- Pop, Hard Rock, Post-Punk, New Wave Music, Power Pop, some bands influenced by Psychedelic Rock, Progressive Rock, Shoegazing or Electronic Music
Britpop was a somewhat ill-defined scene in British Alternative Rock that first had its origins within the late-1980s, and generally flourished in the mid-1990s.
There are a lot of eager tagging of bands, but what exactly Britpop was is difficult to define. One thing that does tend to be agreed is that the genre was kickstarted by the Manchester band The Stone Roses, with their debut album released in 1989. This album included much of what would categorise Britpop influences from The British Invasion, Glam Rock and Punk Rock, local identity and regional British accents (the Roses themselves were associated with "Madchester", a cultural scene with roots in The Haçienda night club and involved with indie music, house, psychedelia and lots of ecstasy), and catchy hooks and lyrics relevant to Britain's generation of young people. There was also Liverpool band, The La's, who were either twenty years ahead of their time or twenty behind. They too released an album with very much the same influences, albeit a lot less psychedelia, and managed a single hit with "There She Goes". These two bands were viewed as the ones who were slowly setting the scene in stone.
But it was The '90s where it started to really explode. When in 1991 Nirvana released "Smells Like Teen Spirit", Grunge quickly took over the British music consciousness: suddenly everyone had long hair and scrappy clothes again. A loose rabble of musicians in Britain took exception to this and turned to picking up where The Stone Roses and The La's had left off to produce music that was somehow 'British' rather than the American stuff. One of the two bands credited as truly starting the boom was Blur, a band already with minor commercial success that, after touring America in 1992 and finding the experience dreadful, delivered the song "Popscene", which along with the ensuing albums (such as Modern Life Is Rubbish and Parklife) helped make them one of Britpop's leading lights, with a sound best summed up as "The Beatles and The Kinks meet XTC". Suede were the other band that were starting the boom, glam rockers taking cues from David Bowie who camped it up around Camden Town and got their picture on the cover of Melody Maker before they even released their debut single "The Drowners, which along with their debut album was definitely worth the hype.
Various other bands that had been around for more than five years, such as Pulp (a former post-punk band formed by a few teenage friends in 1978 and personal favourites of radio legend John Peel), The Boo Radleys (who were initially more part of the Shoegazing and Dream Pop scenes) and The Charlatans (who, like The Stone Roses, were part of the Madchester scene and delivered the hit album Some Friendly a few years beforehand), began to embrace Britpop and gain commercial success as a result, with Pulp's Different Class and The Charlatans' Tellin' Stories cited as two of the genres' most important albums. One of the first bands to form out of this new boom was Supergrass, a band of teenagers formed out of the ashes of their earlier band The Jennifers. They played a significantly pop punky brand of Britpop and would deliver one of the genre's most iconic songs, "Alright".
Radiohead is a mixed bag. Whether or not they count as Britpop is still highly debated to this day. Though they were British and were experiencing their height of popularity in the 90s, their music is agreed to not be intentionally evoking the "Britishness" as the others and were generally more experimental, and in fact their debut single "Creep" was much more in line with Grunge. They didn't even really get to their peak until Britpop ended (explained below later). But they're still cited as influential by Britpop's successors, and The Bends was poppy, so who's to say no?
But the band that most likely comes to your mind when you hear the phrase "Britpop" would be Oasis. Emerging in 1994, they were big Mancunian fans of The Beatles and simple, big, stadium-filling rock 'n' roll. One of the "Big Four" (alongside Blur, Pulp and Suede), they were by far the most successful act to come out of the Britpop years, and the only ones who really made any impact in America.
The rest of the groups that followed these bands' lead and kept the genre active included:
- Ash, a Northern Irish band influenced by punk and grunge music and much like Supergrass had a strong pop punk influence.
- The Auteurs, an indie rock band in the same glam scene as Suede and whose debut New Wave is considered a landmark for the genre.
- Cast, formed by The La's' John Power and experienced much more commercial success than his earlier band despite being considered not as influential.
- Elastica, a mostly-female group led by Damon Albarn's (and before that Brett Anderson's) then-girlfriend Justine Frischmann, who drew their sound from punk acts like Wire or The Stranglers (basically, a British The Breeders).
- Gene, a band that took heavy cues from The Smiths and especially Morrissey with demeanour and lyrical style (Morrissey is reportedly a fan).
- Gorky's Zygotic Mynci, a Welsh neo-prog/neo-psychedelia band that received rave reviews from critics and, like Pulp, a favourite of John Peel's, yet never made it higher than #41 in single sales.
