Joey Essex, the perma-tanned, preened king of reem, is emblematic of where we are as a nation. We knew him from TOWIE and grew to love him in the jungle. He's affable, cheeky and disarmingly handsome. He's loveably thick and that's why we love him. In the early 21st century, an adult man who can't tell the time on a watch and thinks a square is a six sided shape is lauded as a funny bloke rather than someone who needs intensive pedagogic care. He is proof that ignorance is bliss.
More importantly, he's put together the year's hottest dance compilation. Joey Essex Presents Party Anthems, the follow up to the game changing Joey Essex Presents Essex Anthems, is a three CD sure-fire guaranteed good time. Joey's been cutting a rug at the Sugar Hut for years now, so the man clearly knows what soundtracks a bangin' night out. He's got everything on here from Avicii, Calvin Harris, Tiësto and Cash Cash. The man knows his shit.
Joey, being the affable, approachable chap that he is, is doing a meet and greet promo tour of Tesco Extra branches for his tour de force of party anthems.
I took a train up to Borehamwood on a foggy Thursday afternoon to see what kind of person queues up to spend five seconds in the company of a man from the telly. On your way to the megastore – and this is one of those ones that has a travelator and a homeware department the size of a John Lewis – you're welcomed by a 20ft high Chris Tarrant fascia planted on the side of Elstree Film studios. This is England.
The buzz inside the shop was incredible. It was like watching that famous footage of the Beatles. Hundreds of teenage girls swamped the entertainment desk to hand over their pocket money for Joey's CD. Some even had Clubcards. The atmosphere was wild, feral, with scores of non-purchasers plotting ways of meeting the man himself. Rumours abounded as to his whereabouts. Some suggested he was having a coffee in the store's on site Costa. Others thought he was still in his car. A few naysayers doubted he was even going to turn up.
The throng of overstimulated teenagers fresh out of last period's science class was overwhelming. It didn't help that the shop's huge team of security staff had erected alarmed barriers which were constantly being set off by absent-minded youngsters, which meant that the entire time I was there I was subject to a piercing wail that refused to cease despite the loud and clear warnings from the burly buttoned-down security team.
When Joey finally stepped out the place exploded. It was incredible. Grown men pushed in front of children to get a photo of a man sitting down. We truly do live in the society of the spectacle.
Anyway, I was there to find out if Joey's taste in dance music was reflective of the nation as a whole.
THUMP: Hi Stephanie. Are you a big fan of Joey?
Stephanie: Oh he's a nice boy, isn't he? He's funny. My niece loves him. That's why I'm here – this is her Christmas present.
Great choice. Do you like dance music yourself? Is there anything on here that'd get you on the dancefloor?
Stephanie: I like that one, the Tiësto one. I've heard it on the radio.
Yeah, that's a good one. Will you be putting this on in the car?
Stephanie: If my niece lets me, yeah!
Michael, Adam, Charlie
THUMP: Lads, are you into Joey Essex?
Charlie: Yeah, he's alright. I've got a "reem" tattoo actually.
Adam: I know of him. I don't watch that TOWIE shit though.
Michael: He's alright.
Will you be buying the CD today?
Adam: Only if he buys our single.
What's your single?
Adam: We're in a band called All These Years and the single's called "Abandon Ship".
Nice. Do you listen to much dance music?
Charlie: A little bit. 'Cos that's what you hear when you go out to Oceana or wherever.
Is this the kind of dance music you hear when you are out on a Friday?
Charlie: Sadly, yeah.
Say he came up to you today and was like, "Alright lads, you heard the new Gorgon City track? It's great," would you make the effort to listen to it?
Adam: Maybe. I think it's good that he's putting good music out there though. If anyone in the music industry like him suggests something then, yeah, I'll give it a go. Why not.
Not everyone was happy to have their photo taken. I found one of the very few dads sent to chaperone their daughter hiding amongst the F&F shirts.
THUMP: Tom, I'm guessing you're not as into Joey as everyone else here is?
Tom: You do it for the kids don't you? They watch that TOWIE thing.
Do you know much about this party anthems CD? He's basically made every party ever really good. Do you reckon he's got such a hold over teenagers that he could get them into, say, free jazz?
By the look of today's crowd, yeah. Possibly with these girls here.
[Tom, by the way, gave me a fake name.]
The last person I spoke to before it all got too much and the hordes of screechers – both girls and boys alike – made me long for the misty quietus of an early evening outer London high street was Emily, one of the Tesco staff members asked to dole out those three-disc golden tickets that enabled the lucky holder to have a few, fleeting seconds with the man himself.
THUMP: He's funny isn't he? Joey Essex is funny.
Emily: Um, yeah. Kind of.
Do you live for dance music in the same way he does?
Emily: No. I don't like dance music.
Oh. Will this CD get you into it?
Emily. Nothing will.
It's easy to be sniffy about a release like Joey Essex Presents Party Anthems, to write it off as an obvious and cheap cash-in. But it's also pointless to be sniffy about it. For a lot of people, this will be their first introduction to Chic or DJ Casper. Is that a bad thing? Joey's taste, or the taste that a carefully assembled team of compilers has assigned and ascribed to him, is reflective of the nation's interest in dance music as a whole. Most people don't want to listen to Marcel Dettmann mixes or Move D remixes. They want the songs they know, the songs they love and the songs they know they love. That's what gets people dancing and that's what Joey Essex Party Anthems is giving them. And yes, I do believe that if he decided to put together, say, a collection of rare minimal techno cuts, or curated an overview of filter house that people would buy and love it all the same. Is that power and influence such a bad thing?