Somehow 15 years have passed since VICE arrived in London and the editors would have to push piles of magazines around the city asking pubs to please take them. Since then we've grown, conceiving tiny content babies that have grown into leading industry voices (see us, here – Noisey – recklessly tooting our own horn). To mark this anniversary, this week VICE UK is throwing a bunch of events and we're running a series of content about a time in British music that most of us shouldn't, but weirdly do, struggle to remember.
Not to sound like a Brexit Dad, right, but these days you can’t tell much about a country by its number 1 singles. There once was a time when the very fabric of society was represented by what we collectively listened to. The charts were snapshots of a general mood, a vibe, a unified field of jams. I’m not talking about New Romanticism or Britpop – I’m talking about Sonique and Cornershop and the fact that nobody outside Europe has a fucking clue who Robbie Williams is. But the time of regional icons and flash-in-a-pan novelty shit whose success represents something deep within the heart of society is long gone. The time of “Despacito” single-handedly taking on Ed Sheeran, Sam Smith, Taylor Swift and DJ Khaled is in full swing.
The predictable ebb and flow of the UK charts in 2017 has been interrupted only by the occasional charity single and “Man’s Not Hot” – what does that tell you about the general public, besides the fact that we will throw all our energy and money behind rare moments of pure joy because everything is terrible? The charts are chaos now and, in many ways, they’re better for it. You don’t need major label backing and an aggressive poster campaign on the tube escalators to break into the top 10 (although it won’t hurt, obviously). But, on the other hand, they paint a much less vivid picture of a geographically specific time and place. If someone from another highly Westernised country spent a few hours listening to Radio 1, the majority of names, voices and sounds would be recognisable or at least familiar. In 2002, this was not the case.
Fifteen years ago the charts were, pardon my French, off their tits. Everything was either a novelty song, a wet ballad, or sung by a collection of humans spat out by reality television. In an effort to exemplify just how gloriously ridiculous and incredibly specific things were in the UK in 2002 – and also because VICE UK turns 15 this week, so we’re giving you what Noisey couldn’t then because it didn’t exist – I’m going to take you on a journey through each month of the year as represented by something that was number one at the time. Let us reflect fondly upon the past, a much simpler but also much shitter time in which ten lads from Chingford could coast to number off the back of a paint-by-numbers cover of Bone Thugs n-Harmony.
January: Daniel Bedingfield – “Gotta Get Thru This”
Our first hit of the year from comes from one of the two Bedingfield siblings we would come to treasure in the early 00s, not for their artistic integrity but for their everyman appeal and GCSE music coursework hooks. A white label classic, “Gonna Get Thru This” only spent the one week of the year on top, carrying over from its release in November 2001, but oh what a week it was. Nothing represents the “you can be whoever you want and do whatever you want in this life as long as you go through UCAS!” morale of peak Blairism quite like a 23-year-old with a slimline beard cobbling together his first number 1 single in his bedroom using Reason, and then filming a portion of the music video on the DLR and a bridge connecting West India Quay to Canary Wharf – two features of London that have the rare privilege of remaining unchanged in that they have both been crap and boring for a decade and a half.
February: Enrique Iglesias – “Hero”
This was number 1 for the entire goddamn month of February and, despite the obvious and cynical marketing tactics involved, I have nothing negative to say about that whatsoever. This song has brought me much joy over the years, ranging from a memory of my friend savagely cutting through the atmosphere of a raucous house party while it was on The Box by screaming “SILENCE, ENRIQUE IS SPEAKING”, to this evidence of Simon Amstell performing it at a karaoke night in a breton shirt. It has appeared on episodes of Smallville, Scrubs and Glee. It even played over scenes of small heartbroken dogs in satisfactory 2008 family comedy Beverly Hills Chihuahua – always with intentionally over-the-top or mock sincerity, of course. Credit where credit’s due, Enrique Iglesias has created what is very possibly the most universal in-joke.
March: Will Young – "Evergreen"
These days you may know Will Young for his cutting political commentary – describing the 2015 election as a “wet fart” and branding the DUP deal a “shitfest” – but in 2002 he was simply the guy who controversially won the inaugural series of Pop Idol over Gareth Gates. He was also basically the most famous man in the country.
Pop Idol only ran for two seasons over three years but it changed both reality television and the charts forever. The format of talent shows now seems to be to take ordinary people and making them appear increasingly extra-ordinary over a series of weeks using a combination of hair, wardrobe and Instagram. In 2001 the whole point was that any old fucker could get famous by embracing the fact that they could be any old fucker. A kid from Wokingham with a degree in politics from the University of Exeter and a face like wholesome timeline Robert Webb could kick his shapeless jeans about to a Jackson 5 song and, six months later, have the fastest selling debut in UK chart history. Will Young’s cover of Westlife’s “Evergreen” remains, alongside “Candle in the Wind” and “Barbie Girl”, one of only eight songs to be certified triple platinum in the UK. Think about THAT next time you find yourself cross at him for throwing the V sign at John from Shrewsbury on an episode of Saturday Morning Kitchen.
