Music in the 90s and the search of identity in the UK

Term Paper 2012 15 Pages

Didactics - English - Miscellaneous


Table of Contents

1. Introduction
1.1 Why the 90s?

2. Theories
2.1 NationalIdentity
2.2 Britpop
2.3 Pop and Pop Bands
2.4 Mixing everything: The Prodigy

3. The climax of the 90s: Blur vs. Oasis - North vs. South

4. Solution: Does music represents national identity?

5. Bibliography

1. Introduction

People all over the world have been identifying with music for years. Music has a social quality that is across-the-board[1]. But now only one nation is on focus. Every British decade had its own sound. Looking at the 1960s, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones were dominating the music scene. Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath invented Heavy Metal in the 1970s and also Glam Rock with representatives like Queen and David Bowie started during the 1970s. The 80s as the climax of the Punk Rock movement headed by the Sex Pistols and the upcoming Indie-Rock scene represented by The Cure. Music, now and then, reflects its time, its history and all the changes that passes by[2]. The question of this term paper is, „Does one identity of the British excist? Or are there maybe several identities? Or none?“ And is music the key to find any answers? To analyse this topic many articles in music magazines like the Q magazine, NME, Musikexpress and the Rolling Stone Magazine had to be read but also some songtexts of the outstanding genres during the 90s are offering some insights into the people’s minds.

Furthermore there are some scientists that researched the role of music and the question of identity. Therefore many different positions and views are excisting. Since the everyday pop culture is the centre of this work Tim Edensor’s book „National Identity, Popular Culture and Everyday Life“ will be the main resource of the „science sector“. Additionally there are some scientists like Martin Cloonan who consider that there is some kind of a fusion of the terms „Britishness“ and „Englishness“[3]. But to find out what the normal British citizen was thinking at that time this term paper will mainly focus on everyday popular press and the interpretation of some bestseller lyrics. The theories of the scientists are going to built the frame work for this paper.

1.1 Why the 90s?

So why choosing the Nineties? Unlike the decades before the 90s the music scene ranged from one extreme to another. Everything between Hi-Tech technology music and Lo-Fi records were heard in pubs and clubs by different people[4]. To examine wether there was an national identity or not it is necessary to take a look at everything besides the music scene.

The first question that has to be answered is very simple. When did the 90s start? The historical science gives us one answer. The decade starts on the first day of January und ends on the last one in December. But in our case it is not that easy. If you take a look on the worldwide events you will see that one thing changes. After World War II, that means since 1945, the Cold War between the United States of America and the Sovjet Union took place[5]. More than 40 years the western world was ruled by insecurity. The ending of the Cold War, that means the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989, is at the same time the starting point of the 1990s[6]. A new time had begun. No barriers for people from the East or for people from the West. For the first time in history and especially in European history no country is in a fight with another country. And when you look even closer it emphasises that the 90s were the only period in peace. Just after the millennium, 9/11 has shocked the world and has initiated the suppression of terrorism. A conflict that concerns every person on the world. No matter where he or she lives. But back in 90s nobody could think of this tragedy.

Shortly after the German reunification on 3rd October 1990, the first female Prime Minister Margret Thatcher stepped down[7] and was replaced by John Major. She was Prime Minister since 1979 and a member of the conservative party just like her follower. The new decade was a decade of changes and new challanges people had to deal with. First of all there was the fall of the Berlin Wall as mentioned - the end of the Cold War. John Major becomes Prime Minister after Margret Thatcher. In 1992 the Maastricht Treaty was signed which created the European Union[8]. Beyond politics one very shocking event took place in 1992 - the mad cow disease. Around 37 000 cows died because of this disease and caused an import bann for British beef into 17 countries of the European Union[9]. In the same year the Royal family had to deal with the break­up of Prince Charles and Lady Di. Lady Di represented a new and a young Britain and brightened the image of the Royals. Young people could identify with her and made the Royal family more attractive[10]. Not only this but during the 90s the monarchy was in crisis. The increasing importance of the media became a huge problem for them. The secret and mystical image of the Royals was ruined. Everybody got to know what is going on behind the walls of Buckingham Palace[11]. Lady Di got the idea of using the media to renew the old image and turn it into something useful.

