It’s a busy time for John Harris, the music journalist with the best claim to the title ‘official chronicler of Britpop’ (he may even have named the genre). This week he’s been leading BBC Four’s celebration ten years on from the Oasis Vs Blur thing and previewing the same in the Guardian.
John Harris has provoked much discussion, which might fall on deaf ears as the latest rumination on his own website is the best of 2002. Jonathan Shipley over at Assistant gets it about right, interestingly evoking XTC, a band for which Harris has much respect. And John Harris is an insightful commentator with whom – as fully paid-up member of the chattering classes – I agree more often than not when he’s on Newsnight Review.
But, despite laying claim to a whole genre, he’s an unfortunate music journalist, forced to more or less admit that Britpop burned out too quick. It was something he shied away from in his TV documentary, perhaps because it was a celebration of Britpop. For me the whole thing was summed up by the ex-Labour Party researcher who introduced Blur to Tony Blair, Darren Kalynuk. He described a scene where Alistair Campaign, with Blair in the room, asked Damon Albarn if he’d ever call Tony a w**ker and he said he wouldn’t. As soon as Labour won in 1997, Britpop was over. They were part of the establishment and had thrown away any claim to speak for the inevitably frustrated and idealistic generation.
W**ker was a good choice of slur, because w**ker is exactly what Albarn is (now listening to Blur’s Parklife). The whole thing was far too clever for its own good, filled with self-conscious irony and created to some postmodernist manual. Which brings us to the legacy: which John Harris admits is conservative, reactionary and laddish: perhaps the opposite of everything its creators strived for. Postmodernism passed too many people by and they simply didn’t get the irony. So the biggest Britpop hits – Blur’s Girls & Boys, Pulp’s Common People – where essentially cross-over hits often taken at face value.
So spare a thought for John Harris. An intelligent insightful journalist, doomed to be wasted on a Britpop, a pretentious and ultimately empty musical genre.
Populist leaders……KT Tunstall, Suddenly I See