Britpop was a somewhat ill-defined scene in British Alternative Rock in the mid-1990s. 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 in 1992 Britpop was born - music that was somehow 'British' rather than the American stuff. Blur's "Popscene" is often cited as the first Britpop song, with Suede's "The Drowners" following shortly.
Despite the eager tagging of bands, what exactly Britpop was is difficult to define. Among the earliest adapters were The Stone Roses in 1989 (who themselves were part of "Madchester", a sort of halfway point between House Music and Britpop), but they never lived up to the promise of their first album. Then there were The La's, who were either twenty years ahead of their time or twenty behind. Manic Street Preachers, a Welsh group that was influenced equally by Glam Rock, Punk Rock and American hard rock, were another early innovator of the Britpop sound (and actually wound up lasting longer than most of the bands that were directly influenced by them).
Indie pop groups who had been around for more than five years, such as The Wedding Present (a band from the north of England whose cult following started to become big enough to actually get their singles into the Top 40), The Lightning Seeds (fronted by Ian Broudie, a founding member of pioneering Post-Punk group Big in Japan) and Denim (formed out of the ashes of indie outsiders Felt), also began to find attention around this time.
The groups that followed these bands' lead and, in turn, became the leading Britpop bands include:
- Blur, a former shoegazing/Madchester act that, after touring America in 1992 and finding the experience dreadful, became one of Britpop's leading lights, hearkening back to British pop music of The '60s such as The Kinks.
- Suede, 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 had a record out.
- Elastica, a mostly-female group who drew their sound from punk acts like Wire or The Stranglers.
- Pulp, a band that was formed by a few teenage friends in 1978 which had finally found commercial success with their 1994 album His n' Hers.
- The Charlatans, a former Madchester band that found success during the Britpop era.
- Primal Scream, originally part of the C86/indie pop movement, arguably grew the beard by incorporating house music and trippy psychedelic beats. Their album Screamadelica is considered a key influence on Britpop.
- Ash, a Northern Irish band influenced by punk and grunge music.
- Sleeper, a band fronted by Louise Wener. Famous for coining the term "Sleeperblokes".
- Echobelly, a band similar to Sleeper in that the lead singer was female in a predominantly male band.
- Lush, which pulled an abrupt Genre Shift from Shoegazing to Britpop in 1996
- The Bluetones, a band that found early success when Expecting to Fly knocked (What's The Story) Morning Glory? off the number one spot in the charts for a week.
- Ocean Colour Scene, one of the bands alongside Pulp that predated Britpop but found their greatest commercial success in the era.
- Kula Shaker, a band influenced not only by early 90's rock, but also by late 60's psychedelia and Indian music. Notable for being led by Crispian Mills, son of former child star Hayley Mills.
- Space, a Genre-Busting group from Liverpool who never really fit in with the ilk, but found great commercial success during this period. Their singles "Neighbourhood" and "Female of the Species" are considered amongst the finest and most fondly remembered of the era.
- Super Furry Animals, a Welsh psychedelic band who like Space actually had nothing to do with Britpop, but because they played rock music and formed around the same time, they were often grouped with the scene.
- Stereolab, an experimental group that, although having nothing to do with Britpop, sometimes branched out into pop songs like "The Noise of Carpet".
- Gorky's Zygotic Mynci, a Welsh psychedelic folk/neo-progressive band that were in the same situation as Super Furry Animals.
- Black Grape, a dance-rock band formed by members of Madchester band Happy Mondays.
- The Boo Radleys, a former Shoegazing band, famous for their wildly popular single "Wake Up Boo!".
- Supergrass, formed by teenagers in the early 1990s.
- The Divine Comedy, a chamber pop band from Northern Island, known for performing the theme tunes to Father Ted and The IT Crowd.
- Kenickie, another girl-fronted band, who played a significantly pop punky brand of Britpop.
- And last, but certainly not least, there was Oasis, big Mancunian fans of The Beatles and simple, big, stadium-filling rock 'n' roll. 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.
