April 28, 2015


The Beginner's Guide to Britpop

Getty Images
Getty Images

Hello there, music fan. Fancy yourself well versed in many genres but totally lost with Britpop? Does the term itself leave you confused? Does it sound antiquated? Foreign? 

Well, my young friends, your uncertainty ends here. Blur (the one that isn't Oasis) have just released The Magic Whip, their first album in 12 years. Before you delve into that release, you're going to need some background. Scroll down for everything you need to know as a beginner in the Britpop universe.

What is it?

Always a good place to start. More than just music made by British folks, Britpop is a subgenre of rock music that first started in the U.K. in the early 1990s. There was no single moment that launched the musical revolution, but rather a whole decade. 

What are the characteristics of Britpop?

The music, while diverse, can be categorized by its obsession with pop-rock music from the late '60s and '70s (like the Beatles because, come on, who wouldn't want to be the new Beatles?). Thematically, the groups of the time period were invested in socioeconomic class structure; it was commonplace to find songs about the rich, art school cool and attempts to strive for something greater than the working class you were born into (Pulp's "Common People" comes to mind).

The Big Three

With any genre, and even more so with subgenres, there are a few bands that define the sound. For Britpop, most people will tell you there are two greats but there are truly three. They are:

Blur: These guys, who we mentioned earlier, are best known for "Song 2." The iconic single was written in a moment of total anglophilia, Blur dissing the American grunge trend by writing a mocking song in the same style. It ended up working in their favor. The group, lead by charismatic frontman Damon Albarn (later of Gorillaz) would go on to lead the Britpop moment with stellar albums Modern Life is Rubbish, Parklife, and their self-titled '97 release.

Oasis: Of all Britpop bands, Oasis is probably the most identifiable. Their aesthetic was one they stole from the Beatles (bowl cut haircuts, loud mouths partnered with fantastically huge egos that wouldn't quit—the dudes were rockstars). Their biggest hits—and where you should begin listening if you're a novice—can be found on (What's the Story) Morning Glory. Tracks like "Wonderwall" and "Don't Look Back In Anger" are staples in the genre.

Pulp: The third act in the what we're calling the Big Three is also the one that gets overlooked the most: Pulp. They were a band from Sheffield led by sex-obsessed, quick-witted Jarvis Cocker (don't let his nerdy exterior fool you). The song to listen to is "Common People," an anthem for a frustrated middle class.

Blur vs. Oasis

When Britpop made its move from underground sensation to mainstream rock music, a rivalry was born between Blur and Oasis. They were the biggest bands tied to the title, and constantly found themselves in an arms race for the best spot on the Billboard charts. There's no real victor here, but just know that if you find one band you prefer over the other, you take that opinion to the grave.

Other Bands of Note

Suede: Suede were a bit more glam than their contemporaries, writing songs that could appeal to indiepop and grunge fans. They were massive in the U.K. but never really made it over stateside like the others.

Elastica: Elastica is one of the cooler bands of the genre, fronted by the best Brit around, Justine Frischmann. She would later date Blur frontman Damon Albarn...talk about a power couple! This group flirted with post-punk sounds and big synths moreso than most Britpop acts.

Placebo: Placebo are still active, unlike most other acts on this list. It's challenging to refer to them as just "Britpop," especially because the genre doesn't appear to be as active today. Fun fact: Placebo once joined Linkin Park for their annual Projekt Revolution Tour, opening for Taking Back Sunday and My Chemical Romance. It was a good look: The group has fans of all ages, avoiding the unattractive label of nostalgia act.

Supergrass: Like all English acts of a certain time, Supergrass owe a lot to John Peel and his Radio One show for their success. It was the way bands were discovered, and that shine kickstarted their legacy...that, and crazy cool jams like "Mansize Rooster" and "Lenny."

The Verve: It was a slow build for the Verve. They actually broke up before the reached any sort of mainstream success (and would break up again after they acquired it). They faced a lot of legal issues in their native England but eventually made it stateside with the jam, "Bittersweet Symphony."

And there are so many more. We recommend Saint Etienne, Sleeper, The Auteurs, Denim, Space and Cast. Dig in!

The Britpop Legacy

Why should you still care about Britpop? Well, for one, Blur is back at it again. More than that, more than the pressure to reunite and play stadiums decades after any band's given heyday, the music has had an everlasting legacy. Hell, emo icon numero uno, Gerard Way, released his debut solo album last year, one he claims was mostly inspired by the genre. In the end, Britpop music opened a space for the English rock bands of today to exist in: ColdplayMuse, we're looking at you.

So go ahead, take a listen. You might like what you hear.