It’s a thesis doing the rounds – and is full of holes. But there’s no denying that Britpop’s nostalgia did make flag-waving nationalism more acceptable
22 November 2018 | Michael Hann | The Guardian
Part of what makes pop music great is unintended consequences.
The French musician Michel Bernholc could not have conceived that, a decade after his 1971 novelty hit Burundi Black, British pop would be in thrall to that sound, reconfigured by a man who dressed as a highwayman or a hussar; when Dave Davies stuck his guitar through an amp, drastically altering its tone, he could not have imagined that he was inventing heavy metal, and that Norwegians would end up burning down churches as a result. So was Brexit one of the consequences of Britpop more than 20 years ago?
It’s a thesis that has been cropping up recently – suggested by the cultural historian Jon Savage, in a closely argued review of Damon Albarn’s new album with The Good, the Bad & the Queen, and a year ago in Vice. Even the official chronicler of Britpop, the Guardian’s John Harris, was moved to ask in the New Statesman last year: “If, from 1995, people were giddily messing around with flags and endlessly evoking a past Britain that probably never existed, where did that lead?”
Is the answer: to Nigel Farage, Michael Gove and Jacob Rees-Mogg?
No. Of course not. Menswear didn’t tell all those lies about what Brussels was up to, Boris Johnson did – then no one called him out about it. Northern Uproar didn’t go around the country complaining about immigration, Nigel Farage did – and the BBC kept putting him on Question Time. Ocean Colour Scene’s tour bus didn’t promise an extra £350m a week for the NHS, the Leave campaigners’ did – then they shrugged it off when their sums were found to be wrong.
Nevertheless, what Britpop originally was – a way of reclaiming an identity for gaudy, magpieish British music from the grey blanket of grunge, then slapped on the cover of Select magazine in April 1993 – was not what it became. Of course it wasn’t: the essence of every pop movement is altered by exposure, when it becomes about its consumers’ interpretations rather than its creators’ intentions. Punk went from art school kids seeking to shock to blokes with mohicans drinking cider outside shopping centres. Britpop went from something arch and wry and awkward to beery singalongs with arms around shoulders.
In that transformation, though, Britpop did give new vigour to a strand of conservatism that has long existed in pop music – the one that believes there is A Proper Way To Do Things (And It Usually Involves Blokes With Guitars, and that Black People Should Not Headline Glastonbury). Combine that with a sense of national musical identity that was usually explicitly English – not British, and certainly not internationalist – and fundamentally nostalgic, and you do have a potent cultural brew. The whole point about pop is that it has social force, which is why people so often try to co-opt it. Britpop had more social force than most pop movements – which was why it was co-opted all the way to Downing Street.
But Britpop is not the be-all and end-all of British music. If you want a real hit of no-nonsense, hidebound nostalgia, look instead to the bestselling single of 1995, Britpop’s annus mirabilis: Robson and Jerome’s Unchained Melody/The White Cliffs of Dover (they also had the bestselling album of the year). No one is suggesting Robson and Jerome were the cause of our current woes. And remember, too, that dance music was more popular than Britpop: Everything But the Girl’s Missing outsold Wonderwall.
Britpop was not a monolithic force. It certainly was a thread in the new, respectable nationalism of the 1990s, beginning with the rehabilitation of the England football team in 1990 and culminating with Vanity Fair’s Cool Britannia cover. And, doubtless, some of the people who still have feathercuts and wear Pretty Green did vote Leave. But some – not at all. So did Britpop lead to Brexit? As Noel Gallagher would say: “I’m not ’aving that.”
Original Link: Don’t look back in anger: did Britpop cause Brexit?