Last week I was trying and failing to find something to watch across streaming services when I landed on a series called This Is Pop! This was a short series filmed in 2021 by the Canadian crew Banger Films, responsible for Metal Evolution, originally Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey and many other quality documentaries.
I did not watch the whole series and I probably won’t, but one was really interesting to me – Hail Britpop! This recounts that brief but lovely time in British music when a bunch of different forces converged to reshape the English music scene, and at least one act broke out internationally. So I figured I’d go over the episode a bit and also run down the Battle of Britpop, which was discussed in some detail on the show.
The show depicted Britpop as a movement of rather different music interests, ranging from alt-rock to shoegaze and other forms, that would fit together to express a uniquely English musical identity in the early 1990’s. While Suede is generally credited with the birth of Britpop, the show paints Blur as the main culprits. Alex James and David Rowntree of Blur both give pretty insightful interviews for the episode.
The consensus is that Blur were on tour in America and were lamenting the lack of English identity in music, which at the time was very much under the thumb of American grunge. Blur returned from the tour and recorded their seminal Parklife album, which celebrated British culture and made them superstars. The fact that some of Parklife was a sneer at that same British culture rather than a celebration was left out of the show.
Once Blur went over, it was open season for the British music press for anything Britpop. The show does a great job of painting the music press as the actual main purveyor of Britpop – this wasn’t a codified music scene with a common sound and characteristics, this was a bunch of different bands grouped together because they sounded British and were generally more cheery than the alt-rock of the day. Members from bands like Lush and Echobelly give interviews to this effect.
The show does make what I assume is a joke, that one day a heavy metal band changed their attire and “became” a Britpop band. I don’t know of any such act who actually did that, if one did I’d be happy to know who it was. But even if the show made the point in exaggerating fashion, it was true that there was a hop on the press-driven bandwagon of Britpop.
While Blur were the early winners of the Britpop phenomenon and it was largely a London-based scene, most everyone who was alive at the time knows what eventually happened – a group of sneering lads from Manchester came along and stole the spotlight.
The part of Oasis in the episode is represented by Alan McGee, the head of Creation Records and the man responsible for signing Oasis to their record deal. The introduction of Oasis also brings about the North-South divide in England – the south being more posh and the north more working class and perhaps grim. Blur would come to represent the south aesthetic while Oasis would carry the torch for the working people of the north. While this depiction is true to some degree, it’s also a media invention that would fuel the Battle of Britpop in 1995.
The Battle of Britpop was pretty simple – both Blur and Oasis released singles from their new albums on the same day – August 14, 1995. It was billed as a titanic heavyweight fight in the British press, extending far beyond just the music rags. The show offers arguments from both Food Records and Creation Records label heads as well as Blur band members about the choice to release on the same day, note that Blur’s band and record exec stories directly contradict one another on the show.
Blur would come out winners of the Battle of Britpop, as their single Country House outsold the Oasis offering Roll With It. While this temporarily went in Blur’s favor, the show quickly pivots to the runaway success of Wonderwall and the massive sales Oasis would see of their second album (What’s The Story) Morning Glory? Oasis would trounce Blur in full album sales and, while this wasn’t mentioned on the show that I recall, music press even changed reviews of Blur’s The Great Escape after Oasis mania truly took hold.
Just as quickly as Britpop took hold, it would fizzle out. A bit of Oasis’ triumphant Knebworth gigs in 1996 are touched on, this was likely the zenith of Britpop. Oasis’ third album Be Here Now did well out of the gate but landed pretty hard in critical reviews and tends to signal the end of Britpop. Blur also changed tack, actually embracing the American music they’d forsaken years ago and had their big international hit with their self-titled album and especially Song 2.
This wraps up the episode of Hail Britpop! I felt the episode was good, though it did move quick and leave a lot of Britpop out. It nailed the central points of being a press movement and it got the rise of Oasis and the posh/working class clash of the Battle of Britpop right, but a lot of Britpop’s other history was left unaired. Suede, Pulp and Elastica all played big roles in the Britpop phenomenon but were relegated to pictures and small mentions in the show. I don’t intend this to be a huge criticism of the show as I understand the makers were going over the main points in their 45-minute airtime, but I do admit to being more of an admirer of comprehensive coverage.
Overall though, I do think this episode was really good and it’s a nice primer to the main aspects of Britpop for those unfamiliar. I had a good time watching it and reliving a small but very important part of my music listening history. It is a good place to go for those maybe not as vested in the finer points of the Britpop movement but who want an easy to digest version of what all the fuss was about from England in the mid 1990’s.
Since I’ve been writing about Britpop, I figured I would take a moment to link back to some old posts of mine on the subject. I covered Oasis extensively in this site’s early days and I have a few more here and there about the subject so I’ll link up to some relevant stuff below for your further reading pleasure.
Oasis – Definitely Maybe Album of the Week
Oasis – (What’s The Story) Morning Glory Album of the Week
Oasis – Be Here Now Album of the Week
Oasis – Knebworth ’96 Album of the Week
The Importance Of Being Idle – Will Oasis Ever Re-unite?
Oasis – Don’t Look Back In Anger (S-Tier Songs)
Blur – Parklife Album of the Week