyou" section immediately afterwards.
4. Britney Spears - Toxic
It's hard to believe it now, but Britney Spears' music career was in major trouble shortly before Toxic. Alright, she'd never had any critical success, but now she was beginning to falter on the commercial front as well. Praise be, then, for whoever gave her this piece of magic. Not only is Toxic the best thing she's ever done by a country mile, it also single handedly revitalised her career in the process. What makes it so great? Almost everything - the dramatic string sample, the dance production, an incredible vocal performance, that brilliant tension raising break before the chorus, the great chorus itself, and let's not forget Cathy Dennis' brilliant songwriting. A worldwide smash, it has upped the bar for for everyone. Trouble is, how is she ever going to top this?
Best Bit: 00:54 - 01:24 A few seconds respite from the relentless beats, then all hell breaks loose.
3. Natasha Bedingfield - These Words
Daniel Bedingfield's little sister already had a very good debut single under her belt (with "Single"), but that was nothing compared to this. Elements of hip-hop production mixed with some clever songwriting, and all held together by one of the best hooks you'll ever hear. Long parts of the song are simply a drum machine and vocals, but the vocals are so strong you don't even realise how simple it all is, and then that hook hits you. Over and over again. And then there's the chorus - strings fly around, vocals are doubled or even tripled up, and the listener is attacked with a flurry of "I Love You" over and over. If you don't think this is one of the best pop songs you've ever heard, you need new ears.
Best Bit: 01:06 - 01:26 No matter what excellent things your favourite band do, they'll never make something quite like that.
2. Kelis - Milkshake
This is just absolutely brilliant. There's little else to say. Every single sound, every single vocal part, and that strangely brilliant high pitched bell that sounds all the way through, it all works together to form an absolute pop masterpiece. Hypnotic, relentless and simply sublime. You could sit down and analyse what "milkshake" actually means (one suspects it's something filthy), but you're better off just basking in the brilliance of it all. This is the best pop song this century, almost . . .
Best Bit: 00:18 - 00:36 This section in particular is just effortlessly brilliant.
1. Beyonce Knowles - Crazy In Love
Here it is, then. The best pop song of the 21st Century so far. This is it - absolute perfection. One of the most brilliantly realised pop songs ever made, it's just the absolute master. People were expecting something special from Beyonce to launch her solo attempt at super stardom, but no-one could have predicted something like this. From the opening seconds to the charged finish, it's absolutely relentless. Not one second is wasted, not one sound not put to use. When Jay-Z pops up half-way through you fear for the worst, but he ends up putting in such a miraculous performance that actually improves the song, rather than dragging it down as expected. A true one-off, Miss Knowles could record music till she's 100 and she'll still never touch this. Magic.
Best Bit: 00:00 - 03:55 Every last second.
(PS - Before anyone emails me berating the omission of Can't Get You Out Of My Head by Kylie or Just Like A Pill by Pink, there were only ten slots - and I feel I put the best ten in! See also - Christina Aguilera, Girls Aloud and the Scissor Sisters)
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