Additionally, there were several, smaller groups of varying popularity (and quality) that rode the Britpop wave to a handful of chart singles. Among them are Dodgy, Menswear, Smaller, Mansun, Reef, Arnold, Mega City Four, Longpigs, Catatonia, Rialto, Jack, 60 Ft. Dolls, These Animal Men, Gene, Hurricane #1, Shed Seven, The Supernaturals, Northern Uproar, Babybird, Texas, Cast (formed by the bassist of Britpop influencers The La's), Theaudience (notable for jumpstarting Sophie Ellis Bextor's career) and My Life Story. Many of these groups were considered to be Follow the Leader acts to the big names, and many never even managed a blip on the radar outside of the UK, but they all have their own devoted followings to this day.
Britpop came to a head in the summer of '95 (when Blur and Oasis fought the Battle of Britpop, a fight to get to Number One when they released singles - "Country House" and "Roll With It" - on the same day. Blur won that battle, but Oasis ultimately was the more popular band at the end of the 90's) and in early '96.
In the end, heaving under the weight of drugs, artist disillusionment, and the continued failure by any band not named Oasis to break America, it collapsed in 1997: Oasis's long awaited third album Be Here Now was (and still is) the fastest selling album in British history, but it was equally quickly sold on to charity shops by disheartened fans and went down in history as an overhyped, dismal flop. Oasis chugged along, releasing well selling albums that got alright reviews until the band ended in an yet another squabble between the Gallagher brothers in 2009. Blur turned away from the Britpop sound with their fifth album Blur, paved the way for the Garage Rock Revival of the 2000s, and unlike Oasis quit while they were ahead and still at the top of their game in 2003. 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). Supergrass somehow managed to outlive most of their second-tier Britpop competition, became a major player in the British alternative scene and existed until April 2010. Radiohead and The Verve, formerly 'the ones who did Creep' and 'that shoegaze act', released OK Computer and Urban Hymns, successful albums that moved the music scene onward. Bands like Space, The Supernaturals, Dodgy, Puressence and The Charlatans have either since reformed or simply stuck around long enough.
Today, the genre survives in the form of Post-Britpop, an even less well-defined category that formed in mid-1998. It's occupied by bands like Placebo, Feeder, Stereophonics, Starsailor, Keane, Elbow, Travis, Peace, Swim Deep, Superfood, Snow Patrol, Bell X1, Athlete, Bloc Party, Embrace, Kaiser Chiefs, Franz Ferdinand, Doves, Toploader, Coldplay, China Rats, Idlewild, and Gay Dad.
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.
- Breakup Breakout: Sophie Ellis Bextor, lead singer for Britpop also-rans Theaudience became a superstar when she went solo in the early 2000's.
- Fan Dumb: Much, especially surrounding the Blur vs. Oasis debate.
- Follow the Leader: first when the scene started becoming popular with bands like Menswear and Dodgy 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 Manic Street Preachers before Britpop exploded.
- 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.
- My Friends... and Zoidberg: Several third-tier Britpop bands often get this jab in articles, but the band that usually gets it is Gay Dad, for obvious reasons.
- 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, 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 on the usually Alternative-friendly Modern Rock Charts (Supergrass, who had a minor alternative radio hit with "Cheapskate").
- Examples in Britain include "You're Gorgeous" for Babybird, "Jackie's Racing" for Whiteout, "Wake Up Boo!" for The Boo Radleys and "Dancing in the Moonlight" for Toploader (which surprisingly crossed over to America, although mostly for appearing on the soundtrack to A Walk to Remember).
- 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 song ever.
- Post-Britpoppers Subaqwa released only one album in 1999, Chalk Circle, before vanishing into obscurity.
- Perishing Alt-Rock Voice: A lot.
- Quietly Performing Sister Show: Well, a Quietly Performing Sister Scene anyway: the "Cool Cymru" movement of Welsh bands that ran alongside Britpop in its last few years. The most famous of these bands, Super Furry Animals, despite never really having a huge hit single like Oasis or Blur, released many critically acclaimed albums and managed to outlive most of their Britpop peers. Psychedelic folk band Gorky's Zygotic Mynci also had critical acclaim and were favourites of BBC Radio indie tastemaker John Peel, but they never even managed a Top 40 single despite eight of their singles making the UK Top 75.
- Also, New Wave of New Wave, Britpop's punkier sibling. Elastica scored a big success with their self-titled debut; Echobelly broke out of that particular ghetto to be accepted as a mainstream Britpop band; The Wildhearts did pretty well; other bands like These Animal Men and S*M*A*S*H (remember them?) never quite made the leap.
- 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.