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 (a Glam Rock/bubblegum revival band, formed out of the ashes of revered 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, with a sound best summed up as "The Beatles and The Kinks meet XTC".
- 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.
- 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.
- 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, often considered to have helped pioneer Post-Punk Revival. Basically a British The Breeders.
- Supergrass, formed by teenagers in the early 1990s whom played a significantly pop punky brand of Britpop, best known for their single "Alright".
- The Boo Radleys, a former Shoegazing band, famous for their wildly popular single "Wake Up Boo!".
- Ocean Colour Scene, one of the bands alongside Pulp that predated Britpop but found their greatest commercial success in the era.
- Ash, a Northern Irish band influenced by punk and grunge music.
- Lush, which pulled an abrupt Genre Shift from Shoegazing to Britpop in 1996
- Black Grape, a dance-rock band formed by members of Madchester band Happy Mondays.
- 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 Hayley Mills.
- 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.
- Kenickie, another girl-fronted band who, like Supergrass and Ash, played a significantly pop punky brand of Britpop.
- 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.
- The Divine Comedy, a chamber pop band from Northern Ireland, known for performing the theme tunes to Father Ted and The IT Crowd.
- And last, but certainly not least, there was Oasis, 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.
Additionally, several established British bands, most notably The Charlatans, the aformentioned Lightning Seeds, and Saint Etienne, began to embrace Britpop and gain commercial success as a result. There were also several, smaller groups of varying popularity (and quality) that rode the Britpop wave to a handful of chart singles. Among them are Babybird, Cast (fronted by The La's' John Power), Dodgy, Gene, Geneva, Heavy Stereo (featuring future Oasis member Gem Archer), Longpigs, Mansun, Marion, Menswe@r, My Life Story, Northern Uproar, Powder, Rialto, Salad, The Seahorses (fronted by John Squire), Shampoo, Shed Seven, and These Animal Men. 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.
Around this time, there was also a mini-subculture closely linked with Britpop dubbed Cool Cymru, that focused specifically on artists from Wales and spearheaded by acts such as the Manics, Super Furry Animals, Catatonia, Gorky's Zygotic Mynci, Stereophonics and 60ft Dolls.
Britpop came to a head in the summer of '95. That year, Blur and Oasis fought the Battle of Britpop; 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 ultimately was the more popular band at the end of the 90's.
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, thanks to four problems. First, the fact that Britpop was very hard to define led many to question whether certain acts, such as The Divine Comedy, truly were "Britpop". Second of all, much like America's Riot Grrrl scene, several sources around that time also didn't 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 Primal Scream, Robbie Williams, the aformentioned Manics and Stone Roses, Genre-Busting bands such as the Super Furries, Space, Stereolab, and even Radiohead. The sheer lack of care or research became excessive.
Then, Oasis's long awaited third album Be Here Now was released. It 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. Finally, a band called 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", which seemed to keep the scene alive ... until it became the subject of a lawsuit from ABKCO 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), stopping the band's career dead and officially killing Britpop. Radiohead, formerly "the ones who did 'Creep'", promptly released OK Computer, a successful album that moved the British Alternative Rock scene away from Britpop and into a more atmospheric and melancholic direction. The rise of the Spice Girls, who were never Britpop but just plain pop, had perfect timing to capitalize on the near-simultaneous collapse of both Britpop and the dying days of grunge/alt-rock.
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 had already turned away from the Britpop sound with their self-titled fifth album, which paved the way for much of the Indie Rock scene of the 2000s, and 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). 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 after a couple of mediocre releases, but came back rejuvenated in 2011 and have been going ever since. Ash and Supergrass, two of the scene's youngest bands, somehow managed to outlive most of their Britpop competition, both becoming major players in the British alternative scene, though the latter split in April 2010 and reformed (as a live act only) in late 2019. Meanwhile, several of the aformentioned smaller bands would also reform during this period, though mostly catering towards the nostalgia/90s revival circuit.
By 1998, the genre had evolved in the form of Post-Britpop, 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 (who in response radically changed their style with the experimental Kid A). This scene was occupied by bands like Travis, Gomez, Placebo, Coldplay, Stereophonics, Elbow, Keane, Feeder, Snow Patrol, Starsailor, Embrace, Doves, and Gay Dad. This scene's popularity with journalists started to to phase out by 2003, who began focusing on the emerging Post-Punk revival, which too eventually faded out— and along with the decline of Post-Grunge, took mainstream rock with it (alongside a myriad of other factors).
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Richard Hawley, the former guitarist of Longpigs, found much more success as an solo artist starting in the 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 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 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.
- 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 with "Cheapskate" -- but the average American does seem to be aware of "Alright").
- 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.
- 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".
- Quietly Performing Sister Show: Post-Punk Revival started out as this to Britpop, though back then it was under the name "New Wave of New Wave". 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.