La Musique Pop Britannique BritPop


The major Britpop bands: Oasis, Pulp, Blur, Suede, Radiohead, Ocean Colour Scene and one of the cult figures of rock 'n roll music - John Lennon

Britpop is a British alternative rock movement from the mid 90s, characterised by the appearance of bands influenced heavily by the 60s and the 70s, creating big and catchy hooks, as well as the glamour of earlier pop stardom. Although incredibly popular from about 1994-1996, it has been criticised for its lack of innovation but is recognised as being the soundtrack to many people's teenage years.

The movement developed as a reaction against various musical trends in the late 80s and early 90s. Dance music, Acid House and the rise of Hip-Hop had led to an interest in more groove, rhythm-led songs in British pop music that people could dance to. The best example of this mix was the Happy Mondays, who managed to take this melting pot of influences to play funky, dance-based music while still being recognisably an indie band with instruments.

Classic guitar music floundered. The "shoegazing" movement in the late '80s responded by producing long, psychedelic, repetitive songs, strongly influenced by My Bloody Valentine but as the name suggests, live performances tended to be exercises in endurance. After this there was a short, but crucial, movement termed the "New Wave of New Wave", which produced mainly derivative bands but which was crucial in re-orientating British pop towards "classic" songwriting.

The key galvanising influence on Britpop, however, was American Grunge. Following the American invasion led by Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden, British acts were thrown on the defensive and felt they had to respond. A key reason why Britpop was so upbeat and catchy was a response to the negativity of Grunge music. Americans threw down the gauntlet, and British acts now had to prove they were in the same league musically.


Britpop groups were primarily influenced by the music of the 60s and 70s, particularly Rock cornerstones like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin. Classic Mod bands like The Who, The Kinks and The Small Faces were also cited as influences.

Another source were 70s glam idols such as David Bowie, T. Rex, Roxy Music, as well as punk and new wave artists like The Sex Pistols, Talking Heads, The Clash, The Jam, Madness, XTC, and Elvis Costello. The indie (independent) rock outfits of the 80s exemplified by The Smiths, Echo and the Bunnymen, The Cure, The Jesus and Mary Chain, even U2 and R.E.M. and were cited too. While it was always regarded as a betrayal of indie to aim for a catchy tune and commercial success this was beginning to change.

It should also be noted that late 80s and early 90s acts, like ex-Jam frontman Paul Weller and particularly, The Stone Roses, were also incredibly influential.


The Modfather and Modern Life is Rubbish (1991 - 1993)

Weller in particular is praised as the founder and initiator of the movement. His solo records Paul Weller (1991) and Wild Wood (1993) are considered seminal forces. His influence over Britpop, coupled with his love of Mod music, had earned him the nickname "The Modfather". Weller even performed with some of the bands, including playing guitar on Oasis' "Champagne Supernova" and using members of Ocean Colour Scene as his touring band.

Whereas Weller brought the key ingredient of "Mod" to what would become Britpop, Blur brought several other factors. Without the media attention and chart success that would later follow, Blur's 1993 album Modern Life Is Rubbish slowly shifted the British sound away from shoegazing music, to a quirky pop sound. In hindsight, the writing and sound of Modern Life Is Rubbish contained many of the lyrical themes, chord changes, harmonies, and decidedly British singing which would later become recognised as "Britpop".

Cool Britannia and Britpop (1994 - middle-1996)

Apart from the musical movements already described there were various demographic and sociological elements which helped create the right environment for such resurgence at this time.

The mid -90's were a perfect time for some nostalgia. England had won the World Cup in 1966. The European Football Championships were held in England in 1996. It was the 30th anniversary of The Beatles and The Stones being at their peak. It is no accident that about 25 to 30 years on from the "Swinging Sixties", "Beatlemania" and the first British pop explosion, there was a renewed interest in the same type of music. The children of the sixties generation hadn't been around at the time but by now had had the time to grow up, absorb their parents' record collections and be in bands themselves. It became cool to be British and "Cool Britannia" was born, coming to its height in 1997 when 20 years of Conservative rule were ended by a young new Labour Prime Minister, Tony Blair. In short, Britain was enjoying a revival, artistically, politically and economically.

