When two tribes go to war over the future of pop

'Michael George is feeling so unstoppably righteous that he has shelled out on an expensive totem around which the anti-pop militants can gather: John Lennon's old brown piano, allegedly emblematic of a golden age of song'

The first part of this week has seen the first stirrings of a small-scale cultural war. The armies are massing on the pop pages of the tabloids and in the New Musical Express: things could decisively move at any minute.

The first part of this week has seen the first stirrings of a small-scale cultural war. The armies are massing on the pop pages of the tabloids and in the New Musical Express: things could decisively move at any minute.

On one side are ranged The Spice Girls, Steps, Westlife, and every other representative of the shrink-wrapped musical genre once known as "teenybop", but now respectfully allowed to call itself "pop".

Their opponents include George Michael, U2, and all the baby boomers who felt a ripple of disgust at the news that when the Spices' new single crash-lands at Number One, they will thereby rise above The Rolling Stones in the league table of all-time UK chart-toppers.

Just think: Victoria, Emma, and Mels B and C - more important than Mick and Keef! Something should be done about that, man. It's not on, yeah?

U2, meanwhile, are packing up their kit bags and heading for the front. No matter that their age gives this new jihad a distinct air of the Captain Mainwarings. "People are sick of processed pop bands," Bono says. "It's crap. They want something real again."

Now, I like U2's new single a lot. It oozes all the verve and ragged glory that pop, as opposed to rock, usually omits. But while Bono fumes, I see no signs of an anti-pop uprising. Britney Spears is on the cover of this month's Elle; Westlife, The Backstreet Boys et al are some way from a career nosedive; Mel C's initially improbable solo career will soon take in a date at Wembley Arena.

People like this stuff. It usually has a tune; you can put it on while you pirouette around your bedroom trying to decide which outfit to wear. Contemporary rock isn't terribly useful for that. The current "serious" album, Radiohead's Kid A, is more likely to get you in the mood for reading Noam Chomsky than for going out on the pull.

On the average suburban Saturday night, "Hit Me Baby One More Time" will always be the preferred option. Still, the old guard aren't having any of it. Even the usually mild-mannered George Michael has had a rant, accusing the record industry of "ignoring real talent in favour of pretty young things". This is a bit rich - George's partner in Wham!, the long-forgotten Andrew Ridgeley, was surely recruited on precisely that basis.

But George is feeling so unstoppably righteous that he has even shelled out on an expensive totem around which the anti-pop militants can gather: John Lennon's old brown piano, allegedly emblematic of a golden age of song.

In this holiest of struggles, I'm still undecided as to which side to support. I have long been convinced that The Spice Girls' first three singles are as dizzying an example of day-glo perfection as anything in the "classic" canon - but I've heard their new album, and it's little short of rotten. And I can see George Michael's point, but 15 years ago, when me and my friends were wearing second-hand overcoats, tutting at everything in the Top 10 and listening to The Smiths, he was the enemy.

I rather suspect that we're witnessing a very familiar scenario indeed. Britain's youth are being lectured by a gang of fortysomethings. They're being told that they should be listening to proper music, like what people used to make. None of this modern synthetic tripe. And while we're here, is that a man or a woman? And why can't you hear the words?

The merchants of pop, it seems, may well be sitting on exactly the same cultural fault-lines that defined Elvis, The Beatles, David Bowie and The Sex Pistols - in which case, that body of humanity known as "the kids" has every right to shove George, Bono and the old piano out of the way.

Incidentally, that new Steps single is quite good, isn't it?

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