So this is the “Best of British”, is it? In a month of triumphant national pride (the Ashes! The Proms! The Sun’s front page!) an odd piece of national back-slapping occurred at the recent G8 summit. It was when David Cameron presented his fellow summiteers with a USB playlist of new British talent, so that the heads of state could plug it into their laptops on their way home (yeah, right) and marvel at the scope and passion of modern British pop music.
There are 10 tracks, from Alt-J to Rudimental, and the music is mostly anodyne stuff, with nothing terribly unsettling or avant-garde. But what did François Hollande or Angela Merkel make of the lyrics? What did the words reveal to them about British people?
Well, nothing very positive, to be honest. Jake Bugg’s “Lightning Bolt” reports that everyone he sees “just wants to walk with gritted teeth” and people “tell him not to take chances”. British phlegm, it seems, is as choking as ever. The Brummie chanteuse Laura Mvula, on her gospelly song “Green Garden”, repeatedly encourages an inamorata to “take me outside, sit in the green garden” – a disastrous course of action anywhere in the UK this year, until the end of June. Streatham-born Lianne La Havas sings “Is Your Love Big Enough?”, a combative enquiry to the average Briton, which may be why the songs ends with her having hysterics “on Second Avenue”, having presumably exhausted the possibilities of Holland Park and Balham High Street.
There’s already been a fuss about the lyrics to Tom Odell’s “Another Love” because the phrase “I’ll use my voice, I’ll be so fucking rude” was considered a bit … well, rude. I can’t imagine Mr Putin fainting dead away at that. The video shows the singer as a floppy-haired ephebe in an armchair, telling his foxy overnight bunk-up: “I wanna take you somewhere so you know I care.” (Where would be that be, Tom? Stoke-on-Trent?) And, after ill-advisedly revealing that he can’t handle a significant relationship because his tears have been used up on “Another Love”, continues to sing while she smashes up his dingy flat.
Mr Odell’s self-presentation as an enervated loser doesn’t do much for the reputation of the British lover. Nor does Ben Howard’s “Only Love”, which contains the mantra: “Come on love, watch me fall apart.” Ben promises the fortunate girl that, when he’s fallen apart, he’ll still be around as “a wind in the shadow, a whale song in the deep”, neither undertaking likely to stir a maidenly heart to ecstasy.
The off-putting Conor Maynard – Justins Timberlake and Bieber meet Baby Face Finlayson from The Beano – at least admits, in his song “Can’t Say No”, to a healthy, non-weeping interest in the opposite sex, but his naive declaration “Some girls are naughty, some girls are sweet/ One thing they got in common, they all got a hold on me” suggests a callow chap afflicted with sadly indiscriminating satyriasis.
Gabrielle Aplin, a star at only 20, contributes a modern version of Paul Simon’s “Homeward Bound” with her song “Home”. I just hope President Obama doesn’t check out the video, in which Ms Aplin is shown in America being mugged by youths who steal her car and leave her in the desert, to be rescued by a grizzled trucker with a snow-white beard. So that’s what modern British culture thinks of America, is it? As a place of violence, disarray and uncouth behaviour.
But then, wouldn’t you do anything to get away from a land – Great Britain – apparently populated by emotionally stunted underachievers, chronic adulterers and ladies who ask you to sit outside in the rain and reveal to them whether your love is sufficiently enormous? It doesn’t quite sell the nation to our Continental friends, does it?