The term "Britpop" had been used as early as 1987 (in "Sounds" magazine referring to bands such as The Las, Stone Roses and the Inspiral Carpets). "Britpop" arose around the same time as the term "Britart" (which referred to the work of British modern artists such as Damien Hirst). But it wouldn't be until 1995 when the term exploded and was used extensively by NME, Melody Maker, Select, and Q Magazine. The word subsequently entered the mainstream media. Its influence was recognised by an article in the Guardian by the editors of the Oxford English Dictionary declaring "Britpop" as the new word which best exemplified 1995. "Britpop" was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 1997.

Fans of Britpop are divided over which album kick-started the movement. Oasis' breakthrough debut Definitely Maybe (1994), Blur's third album Parklife (1994) and Suede's self-titled (1993) debut are all contenders. These albums defined the movement and paved the way for many other acts. Britpop hysteria rapidly gained huge media and fan attention in Britain, Western Europe and some parts of the U.S.

The movement was as much about British pride, media hype and imagery as it was about the particular style of music. Suede (known in America as "London Suede") was the first of the new crop of guitar-oriented bands to be completely embraced by the UK music media as Britain's answer to Seattle's grunge sound. Their self-titled first album was released in March 1993, and became the fastest-selling debut album in the history of the UK. In April 1993, Select Magazine helped spark the upswing in British pride by featuring Suede's lead singer Brett Anderson on the cover with a Union Jack in the background and the words 'Yanks go home!' on the cover. In 1994 and 1995 other Britpop and similar style acts started to appear - Mansun, Elastica, Radiohead, The Lightening Seeds, The Verve, Supergrass, Primal Scream, The Boo Radleys, Pulp, Cast, Suede, Space and The Divine Comedy. Some of them were new, others already established acts who benefited from association with the movement.

In 1995 the Britpop movement reached its zenith. The famous "Battle of Britpop" found Blur and Oasis as prime contenders for the title "Kings of Britpop". Spurred on by the media, the "Battle" was headed by two groups - Oasis' brothers Noel and Liam Gallagher representing the North of England, and from Blur, Damon Albarn and Alex James representing the South. This "Battle" was epitomised when, after some back-handed marketing, Oasis' Single "Roll with it" and Blur's "Country House" were released in the same week. The event caught the public's imagination and gained mass media attention - even featuring on the BBC News. In the end, Blur won, selling 274,000 copies to Oasis' 216,000 - the songs charting at number 1 and number 2 respectively. However, in the long-run, Oasis' album (What's the Story) Morning Glory won the popular vote over Blur's The Great Escape. In the UK, What's the Story spent over three times as long on the charts (a total of three years) and outsold Blur's album over four to one, selling over eighteen million copies. Oasis' second album is widely considered to be the definitive Britpop album capturing the essence of the attitude and the Cool Britannia movement.

The Britpop movement was also symbolised in 1994-1995 by the outwardly happy, poppy sing-along summer anthems of such bands as Dodgy's "Staying Out for the Summer", Supergrass' "Alright", Sleeper's "Inbetweener", The Boo Radleys' "Wake Up Boo" and Echobelly's "Great Things". Although the majority of the bands associated with Britpop were English, there were exceptions. Super Furry Animals, Catatonia, Gorky's Zygotic Mynci, Manic Street Preachers and Stereophonics were Welsh. This even led native media to call the rise of Welsh Bands "Cool Cymru" an answer to "Cool Britannia". Others like, Travis and Belle and Sebastian were Scottish. There were also Irish acts - Sinéad O'Connor, Dropkick Murphys, and The Cranberries - not forgetting the infamous Gallagher brothers were Irish descendants. Thus the movement and Britpop hysteria engulfed not just one province or city; it wrapped the entire region and was established as a definitive British movement in musical and spiritual ways.