April: Gareth Gates – “Unchained Melody”
In many ways, I think Gareth Gates was always too pure for the music industry. Every expression a smidge too revealing; every suit looking like it had been handed down to him by an older brother a year too soon. It didn’t matter how good his voice was, because it would never not scream “I once sang for the Queen during her royal visit to Bradford in 1997”. Still, 2002 was his year as much as it was Will Young’s. “Anyone Of Us (Stupid Mistake)” is the real banger, let’s be honest, but it was not his first moment in the charts. No. That honour belongs to this cover of The Righteous Brothers and accompanying video that almost certainly featured on Richard Curtis’ mood board for Love, Actually.
May: Liberty X – “Just A Little”
Number 1s from this truly exciting month include: Sugababes’ “Freak Like Me”, “Kiss Kiss” by Holly Valance, and Ronan Keating’s cover of Garth Brooks’ “If Tomorrow Never Comes” – a song that ponders what someone’s lover might think of them if they died in the night. It was too hard to choose a clear winner so I just went for the one that sold the best: “Just a Little” by the menagerie of five Popstars losers who didn’t make it into Hear’Say. Proving, once again, that there was no song in the UK charts in 2002 that wasn’t significantly bolstered by a heated reality TV beef.
June: Elvis vs Junkie XL – “A Little Less Conversation”
To quote portion of Angus Harrison’s lengthy revisitation of this song in honour of its 15th birthday earlier this year, “It's hard to overstate just how much Junkie XL's 'A Little Less Conversation' did for the spirit of humanity at the turn of the century.” Indeed, it is difficult to pinpoint exactly why a composition that sounds like Bez’s inner monologue captured the British psyche so vividly, but judging by the opinions of those canvassed it has something to do with football, advertising and the Iraq war.
July: Darius – “Colourblind”
Ah, yes. Darius. Or as I like to call him, Sufjan Stevens if he was a UK TV talent show contestant who was bang into thumb rings and Counting Crows.
August: Blazin Squad – “Crossroads”
Guys did you know a member of Blazin Squad was a contestant on this year’s Love Island?
September: Atomic Kitten – “The Tide Is High”
In 1996, English synthpop group Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark broke up because their sound was completely stomped out by the prevalence of Britpop. Shortly afterwards their frontman Andy McCluskey was given some sage advice by Karl Bartos of Kraftwerk, who suggested he needed a new vehicle for his songwriting. So McCluskey founded the Liverpudlian girl group Atomic Kitten in 1998, and now we have Kerry Katona**. All blessings to the Gallagher brothers.
**None of this is relevant to the above, which was released after both Andy McCluskey and Kerry Katona left, but it’s a nice reminder of the course of British music history nonetheless.
October: Will Young & Gareth Gates – “The Long and Winding Road”
And so the fictional battle between our nation’s most beloved pre-Supreme era sad boys culminates in this: a joint single ostensibly about their 12-month journey as imagined rivals, signalling the end of their beef and cultural relevance as they harmonise side-by-side in the void from Stranger Things.
November: DJ Sammy – “Heaven”
This isn’t British but it is one of the greatest songs of the 21st century and anybody who says it isn’t is either wrong or dead. It’s romantic without being insufferable, timeless without being rooted in tedious nostalgia. You can’t shag to it but why would you want to when, after three seconds, all you’re interested in doing is necking a VK, taking your shirt off and climbing onto the nearest pair of shoulders.
December: Girls Aloud – “Sound of the Underground”
It's been 15 years [please read this in the voice of old Rose in Titanic]…. It's been 15 years, and I’m still convinced this is a song about salvia, so perfectly does it describe an experience I once had melting into someone’s living room carpet staring at a lamp I thought was the sun. Even The Guardian’s Alexis Petridis, who reviewed it at the time, said “it's hard to hear this stuff without picturing the lyricist winking at you and tapping the side of their nose”. Which I’m going to take to mean: this is definitely about drugs, and that’s definitely why it beat the shit out of the wetters in One True Voice for the title of Christmas number 1 in the out-and-out gender war that was season 2 of Popstars. And so, the glorious reign of 2002 concludes with five women dressed like they were dragged arse over tit through Tammy Girl reinventing how to Smash The Patriarchy™ and perform the best mic lean since Elvis.
Shame about the present, isn't it.
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This article is part of VICE UK’s 15th anniversary series, presented by VANS