Historians of British pop will look back on the noughties as the decade a once-vital, progressive and unifying cultural force ran out of ideas, sold out to the TV industry, then shriveled into irrelevance.
Either that, or they’ll just laugh with sheer derision. Here are the singles that sold the most in the last ten years:
1. Will Young – Evergreen
2. Gareth Gates – Unchained Melody
3. Shaggy – It Wasn’t Me
4. Tony Christie/Peter Kay – Is This The Way To Amarillo?
5. Band Aid 20 – Do They Know It’s Christmas?
6. Hear’Say – Pure And Simple
7. Shayne Ward – That’s My Goal
8. Kylie Minogue – Can’t Get You Out Of My Head
9. Bob The Builder – Can We Fix It
10. Atomic Kitten – Whole Again
So that’s four from ITV talent shows, two charity singles (both of them cover versions), one juvenile novelty record for toddlers (two if you count ‘It Wasn’t Me’), and one genuinely good song (that’ll be Kylie, although ‘Whole Again’ has a certain schmaltzy charm).
It’s worth noting that ‘Unchained Melody’ – the Robson & Jerome version – was also the second best selling single of the ’90s: dispiriting proof that Simon Cowell’s dominance of the pop industry has now spanned two decades.
I don’t want to sound like a tedious reactionary, clanking my chains and wailing “Pop is dead!” – but come on, this is fucking awful: a genuinely shaming roll-call of unremitting musical dreck. It it were a horror film, it’d be called The Blandening.
Compare the past decade’s biggest songs with the corresponding list from the 1980s, which encompasses acts as high-minded, original and downright weird as Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Human League and Dexys Midnight Runners.
What’s even more embarrassing is that this creepy hollowing-out of pop is a purely UK phenomenon. The global list features Shakira, Britney Spears and Katy Perry, with not one cover version between them. OK, it’s not like Nick Cave’s in there – but in terms of quality and adventurousness, it makes our Top 10 look shockingly amateurish and gaudy.
I know what the counter-argument will be: the Top 10 is not representative, there’s been plenty of great British pop in the noughties, Xenomania, Girls Aloud yadda yadda. And yes, there have been occasional flares of brilliance. But these are droplets in a desert.
The fact is, the pop charts were once a window onto Britain’s exuberant, eccentric, uniquely accelerated cultural life – an enthralling rogues’ gallery of freaks and outsiders. Now they’re a wasteland.