- Lush, which much like The Boo Radleys pulled an abrupt Genre Shift from Shoegazing to Britpop, albeit much later in 1996.
- Manic Street Preachers, a Welsh group that was equally influenced by Glam Rock, Punk Rock, and American Hard Rock (and wound up lasting longer than most of the other bands mentioned above).
- Menswear, an indie pop band with many similarities to Suede, being from Camden Town and being very Glam Rock influenced, yet only lasted for four years and produced only one noteworthy album (Nuisance).
- Ocean Colour Scene, one of the bands alongside Blur and The Charlatans that predated Britpop by a few years but found their greatest commercial success in the era.
- Shack, formed from the ashes of eighties Post-Punk band The Pale Fountains, who were noticed by practically nobody until after Britpop ended, when their album Waterpistol was retroactively discovered and became viewed as an overlooked Britpop masterpiece.
- Super Furry Animals, the Cult Classic band of the genre. A Genre-Busting act using rock, psychedelia and electronic influences, lyrics ranging from goofy and surreal to deep and philosophical, and more iconic for their bizarre publicity stunts.
- Travis, who showed up in the genre's final years and, much like the Manics, wound up lasting longer than most of the other bands.
- The Verve, formerly a Dream Pop/Shoegazing/Space Rock band formed in 1990 that started embracing Britpop with 1995's A Northern Soul, though would become more infamous at the end of the scene's run (mentioned later this page).
Several of the bands in this scene were occasionally grouped into nice sub-scenes within Britpop as well. For example, Kerrang! magazine coined a term known as "Britrock", categorised as Britpop that kept the British spin but were also distinctly influenced also by hard rock and American alternative rock. Oasis and the Manics were often grouped here, as well as non-Britpop British bands such as Bush, Feeder, Skunk Anansie, Terrorvision, Therapy?, and The Wildhearts. The bands that came from Wales, such as the Manics, Super Furries, and Gorky's, were also grouped into their mini subculture nicknamed Cool Cymru, as their music would often specifically aim at the Welsh culture of young people instead of the UK as a whole (and, in the case of Gorky's, occasionally even have songs written entirely in the Welsh language). There was also the punkier side of Britpop, nicknamed New Wave of New Wave, which was used to describe bands like Elastica, as well as other non-Britpop bands such as bis (the band that would go on to do the ending theme of The Powerpuff Girls (1998)), and is now considered to be a precursor to the 2000s post-punk revival scene.
There were also several, smaller groups of varying popularity (and quality) that rode the Britpop wave to a handful of chart singles. Among them were Spacehog, The Lightning Seeds, Mansun, Adorable, Sleeper, Space, My Life Story, Black Grape (a side project of the Happy Mondays), Rialto, Shampoo, These Animal Men, Longpigs (featuring future solo star Richard Hawley), Placebo, 60 Ft. Dolls, Catatonia, Marion, Geneva, Kenickie, S*M*A*S*H, Echobelly, and Gay Dad. Many of these groups were considered to be Follow the Leader acts to the bigger names, and most of the bands here never even managed a blip on the radar outside of the UK, but they all have their own devoted followings to this day, especially as several of them, most notably Placebo, turned up towards the end of the scene and thus stayed popular after the scene ended, usually with a genre shift to no-nonsense alternative rock.
They weren't all bands, either. Several solo artists emerged from the scene and played the style as well. Ian Brown and Bernard Butler, formerly of The Stone Roses and Suede respectively, would go on to have their own respected solo careers that they continue to this very day. Meanwhile Boo Radleys vocalist Sice would have his own solo project under the name "Eggman". The Britpop solo artist that's most well-known, however, would be Robbie Williams. Formerly of the boy band Take That (they kicked him out in 1995 and broke up a few months later), he reinvented himself with the genre and became one of the main superstars not just of Britpop, but for late-90s/early-2000s British music, after delivering 1997's Life Thru a Lens. This is still considered one of the last defining albums of the genre and made iconic hits such as "Let Me Entertain You", "Old Before I Die", and his signature song "Angels".
There was admittedly somewhat of a problem. The fact that Britpop was very hard to define led several sources around that time to not really understand what it was and so lumped various British Alternative Rock bands and artists with the movement no matter how tenuous the similarities were, such as The Divine Comedy, Teenage Fanclub, Stereolab, The Beautiful South, Paul Weller, Primal Scream, PJ Harvey, and even Garbage.
