If you ask common people out on the street what the term 'Britpop' is about, they would certainly follow the word's literal presumable concept and describe it vaguely as a popular style of music produced by British bands, singers and songwriters. In addition to that, they perhaps would further outline it as a moderate mainstream scene that is rather un-ubtrusive and far away from wild times of rock'n'roll and punk. In some parts, those general images are true, but in others they are not because the 'Britpop' scene indeed has a clear spi-rit, what their music should be like. The fact is that it is much harder to find a suitable defi-nition for which kind of social movement 'Britpop' stands for, as in the past as well as hi-therto now, there were no radical scandals and strict political ideals their followers fought for. However, generally speaking 'Britpop' can nevertheless be contoured as the realisation of a musical and cultural attitude that expresses a tendency for conservative and slightly na-tional patriotic traditions in England.
First of all, before explaining the roots and cultural bonds of this type of music with its listeners and the situation in society, it is important to mention that the possible mislea-ding technical term 'Britpop' should be virtually renamed into 'Engpop' as Derek B. Scott states in his article on “The Britpop Sound” (103). The problem here is simply that almost all musical groups, either back in the 1960 and 70s, or in the 90s and later, who coined the 'Britpop' culture, actually came from England and not from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. That is why this English-centred kind of music has in fact nothing to do with Great Britain and furthermore as it is quite difficult and unclear to highlight any specific English characteristics (Scott 104), which the other parts (Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland), for-ming Great Britain, do not have, people therefore often use both expressions synonymous- ly. The truth even is that independent music groups from Scotland and Wales deliberately rejected being lumped together with the proud popular English 'Britpop' culture which de-monstrated an exemplary process of slowly losing, its same earstwhile, original marker as an independent and not commercialised branch of music (Percival 123). Though, to con-clude the problem of the term 'Britpop' and why it is called like that, it can only be justified as an arbitrary denotation (Bennett 24) based on Saussure who brought up the concept of 'signifier' and 'signified' (Kessel/Reimann 133). According to that idea, a certain object or matter receives any sequence of morphemes, which however has no deeper reason why it is named that way. Also the linguists Ogden and Richards have shown in their model of semi-otics that there is a fixed connection between the speaker and a vision and there is one bet-ween the concept and the vision, but there is merely a lose tie between the concept and the spea-ker (Kessel/Reimann 134). Hence, this explains why 'Britpop' could also be called 'Eng-pop', as each person has its own realised picture in mind. Another reason is that the field of media is often responsible for largely spreading notions and so it came that 'Britpop' has as well been coinded by BBC 2 broadcasters who named one of their music shows “Britpop Now” and by the British Music Industry who launched the “Brit Awards”, an event honou-ring the best performers in the music business (Bennett 14-15). In this way, the indepen-dent scene of the past has meanwhile become a popular epitome for a typical English mu-sical sound, called 'Britpop'.
