Critics' Awards 1999 - Rock: Cutely unthreatening - and that was just the rap

There were lots of excellent albums released this year and lots of albums which sold well. But there weren't lots of excellent albums that sold well. In fact, at the last count there was one: Macy Gray's On How Life Is. The other queens of the top 10 were glossily beautiful women who sang middle-of-the-road soft rock and soul-lite. Shania Twain, Jennifer Lopez, Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey came across the Atlantic. The Corrs came from Ireland. Tragically, the UK's contribution was Martine McCutcheon.

This year's big development, though, was the resurgence of pre-teen pop. Where once there was Blur vs Oasis, in 1999 there was Geri Halliwell vs Emma Bunton. Pete Waterman, hitmaker for Kylie and Jason, kept making strides with Steps. Simon Fuller, the shadowy Svengali sacked by the Spice Girls, resurfaced with S Club 7. And not only did Boyzone resolutely refuse to break up, they spawned a junior edition: Westlife. It says a lot about pop today that the steamiest stars of the year were two teenage graduates of America's Mickey Mouse Club TV series, Britney Spears and Christine Aguilera.

Even rap was ruled by the cutely unthreatening Will Smith. And in the dance world, Basement Jaxx and the Chemical Brothers were eclipsed by simpler, lighter Ibiza club doodles. These forced Top of the Pops producers to wrestle with the problem of how to take a record made by an anonymous DJ and stage it live (answer: point cameras at dancers with hardly any clothes on).

This grave shortage of colourful personalities meant that even a pure pop fan couldn't count 1999 as a vintage year. No one looked as if they might be a new Madonna - or even a new Spice Girls or Take That. Only Ricky Martin stood out as a potential icon. A hip-swivelling caricature of the young Elvis, he cooked up "Livin' La Vida Loca" - definitely the fieriest example of 1999's Latin temperament.

What we should remember is that just because there weren't many great records in the charts, it doesn't follow that there were no great records in the shops. In fact, there were plenty - more than in 1998 or 1997. But what was missing was a coherent movement. One magazine predicted a Britpop revival at the start of the year, spearheaded by the ill-fated Gay Dad. Instead, the Verve split up, Oasis lost two founder members, Alan McGee left Creation Records and Jason Pierce sacked the rest of Spiritualised. Catatonia fluffed their shot at the top with their worst album so far; Blur, Suede Gomez, Supergrass and James all had disappointing sales, and Elastica, Kevin Rowland and the Happy Mondays competed to see who could make the most pathetically embarrassing comeback. Of their guitar- strumming peers, the only groups to lodge near the top of the album charts were Travis and the Stereophonics. What more evidence do you need that this was not a year for larger-than-life personalities?

If 1999 lacked a wave of groups which balanced innovation and integrity with commercial success, the closest thing to it was the increasingly important coterie of R&B producers. In a system reminiscent of the conveyor belt of girl groups of the 1960s, it's less the performers that matter than the people behind the scenes - or rather, behind the mixing desks. At the moment the leading names are Kevin "She'kspere" Briggs, Rodney Jerkins and the two members of the Fugees who are as bankable making records for other people as for themselves, Lauryn Hill and Wyclef Jean. But the leader of the pack must be Missy Elliot, not so much for her own album, Da Real World, as for the effect that she and her co-producer, Timbaland, have had on pop in general. You can hear her fingerprints on records by artists from Destiny's Child and 702 to Whitney Houston and Scary Spice - to say nothing of the records which have copied her without her involvement. And if that weren't proof enough of her influence, how about this: Damon Albarn named his daughter Missy in her honour.

Previous winners

1991 Primal Scream

1992 Nirvana

1993 Neil Young

1994 Blur

1995 Pulp

1996 Oasis

1997 Radiohead

1998 REM

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Pixie Lott will take part in Strictly Come Dancing 2014, the BBC has confirmed

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Prince and 3RDEYEGIRL are releasing Plectrum Electrum next month

music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Carell in the poster for new film 'Foxcatcher'
filmExclusive: First look at comic actor in first major serious role
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Kingston Road in Stockton is being filmed for the second series of Benefits Street
arts + entsFilming for Channel 4 has begun despite local complaints
Arts and Entertainment
Led Zeppelin

music
Arts and Entertainment
Radio presenter Scott Mills will be hitting the Strictly Come Dancing ballroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce performs in front of a Feminist sign at the MTV VMAs 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has taken home the prize for Video of the Year at the MTV Video Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Paige and Scott Lowell in Queer as Folk (Season 5)
tvA batch of shows that 'wouldn't get past a US network' could give tofu sales an unexpected lift
Arts and Entertainment
books... but seller will be hoping for more
Arts and Entertainment
John Kearns winner of the Foster's Edinburgh Comedy Award with last years winners: Bridget Christie and Frank Skinner
comedyJohn Kearns becomes the first Free Fringe act to win the top prize
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Sue Vice
booksAcademic says we should not disregard books because they unexpectedly change genre
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Muscato performs as Michael Crawford in Stars in Their Eyes

TV
Arts and Entertainment
‘Game of Thrones’

TV
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
    Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

    What is the appeal of Twitch?

    Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
    Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

    How bosses are making us work harder

    As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
    Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

    Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

    As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
    Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

    A tale of two writers

    Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
    Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

    Should pupils get a lie in?

    Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
    Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

    Prepare for Jewish jokes...

    ... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
    SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

    A dream come true for SJ Watson

    Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
    10 best cycling bags for commuters

    10 best cycling bags for commuters

    Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
    Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

    Paul Scholes column

    Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
    Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

    Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

    A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
    Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

    The science of herding is cracked

    Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
    Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

    This tyrant doesn’t rule

    It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?