Britpop came to a head in the summer of '95. That year, Blur and Oasis fought the Battle of Britpop; the two groups had already become hyped up as major opponents towards each other, with a notorious Fandom Rivalry developing between them that became even more chaotic after Oasis' Noel Gallagher made a shocking joke telling Blur frontman Damon Albarn to "catch AIDS and die". It would ultimately culminate when they released the songs "Country House" and "Roll With It" on the same day, and since no other noteworthy songs were there on that date, it was clear that one of the two would get to #1. Blur won that battle, but Oasis, who would have a long string of UK #1's afterwards and even crack America, ultimately were the victors by the end of the 90's.
It was after this that everything for the genre slowly started to fall apart. As mentioned above, many of the smaller names were following on from the coattails of the bigger names, but after the Battle of Britpop, the music industry failed to recognise how traditional rock-influenced bands like Oasis and The Charlatans had come up organically due to authenticity and unique sounds, and so from then on almost all new Britpop bands were interchangeable and inauthentic Oasis-a-likes thrown together either by alternative rockers of yesteryear now past their prime, such as The Seahorses (led by John Squire) and Hurricane #1 (led by Andy Bell), or by inexperienced musicians that were generally mediocre in musical talent, such as Northern Uproar, The Diggers, Reef, 18 Wheeler, Heavy Stereo, 3 Colours Red, Shed Seven, Kula Shaker, Superstar, Embrace, Dodgy, The Bluetones, and Gomez. Though some bands here, like Embrace and Gomez, would reinvent themselves and become popular, the rest didn't, and slowly, the Britpop scene became shunned and reviled.
Eventually, in 1997, four separate events happened, all involving albums, that seemed to bring the scene completely down.
First, one of the scene's leaders, Blur, had become increasingly disillusioned with the genre by the time the Battle of Britpop ended, and so for their next album, the Self-Titled Album Blur, they threw the genre completely out of the window and reinvented themselves to be much more sophisticated, now a British equivalent to America's underground indie rock bands like Pavement and Sonic Youth. This would help officially break the group into America and set the stages for both the indie rock boom of the 2000s and what Damon Albarn was about to do next. Fellow leaders Pulp too broke from the genre the next year with This Is Hardcore, which revisited their old post-punk roots to become much more of an art rock band.
Next, Radiohead, who as mentioned above were never really part of the scene, released OK Computer. Not only was the album a critical and commercial success worldwide, but many Britpop fans who had ridiculed Radiohead in the past for generally defying the scene were now bowing down to the band and hopping onto their bandwagon. Alongside Blur and Hardcore, OK Computer was enough to completely reinvent Britain's entire alternative rock scene, and the next generation were now more influenced by them than Britpop (much to Radiohead's dismay, who would pursue a much more experimental rock sound with their next albums Kid A and Amnesiac).
Then, Oasis released their long awaited third album, Be Here Now. The album was very heavily hyped up, and to this day it still holds the record for the fastest selling album in British history, but it wound up being just as quickly sold on to charity shops by disheartened fans, feeling that the band's style hadn't changed at all from (What's the Story) Morning Glory?, and went down in history as an overhyped, dismal flop. The result was enough to cause Oasis to have a minor but very significant backlash from the music public that continues to this day.
Finally, The Verve (whom had existed for several years, but were originally recognised simply as "that Shoegazing act") seemed to be picking up the Britpop crown with their album Urban Hymns which included the worldwide hit "Bitter Sweet Symphony". Alongside Life Thru a Lens, it at first seemed to keep the Britpop scene alive, and the fact that "Bitter Sweet" wound up becoming the second ever non-Oasis Britpop single to crack the Billboard Top 40 in America (the first of which was, of all songs, Spacehog's "In the Meantime") suggested that the genre was finally about to break through into America as a whole. However, these chances were shot down in an instant when "Bitter Sweet" became the subject of a lawsuit from ABKCO and its manager, Allen Klein, due to it using a sample from an orchestral version of The Rolling Stones "The Last Time" (it's better to watch this video to get the full details). The lawsuit was so heavy that, alongside the band's internal bickering, it was enough to cause the band's career to stop dead.
After this, Britpop was officially dead, with the rise of the Spice Girls, who were never Britpop but just plain pop, happening at around the same time to stick the boot in an officially give the genre its gravestone.
