It’s 20 years this year – this week, according to the BBC – since the start of Britpop. If you were born in 1984, your relationship to this anniversary depends on how old you were when you started buying music and devouring popular culture. To friends of mine who didn’t take much notice of such things til they were 15 or 16, Britpop hardly means anything. But if you’re like me – as in, you learned the lyrics to The Cure’s Friday I’m In Love off by heart aged 8 in 1992 – Britpop is probably your soundtrack to hitting puberty; the equivalent of a first love. I’m not sure which song got me first: Suede’s Stay Together or Blur’s Girls and Boys. But by secondary school I was enjoying Oasis, Blur, Pulp, Garbage and Suede alongside all the usual chart pop 11-14 year-olds are supposed to like. And, as you’ll know if you follow me on Twitter, where I have been babbling about it no end, all the special programmes have made me nostalgic as hell.
Of course, like all first loves do, Britpop quickly broke my heart. It got tired, full of itself and cliched and, horrors, politicians got involved. My track-record at interacting with people who were at the sharp end of things during the Britpop era is also rather mixed. I wrote my first ever journalistic profile piece – aged 18 – on someone who was briefly famous in the mid-late 90s, lived near Camden, and had even had the ultimate accolade of being a guest on TFI Friday. I say ‘accolade’ – a typically animated Chris Evans greeted her by manhandling her, then, after her dress had nearly fallen off, asked several un-illuminating questions about her home-decorating plans, punctuated by Benny Hill-level innuendo. By the time I met her in 2001, she was basically a no-one as far as anyone else was concerned (the first search for her name plus TFI Friday brings up a listings page with a comment “I can’t remember who she is???” ). Near the end of a hopeful, fawning interview, I brought up her TFI appearance and asked “So, do you think Chris is a total arse, then?” (I was 18; my verbal-finessing capabilities under pressure are what you’d call erratic…) expecting her to concur. She answered: “No. No, I don’t, actually,” and went on to explain that she’d met him through her ex-boyfriend’s mates, and how variously lovely and generous he was. As we were leaving the bar afterwards, we bumped into an acquaintance of hers. “That was Chris Evans’s best friend,” she told me. Awkward.
She also told me, fairly candidly and interestingly, about the impact the sudden tabloid fame and intrusion had on her life. Her tales of red-top woe are very similar to what Justine Frischmann from Elastica describes in this Miranda Sawyer documentary about Britpop and the media. Remembering it now leaves me quite conflicted. On one hand, it’s dreadful that anyone has PVC-clad photoshoots written into their work contract, or has to endure the likes of a journalist ringing up their confused grandma pretending to be an old schoolfriend, former bosses from summer jobs selling snide titbits to sexist trade papers, or being papped in the supermarket after an operation. Then again, a year of indignity made her (and Justine, and others too, probably) enough money to live comfortably and anonymously for the next two decades. She’s 43 this year. At the age of 30, when we met, she was living in a circa £700K Edwardian house in North London. I’m 30 in two months’ time and I live…well, you probably know. Should I feel sorry for her? The eff should I.
Anyway, I’ll leave the shoulder-chip and cross-generational social commentary for another time (and for my book…). Twelve years on from my shonky foray into celebrity journalism, and two decades on since Britpop, I love the classic singles as much as ever, and more. Just as a lot of drama and literature seems more relevant and poignant with age, there’s a lot of music I appreciate now in a way I was much too young to in its heyday. The Oasis swagger is one only someone who’s old enough to have just finished degree Finals, or filed a monster of a piece can best appreciate. Similarly, Suede’s sexual ambiguity, Blur’s melancholy and the caustic bite of, well, every Pulp song ever. There’s a new level of love for Jarvis Cocker lyrics achievable when someone behaves like a prize pillock towards you, then buys you a ticket to a Pulp reunion gig as an apology, and you don’t really want to go with him but an overriding part of you feels you have to because the situation sounds so much like a lost Pulp song, you can’t not. I even have a soft spot for poor old Kula Shaker, for reasons succinctly to do with Men, but I’m going to limit my overshares to two-per-blog post and stop there…
Britpop Tips: If you ever want to buy me a book (or a Kindle voucher), make it Tracey Thorn’s Bedsit Disco Queen. Don’t read Pearl Lowe’s autobiography. I read someone’s copy in the staff kitchen at my old job. It’s a drug-hell memoir, soul-destroying even by the standards of drug-hell memoirs. And if you want a good Britpop compilation, ditch the retrospective playlists, hit eBay or the record stores, and buy an authentic one, like mine below, from 1996: