Cool Britannia: The Story of Britpop

The BBC is paying tribute to 20 years of Britpop with a week of radio shows discussing our favourite ’90s classics.

In 1997, Noel Gallagher couldn’t believe his luck when he found himself arriving at Downing Street in a Rolls Royce to greet the new prime minister. “I’d only signed off the dole four years earlier – I was laughing all the way there, thinking: ‘what a trip!’”. Trip being the operative word, then, as the Oasis frontman confessed to taking drugs in a toilet reserved for the Queen on the same occasion.

Such was the hysteria of the Britpop era, which bore some of Britain’s most iconic artists and some of popular culture’s bitterest rivalries. Inspired by the glam and punk rock days of yore, Britpop was a rebellious two fingers to the emerging US grunge scene: bands such as Oasis, Blur, Pulp and Suede would reference British culture and sing in regional accents. Britpop wasn’t about the lead singer – it was about the band.

Bitter Brits

By the mid ’90s, Manchester-born siblings Noel and Liam Gallagher were breaking records left, right and centre with their album What’s the Story Morning Glory, featuring Britpop classics including Wonderwall and Don’t Look Back in Anger. It won the Best British album in 1996 at the Brit Awards, and to date is the third best-selling album in UK history.

Perhaps the album’s most memorable tune, however, was Roll With It: in what became known as “The Battle of Britpop”, Oasis’ London rivals, Blur, controversially released Country House on the same day, beating the band with 274,000 copies sold compared to Oasis’ 216,000 copies. Country House and Roll With It charted at number one and two respectively.

The rival bands were not known for making themselves popular with other bands either. Spice Girls singer Melanie Chisholm famously challenged Liam Gallagher at the Brit Awards in 1997 while picking up the Best Single award. Gallagher had previously stated he would not be attending as he might “smack the Spice Girls”, prompting Chisholm to warn him: “come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough”.

A new wave

The legacy of Britpop continued to shape the latter end of the ’90s; a renewed optimism in Britain gave rise to the term “cool Britannia”, paving the way for New Labour while referencing ’60s throwback Union Jack designs, including Geri Halliwell’s iconic Brit Awards dress.

Today, Britpop legends have done a lot of growing up since Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker famously bent over during Michael Jackson’s Earth Song performance at the 1996 Brit Awards. Notably, both Noel Gallagher and Damon Albarn buried the hatchet and stood onstage together at a Teenage Cancer Trust event at the Royal Albert Hall in 2013. While New Labour may not have fared as well, it’s undeniable that Britpop’s legacy will continue to live on in years to come.

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Katie Lingo
by Katie Lingo
15th July 2017

Project Details

Client: Démodé

Skills: Journalism

Date: 2nd April 2014

Project Info

Working for an independent start-up magazine, Démodé, I wrote a series of features that aligned with the magazine’s “vintage” theme. Here is a feature looking at the rise of Britpop in Britain.