Oasis chugged along, releasing well selling albums that got alright reviews until the band ended in 2009 it had been very well known amongst the public that leaders/brothers Noel and Liam Gallagher had a very contentious relationship, so it was fitting that the band's end was the result of one altercation too far between the brothers. Blur, unlike Oasis, quit while they were ahead and still at the top of their game in 2003 (albeit two years after guitarist Graham Coxon departed), which freed Damon Albarn to focus full-time on Gorillaz. Pulp continued to release critically adored albums for a few years before completely disappearing. However, both Blur and Pulp have since made comebacks (in 2015 and 2013, respectively). Suede, the last of the four leading Britpop acts, fizzled out in 2003 following a couple of mediocre releases, but came back rejuvenated in 2011 and have been going ever since. Ash, the Manics, the Super Furries, Supergrass, and Travis all somehow managed to outlive most of their Britpop competition, becoming a major player in the British alternative scene, though Supergrass would split in April 2010 and reform (as a live act only) in late 2019. Meanwhile, several of the smaller bands would also reform during this period, though mostly catering towards the nostalgia/90s revival circuit.
By 1998, the term post-Britpop was occasionally traded about, though this was an even less well-defined category that continued to focus on guitar music but leaned more towards alt rock and the melancholic sound laid out by Radiohead. Bands that were often grouped into this term included Coldplay, Elbow, Keane, Starsailor and Doves. This term was never taken seriously, however, and many of those bands personally wouldn't identify as Britpop at all. These bands' popularity with journalists started to phase out by 2003, who began focusing on the emerging post-punk revival, which too eventually faded out and alongside a myriad of other factors (including the decline of Post-Grunge) took mainstream rock with it.
Tropes somehow involved with Britpop:
- Americans Hate Tingle: The lukewarm British reaction to grunge was what spawned Britpop in the first place. This worked both ways — Britpop was met in America with the same reception that Britain gave grunge.
- Black Sheep Hit:
- The Boo Radleys with "Wake Up, Boo!", a cheerful (instrumentally) pop rock tune and one of the genres most well-known tunes that not only was their only Top 10 hit but sounds nothing like their other work.
- The Levellers have nothing to do with the genre, but one of their biggest hits in the UK was with the very Oasis-esque "What a Beautiful Day", a strong departure from their usual Celtic rock.
- Finley Quaye is a singer of Ghanaian descent who usually performs Trip Hop, but similar to The Levellers, one of his bigger hits - and arguably all he's remembered for today - was the Britpop-esque "Sunday Shining".
- Breakup Breakout:
- The La's may have only recorded one album and have been a One-Hit Wonder, but guitarst John Power promptly founded Cast, one of the more successful Britpop bands following 1995.
- Richard Hawley, the former guitarist of Longpigs, found much more success as an solo artist starting in the 2000's.
- Sophie Ellis-Bextor was the lead singer for the generally obscure Britpop also-rans Theaudience before she became a superstar when she went solo in the early 2000's.
- Lauren Laverne and Cerys Matthews, the respective vocalists of Kenickie and Catatonia, have both gone on to become successful television and BBC Radio presenters, with Matthews at one point a reporter for The One Show.
- While Suede were one of the most famous names in Britpop, this was only after they went through several managers. One of these managers was a young Ricky Gervais — yes, the Ricky Gervais.
- Fake Brit: Spacehog, who delivered one of the last iconic Britpop anthems with the glammy "In the Meantime", were actually based in New York City, albeit consisting of three Brits and one Canadian.
- Fan Dumb: Much, especially surrounding the Blur vs. Oasis debate.
- Follow the Leader: first when the scene started becoming popular with bands like Menswear being thrown together, and then again after 1995 with a large crowd of Oasis-a-likes.
- Even some of the big names were decried as copycats of Suede and Blur before Britpop truly exploded.
- Four-Temperament Ensemble: The Big Four bands broadly fit into this via their attitudes and musical styles: Oasis was Choleric, Blur is Sanguine, Suede is Melancholic, and Pulp was Phlegmatic.
- Genre-Killer: The death of Britpop is usually laid at the feet of Oasis's 1997 album Be Here Now, even though it did very well at the time (it was a critical smash in the music press, in part because they'd been rude about (What's the Story) Morning Glory? and then seen it go on to sell millions).
- Hype Backlash: Played straight with Be Here Now by Oasis (see above). Averted by Suede, who were praised as "the best new British band" before they released any music but still managed to score the fastest selling British debut album at the time.
- Loudness War: When albums started being mastered louder as Post-Punk gave way to Britpop, this picked up particularly; Oasis's (What's the Story) Morning Glory? is often mentioned as a watermark in the loudness war.
