20 years ago, Oasis and Blur were arguably at the peak of their 90s powers. But what really killed Britpop? Here’s 12 theories…
Tony Blair: Britpop and Blair were supposed to symbolise the dawning of a confident new Britain. Blair was the youngest PM since 1812, played the guitar and famously once hosted Oasis, Alan McGee etc at Number 10. But his involvement in the war on Iraq, in which scores of Arab children were violently slaughtered, soured the love-in, tainting the Britpoppers who’d rubbed shoulders with him.
Radiohead: By the end of 1997 ‘OK Computer’ – an undoubted classic, but stormier than anything the likes of Blur and Pulp were producing – had stomped killjoysihly on the feel-good factor spread by bands like Longpigs, the Boo Radleys and Gene. Soon its gloom spread to London indie clubs, sparking a new wave of angst-ridden brooders where once were cheery, cheeky Britpoppers.
Knebworth: On the weekend of August 10-11 1996, Britpop peaked. When Oasis played Knebworth Park, in front of 125,000 each night, over two and a half million people tried to get tickets. It was the biggest gig in UK musical history at the time – a weekender so lucrative for Oasis and Creation, labels began queuing up to sign any old Oasis copycats with sunglasses and a wonky walk.
Patsy Kensit: It was the moment Britpop went high society: Kensit reclining on a Union Flag-clad bed, semi-naked with Liam Gallagher above a coverline that squealed “‘London swings again!’”. The aristocracy had its Britpop poster girl, and the genre – which, from Oasis’ Manc origins to Pulp’s modest Sheffield beginnings, had strong roots in working class enviroments – was doomed.
5The New Acoustic Movement
The New Acoustic Movement: Between Oasis releasing ‘Be Here Now’ and ‘Standing On The Shoulder Of Giants’, Travis released ‘The Man Who’, sitting on the stools rather than sneering down mics became the norm, Turin Brakes became totems of British guitar-rock and the supposed alternative flipside was epitomised by Badly Drawn Boy. A year later, the namby-pambiness had gone terminal.
Lad culture: Like all the best rock’n’roll, Britpop emerged as a musical refuge for people who felt different and overlooked by mainstream culture: a celebration of misfits. Along the way though, it was co-opted by a Stella-swigging, FHM-reading lad culture that made the whole thing seem about booze, banter and boorishness. The nation eventually switched off.
Hard drugs: As the Britpop years lurched on, the drugs got harder and the music got weaker. Heroin gave us Blur’s woe-filled, introspective ‘13’. Cocaine use gave us Oasis’ overblown, self-important ‘Be Here Now’. The Bolivian marching powder also contributed to the paranoid comedown sleaze of Pulp’s “This is Hardcore’. By the end, drugs had sucked the fun from Britpop.
Inflated egos: Maybe inevitably, as the Britpop phenomenon spread wider and record sales continued to boom, it bands became more convinced of their own importance. Which is fine and all – the Gallagher brothers weren’t exactly the bashful types first time around – but for a lot of groups, their music lost the underdog, us-against-the-world charm that made them so alluring.
9Too much musical ambition
Too much musical ambition: By 1997 Britpop had, according to Creation Records’ Alan McGee, “just run out of steam… People like Jarvis Cocker and Damon Alburn had started to expand their sounds and do different things because they’re geniuses and that’s what geniuses need to do.” Their wandering artistic minds were always going to adventure into new territories.
10The money ran out
The money ran out: “New bands were getting massive record label deals all the time,” remembers Elastica’s Justin Welch. “You would stand next to someone holding a guitar at a bus stop and three weeks later they’d be on the cover of NME.” Labels were throwing huge piles of cash at milking Britpop for all it was worth. Eventually their fiscal recklessness caught up with them.
Princess Diana: The death of ‘people’s princess’ Diana in August 1997 put such a huge dent in the British public’s psyche that all of a sudden the breezy cheer of Britpop struggled to chime with audiences; neither the nation’s confidence, nor Britpop, would recover in a hurry.
12Bands patching up old rivalries
Bands patching up old rivalries: For some people, Britpop never truly died – at least, not till 2013’s collaboration between Noel Gallagher and Damon Albarn at a Teenage Cancer Trust show. We’ll let Liam Gallagher explain this one: “Noel killed Britpop. I’m into the Teenage Cancer Trust, but that was bollocks. If you think that was genuine you must be living on the fucking moon.”