Britpop weakens (late-1996 - 1998)

In late 1996, the movement and hysteria started to subside due to high expectations, burnout and drug fuelled lives among the bands - common traits from the inspirational acts of the 60s and 70s. It received some late impetus from Radiohead and The Verve, who hadn't previously been considered to be Britpop acts with their respective 1997 albums OK Computer and Urban Hymns, both of which were widely acclaimed.

Other acts including Suede, Pulp, Supergrass and Cornershop made some challenging records, but Britpop was on the way out. Initiators like Oasis and Blur turned their backs on the movement. Be Here Now, Oasis' third album, although selling strongly to a still loyal fanbase, attracted strong criticism from critics and record-buyers for its overproduced sound, characterised with endless guitar riffs and lack of originality in the songs. Blur's self-titled fifth effort was very well received like their previous two, because it showcased a natural evolution for the band, unlike Oasis, but it did, however mark a departure from the familiar British rock style of Parklife and The Great Escape and a lurch towards American music in the style of Pavement.

Noel Gallagher's appearance at a Downing Street party in 1997, with the newly-elected Prime Minister Tony Blair, was widely criticised as a betrayal of rock music's anti-establishment traditions. It seemed clear that the movement had lost its way.

Fall of the Britpop (1998 - 1999)

Eventually, by the late 90s, the movement was considered to be a spent force musically. The transitional figure here was an ex-member of boy band, Take That. Robbie Williams had his first number 1 hit in 1998. He owed much to Britpop. He initially modelled himself and his music on the bands and that style, famously befriending the Gallaghers and appearing in public with them as much as possible. Many of his songs were co-written with Guy Chambers (ex of Britpop band "The Lemon Trees") Overall though, Williams represented a move away from rock back towards pop in the music buying public's taste. By the year 2000, girl and boy bands like Sugababes, S Club 7 and Westlife dominated the charts, and thus Britpop was effectively over as the nation's favourite music.

Despite this fall, however, a few established acts like Oasis, Radiohead, Blur and Supergrass continued to make music and still enjoyed relative popularity among fans and critics. Blur continued to move away from Britpop with their subsequent releases. Oasis remained popular amongst their loyal fanbase, but later albums failed to achieve the heights previously set.

The Second Wave (2000 - present)

A decade later some veteran Britpoppers as well as several bands of the new guard: Blur, Radiohead, Muse, Keane, Oasis, Travis and Coldplay

Suede soldiered on; releasing two more albums, but eventually broke up in 2003. Pulp entered in a big hiatus and The Verve, after losing key guitarist Nick McCabe, also split, although their frontman Richard Ashcroft subsequently forged a successful solo career. Radiohead, never the most strongly associated band with the movement, radically changed their sound with subsequent records and abandoned all pretence of being a Britpop style band.

Not so long after the initial wave died, new groups started to appear in early 2000. Bands like Muse, Travis and Coldplay drew inspiration from the earlier sound. Albums such as Showbiz and Absolution (Muse), Parachutes and A Rush of Blood to the Head (Coldplay), and The Man Who and The Invisible Band (Travis) showed Britpop influences to a lesser or greater extent. In 2003 and 2004 new bands such as Athlete, Doves, Franz Ferdinand and Kasabian all showed Britpop influences in their work. Other acts like Elbow, The Libertines and Keane have also come to the fore with music influenced by Oasis and Radiohead, as well as earlier bands such as The Clash and U2.

In a similar style these new acts follow their inspirational bands' attitude of attacking each other in the press, sometimes hitting out at "old-timers", even resulting in division between old fans and new ones. As it seems Britpop is still alive and considering the on-going success of past and new acts - it's unlikely to disappear.

Even if the innovation and the original roots are no longer the same, the music continues to survive. In fact it's probable that more new acts will start to appear, proving that the Second Wave of Britpop has developed as a stand-alone movement and the British pop tradition will continue for a few years yet.

Adapted from wikipedia