The madness of this quest for millennial music

Andy Gill
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The Independent Culture

So you're there in the Dome when the clock strikes 12, and someone starts playing Robbie Williams's "Millennium". Whom do you punch? More pertinently, why are you there in the first place? For, if the eight songs announced as frontrunners for the dubious accolade of being the last Government-approved piece of pop music played this millennium are anything to go by, the whole New Millennium Experience experience is going to be even less imaginative than expected.

So you're there in the Dome when the clock strikes 12, and someone starts playing Robbie Williams's "Millennium". Whom do you punch? More pertinently, why are you there in the first place? For, if the eight songs announced as frontrunners for the dubious accolade of being the last Government-approved piece of pop music played this millennium are anything to go by, the whole New Millennium Experience experience is going to be even less imaginative than expected.

Even by the lowest-common-denominator standards of corporate culture, Queen's "We Are the Champions", Robbie Williams' "Millennium", Oasis's "Don't Look Back in Anger" and the rest make up a spectacularly dull list, a queasy mix of roughly equal parts trite sentimentality, mystifying triumphalism and the kind of ingratiating populism that is employed by advertisers eager to convey their client's supposed youth and hipness. Beside this lot, even the new, allegedly "cookin' " national anthem by Jools "Mr Boogie Woogie" Holland becomes an almost attractive prospect.

We shouldn't, I suppose, have expected any better. Throughout the last decade, fevered commentators, driven to a lather of expectation by the antics of a few bonkers cultists such as the Branch Davidians, have predicted all manner of millennial madness overtaking mankind as the next century approaches. Waves of pre-millennial tension, we are told, will prompt mass suicides, while the more pious pessimists derive pyrrhic comfort from the prospect of the various plagues to come.

The reality, of course, is rather less exciting: as capitalism celebrates its ascendancy over the last century, its market-research methods have been employed to swamp us under a deluge of polls and awards, as if the true quality of an artwork or an artist were incontrovertibly connected to their popularity, or - even less likely - their popularity among the kind of people sad enough to contribute to such polls. We've had the Nation's Favourite Poem, and the Greatest Films of the Century, and the Fifty Greatest Books, and pretty soon the BBC will bestow upon Muhammad Ali (just guessing, but who'd bet against him?) the title of Sports Personality of the Century.

Only last week we were informed yet again of the nation's "favourite" pieces of music, in some ludicrous farrago claiming itself to be the Music of the Millennium - from which it was possible to deduce that (a) most people can remember only as far back as last year, and certainly that (b) most people have never heard any music at all from outside the 20th century.

The entertainment industry sets its own pace in these matters, of course, with a constant stream of meaningless, back-slapping award ceremonies designed to fool us into thinking that some inane film or record is in fact a significant achievement, and not the money-grubbing disgrace that we know it to be. And invariably, on each such occasion, the myth of the People's Will is hoisted into place, to be saluted by the industry.

How many times have we heard, as some poltroon fondles their shiny statuette, the claim that "this award is the important one, because it's voted for by you, the viewers"? We may be denied referenda on any questions that really matter, but our brand of consumer democracy, it appears, insists upon our being polled constantly about the most trivial matters. This is why this shortlist has been announced; having worn their own brains to a frazzle trying to pick the most obvious songs, the organisers are running that list up the flagpole to see which one gets saluted the most. Though who, faced with such a choice, could bring themselves to salute any of them with more than a single finger?

After all, it's not as if the People's Will hadn't already been expressed over and over again each week, through the sales charts that now dominate not just the pop arena but also virtually every area of cultural endeavour, from films to books. What's urgently required is not further evidence of the various industries' strangleholds on purchasers' tastes, but informed comment and opinion - I'm declaring an interest here, I admit - on the relative qualities and significant characteristics of the works in question. We already know what's popular; now can we get some idea of what's good?

From my own viewpoint, the most glaring fault with the shortlist is its complete lack of irony (Pulp's "Disco 2000" is kitsch, which isn't the same thing). That sinking feeling you experienced as you read the list could have been quickly dispelled by the inclusion of, say, Barry McGuire's immortal "Eve of Destruction" - a millennial sentiment if ever one existed - or maybe Black Lace's perennial "Agadoo", proven time and time again to be the real anthem of tabloid Britain. But if what's required is something that truly reflects the spirit of the 20th century, there's little point in looking further than "Liberty Bell", the Monty Python theme; no piece of music sums up better the absurdity and ignorant pomp of this dying century, and the ludicrous self-importance of the entire New Millennium Experience project.

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