The high time of 'Britpop' was roughly to be found in the mid 90s, 1993-1997, of the 20th century (Scott 111) and at the same time, back then, it was mainly represented by the two groups, Oasis and Blur. The characteristical features of especially live performan-ces, the pure sound of accoustic guitars and drums, emphasising the singer's voice (Bennett 14) and the remarkable melodious passages (Bennett 23) within the songs built a bridge over to the past, when the Beatles started their career (Silverton). As they were one of the first bands introducing that musical style in the 60s, they had in a certain way a pioneer role embodying the honest and traditional kind of handmade instrumental sounds. Essentially, 'Britpop' is the overall contrast to the appearing counterwaves of grunge by Nirvana and all the different styles of techno which were almost exclusively created by synthetic computer sounds (Bennett 14). In this context the ex-Beatle Paul McCartney once mentioned that 'Britpop' bands like Oasis “they are doing it, they are not Take That, they are not miming and dancing – which is exactely the bag we came from” (Huq 93). This indicates that music groups like Oasis, who come from a working-class background, e.g. in the industrial north of England (Silverton) are still down-to-earth handling their instruments and not concentra-ting on the performance of elaborated dancing choreographies, which were commonly pre-sented from various later boygroups and girlgroups. To some extent, such reactions were definitely meant to express the transfiguration and nostalgia of the old days and to bring back the “lost innocence” as Michael Bracewell claims in his essay. In addition to that, Blur also acknowleged this attitude by transporting the message “Modern Life is Rubbish” on one of their records (Bracewell). Such a clear and upright statement might indicate a strong tone of revolution, but in fact Blur's lead singer Damon Albarn (Silverton) admits “I'm not that good but I'm not that bad / No psycho killer, hooligan guerilla” and for him it is only a “dream to riot” (Blur – On your own). Of course, “Britpop” should apparently represent a position that is not fully accepting everything, like the international invading music scene slopping over from the United States as well as a readily adjustment to the European Union (Collinson 136), but they are not protesting anymore against governmental orientations. That is in turn a phenomenon, which was left with the indie (independent) culture of the 80s (Huq 93). In the same way, as the 'Britpop' culture appeares in a much smoother mood than the youth groups before did, when Tony Blair gets into power in 1997, he also changed the Labour party from “protest to […] government” (Huq 93). So, the unbiased, autochtho-nic and light “La la, la la la” (Blur – For tomorrow) attitude threaded its way through the entire English and British society, in music as well as in politics.
Inspite of this seemingly naive way of life, 'Britpop' supporters were indeed encou-raged by their idols to develop their own personality and syncronically setting their heart on traditional and nearly conservative values. Unlike the noise making punk, dance, techno and rave scene, the 'Britpop' culture was also called 'dadrock' because as Rupa Huq reveals, even parents, who normally have a different view on certain aspects than their children, did not “have a problem at all accepting Britpop home for tea” (95). One could easily think that this was a time of social resignation not to riot and complain about anything, but perhaps all the decades of revolting before triggered the new longing for bethinking of the normal daily and traditional life where everyone gets the chance to live out a peaceful and nevertheless free life. In connection to that attitude, Blur refers to this cosy normality: “All the people / So many people / They all go hand in hand / Hand in hand trough their parklife”. Besides, feeding “the pigeons” and “the sparrows” also “gives [them] a sense of enormous well-being”, which makes “them happy for the rest of the day” (Blur - Parklife). These lines in-dicate as if everything was perfect, while going out for a walk in the nature and watching around while time goes by. In order to honour “pretty England”, they as well mixed in some geographical places of Britain, like “Blackpool”, “Thyne”, “Thames” and “land's end” (Blur – This is a low). By writing such lyrics, they attest that there must have been a strong social bond to these old traditions and the traces of a slight inner patriotic hailing are also aspects that cannot be denied when listening to those songs.
Indeed there would be a lot more details to mention about the English 'Britpop' scene. However, the main point in that kind of musical culture is surely the fact that there was a tendency against multiculturalism, which became noticible by excluding other gen-res, e.g. house, black music and hip-hop (Bennett 21) in favor of a “white male generation” (Collinson 166) that also sometimes reduced women only as “babes” and “sex objects” (Whiteley 56). All the same, the whole era in the mid-90s was relatively moderate and less coing by any kinds of anti-racist movements. Great Britain has ever had a unique status within the European Union as well as in the whole world, as they simply like to show their deep-rooted patriotic way of life – furthermore, as it is always dependent on how far they go in practicing it, if it remains on an average justifiable level like in the 'Britpop' scene, then a touch of conservative and traditional lifestyle can as well turn out as a sympathetic feature the whole country of Great Britain is usually known for and loved for.
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- University of Regensburg – Institut für Anglistik und Amerikanistik
- Britpop Uni Regensburg Anglistik Landeskunde Cultural Studies British and Irish Cultural Studies British Studies Great Britain Großbritannien British Music Essay Blur Oasis