Thursday, November 17, 2005

A sour note

BBC2's documentary series 'Girls And Boys - Sex And British Pop' ended on Sunday with the final installment, devoted to the 90s, a disappointment to me for a number of reasons.

The main one, perhaps inevitably given my prejudices, was the mostly uncritical reflections on the Britpop period. Justine Frischmann, whose band's self-titled first album I really quite liked (especially 'Stutter'), unwittingly summed the phenomenon up by saying it was inspired by a hatred of American bands and a desire to hark back to the English pop tradition. That's precisely why I disliked Britpop at the time - the narrow-mindedness, the shallow jingoism, the insistence on seeing everything through Union-Jack-tinted glasses. Johnny Marr was one of the lone dissenting voices, commenting (I think very astutely) that he saw it as the final flowering of Thatcher's Britain rather than something inextricably associated with the emergence of New Labour.

And, of course, if Britpop was all about "keeping it real" and asserting one's own identity, then why did the frontman of the archetypal Britpop band, Blur, continually persist in affecting Cockneyisms and indulging in - as one talking head put it - "class tourism", most obviously exemplified in the trips to the dogs and the new-found discovery of football? It was forced. And the programme also completely ignored Graham Coxon's passion for American alternative rock, no doubt because it failed to fit the narrative - a narrative which, incredibly, found some intellectual and artistic merit in 'Country House' and its pathetic video.

I was equally nettled by the dismissive statement that grunge was the preserve of the unreconstructed, macho and overtly heterosexual man - a point illustrated with footage of Pearl Jam performing 'Alive' - whereas the sexuality of British rock and pop, by contrast, was more androgynous and confused. So Nicky Wire wore a dress and Brett Anderson made ludicrous statements like "I'm a bisexual man who has never had a homosexual experience" (for a more positive appraisal of Anderson's contribution to 90s music and culture, see here). But that conveniently ignores the fact that there was another side to grunge - Kurt Cobain wearing a dress, the affiliation and affection he felt with the K Records / Olympia scene and Scottish indie bands like The Vaselines and The Pastels.

Lastly, it would have been good to have had less attention devoted to the Spice Girls - massive though shallow cultural impact that they had - and at least some to the early 90s riot grrrl movement which, if not as significant here as it was in the US (with bands like Bikini Kill and Babes In Toyland), nevertheless mattered at least insomuch as it helped launch the careers of artists like Polly Harvey.

Still, having said all that, it was ultimately an enjoyable and engaging series - a pat on the back for the BBC.


Post a Comment

<< Home