- Lyrical Dissonance: Common when the happy chiming guitars were combined with disheartened lyrics about the society.
- Male Band, Female Singer: Quite common among second-division Britpop bands like Sleeper, Powder, Echobelly and Salad.
- My Friends... and Zoidberg: Several Post-Britpop bands often get this jab in articles, but the band that usually gets it is Gay Dad, for obvious reasons.
- During the early years of Britpop, this is what many magazines mocked Radiohead with. However, by the time they released The Bends and OK Computer, no one was mocking Radiohead anymore.
- The '90s: That's when it all happened, with a neat three-year gap each side.
- Older Than They Think: Pulp formed in 1978. The Boo Radleys formed in 1988. Ocean Colour Scene and Blur were originally Madchester/shoegazing acts in the early 90's before adapting a more rock-oriented sound.
- One-Hit Wonder: There were a lot (Babybird with "You're Gorgeous" springs to mind), both because there were a lot of bands with not much talent and because bands didn't tend to last very long. A few of the bigger names managed to become One Hit Wonders in the United States, either on the pop charts (The Verve, with "Bittersweet Symphony") or more commonly on the usually Alternative-friendly Modern Rock Charts (Supergrass, who had a minor alternative radio hit not with their iconic "Alright", but rather with the long-forgotten "Cheapskate").
- The Boo Radleys would most certainly qualify under the "only one song remembered" version of the term. They had a handful of UK Top 40 hits in their career, but the one everyone remembers is their sole UK Top 10, "Wake Up Boo!", also a notorious Black Sheep Hit.
- Also, while they are generally well-remembered in America to this day, Oasis only managed to crack the Billboard Top 40 once with "Wonderwall". Then again, this was due to the fact that many of their other popular songs (such as "Champagne Supernova", probably the second best known in the US), weren't actually released as singles there. Their albums sold well, though.
- Spacehog, whose "In the Meantime" not only went to #29 in the UK but unexpectedly crossed into the US, peaking at #32 (though them being based in America likely helped). They had a few minor hits below the UK Top 40 and on the US Mainstream and Modern Rock charts, but "In the Meantime" was their only single to go mainstream.
- Catch had only one hit in the UK that reached close to the Top 10, "Bingo" (which is more known there for a broadcast of it's music video being interrupted for news of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales).
- One-Book Author: The La's, who basically imploded on themselves after releasing their self-titled album, an important influence on the Britpop bands that came only a few years later. One of the members of The La's later found success with Cast.
- Me Me Me was a Britpop supergroup that only released one single ever.
- Post-Britpoppers Subaqwa released only one album in 1999, Chalk Circle, before vanishing into obscurity.
- Perishing Alt-Rock Voice: A lot.
- The Pete Best: Elastica may have been one of the most well-known of the Britpop bands, but this only happened after Justine Frischmann and Justin Welch were kicked out of Suede, one of the "Big Four".
- Red Oni, Blue Oni: Oasis (Red Oni) and Blur (Blue Oni).
- Sex, Drugs, and Rock & Roll: Extremely prevalent, and one of the reasons everything collapsed.
- Shout-Out: Now defunct magazine Select fired an early shot in the Britpop wars with a cover feature about Suede, with the headline Who Do You Think You Are Kidding, Mister Cobain? This was a reference to the theme song of the sitcom Dad's Army:
Who do you think you are kidding Mister Hitler?
If you think old England's done
- Slumming It: The genre was marked by a tendency to idealise and imitate a version of English working class culture, despite the affluent backgrounds of many of the musicians. This attitude was aggressively criticised by one of the biggest hit singles of Britpop, Pulp's "Common People", although the literal origins of the song come from Sheffield native Jarvis Cocker's experiences with a sculpture student while at university. He has however described it as a response to the "class tourism" of bands like Blur.
- Those Two Guys: In the Britpop era, the term "Sleeperblokes" (originally referring to the members of Sleeper who weren't Louise Wener, but also used generically) conveyed the same meaning.
- Three Chords and the Truth: the approach of most of the Oasis-like groups.
- Trope Codifier: Either The La's or Oasis.
- Trope Maker: "Popscene" by Blur is sometimes considered the first Britpop single.
- Truck Driver's Gear Change: Only to be expected in such populist music and sometimes invoked deliberately; see "Inbetweener" by Sleeper for a particularly neat example, where it occurs during the chorus.
- Younger Than They Look: Ash and Supergrass were both formed by teenagers during Britpop's heyday and as mentioned above, managed to outlast most of the older, more popular bands.