Moreover Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have developped new parliaments and most of the hereditary lords were displaced from the House of Lords[12]. In 1994 Tony Blair became leader of the Labour party. Labour becomes New Labour and Cool Britannia had evolved to a synonyme that stands for the change of mindset in the mid­nineties. Tony Blair also used the position of celebrities and especially of prominent musicians like Noel Gallagher, frontman of the Britpop band Oasis[13]. That shows how important the music industry and the musician himself was and is for a nation. No one would ever identify with a politician but musicians can be role models. Tony Blair got this idea. New adjectives that are associated with Great Britain would have been young and ambitious. Two years later, in 1996, Prince Charles and Diana got divorced. In the same year the re-built Globe theatre Bankside was opened. Above all it is the first state visit of an Irish president to Great Britain. Mark Robinson visited London[14]. Some of the most prominent events in the nineties took place in 1997. First of all it was the year in which Tony Blair and New Labour became Prime Minister of Great Britain with an outstanding victory. Furthermore one of the last colonies - Hong Kong - was assigned back to China. Hong Kong was a British colony since 1842. A very shocking tragedy has befallen in this year, as well. Lady Di died as a result of a car accident in Paris[15]. So many people were in mourning since Diana has been standing for a new and a young Britain. So many people and young girls identified themselves with her[16]. The last event this year that impressed a whole generation was the publication of the first Harry Potter book written by J.K. Rowling[17]. Heading the end of the decade one of Londons most famous sights has begun to spin - the London Eye was opened in 2000. The ending of the decade was as tragical as no one could ever imagine. 9/11 is a memory that no person could forget[18]. The World Trade Center in New York was hit by two kidnapped planes. On this day the world wide fight against terrorism has begun. Two events, one at the beginning and the other at the end of the decade, build a circle around the nineties. Two events that changed everything. The interesting period of time ist the time in between, the decade between these two milestones in history. The Nineties. Is there one British identity? Do people feel British? To become aware of what was going on in the people’s minds the music is a very useful tool. The nineties have provided a potpourri on muisc genres and mash-ups of genres. In the United Kingdom the entertainment industry ist the most important economic factor oft he country. The world market share on the volume on sales in culture is 16 percent. At the same time music ist the most important goods[19].

2. Theories

2.1 National Identity

„I'm not saying that everyone should put on a fake Cockney accent, but I do feel that our culture is under siege.“ - Damon Albarn, Blur (1992)[20]

Working with national identity implies working with culture since culture is expressed by national identity[21]. One important factor for culture and identity ist he printing press and the rise of media in general. National Identity and culture are imagined communities.


[1] Gorisch, Jana: Populär- und Jugendkulturen In: Kastendiek, H. & Sturm, R. (eds.). Länderbericht Großbritannien, Opladen/ Farmington Hills 2007, p. 348.

[2] Zuberi, Nabeel: Listen to Britain: Popular Music and National Identity 1979-1996, Austin 1996, p. 2.

[3] Cloonan, Martin: State of the nation: „Englishness“, pop and politics in the mid-1990s In: http ://www. serdar-hizli-art.com/ art_history/pop_art/pop_englishness .htm access 11.05.2013 17:22 h.

[4] Robb, John: The Nineties. What the f**k was that all about?. The Music The Culture The People The Decade, London 1999, p. 1.

[5] Müller, Helmut: Schlaglichter der deutschen Geschichte, Bonn 1990, p. 321.

[6] Robb, John: The Nineties, p. 6.

[7] Schmidt, Johann: Großbritannien 1945-2010. Kultur, Politik, Gesellschaft, Stuttgart 2011, p. 365.

[8] Schmidt, J.: Großbritannien, p. 374.

[9] Ibid., p. 375.

[10] The Royal Household: Diana, Princess of Wales In: www.royal.gov.uk access 28.04.2013, 14:57 h. AND Schmidt: Großbritannien, p. 410.

[11] Schmidt: Großbritannien, p. 377.

[12] Sturm, Roland: Staatsaufbau und politische Institution In: Kastendiek, H. & Sturm, R. (eds.). Länderbericht Großbritannien, Opladen/ Farmington Hills 2007, p. 135.

[13] Schmidt: Großbritannien, p.398-400.

[14] Schmidt: Großbritannien, p. 374.

[15] Ibid., p. 394-409.

[16] Ibid., p.409-410.

[17] Rowling, J.K.: Harry Potter und der Stein der Weisen In: http://www.jkrowling.com/de_DE/#/zeitlinie/harry-potter-and-the-philosophers-stone access: 11.05.2013 15:05 h.

[18] Schmidt: Großbritannien, p. 376.

[19] Sturm, Roland: Bildung und Kultur In: Informationen zur politischen Bildung, Nr. 262, Bonn 2008, p. 55.

[20] Hind, John: Did I say that? In: http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2010/jan/24/did-i-say-that-damon-albarn access: 01.10.2013, 17:44.

[21] Edensor, Tim: National Identity, Popular Culture and Everyday Life, Oxford/New York 2002, p. 2.


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ISBN (Book)
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University of Bonn – Institut für Anglistik, Amerikanistik und Keltologie
Music identity UK Great Britain BritPop Blur vs. Oasis 1990s



Title: Music in the 90s and the search of identity in the UK