From cocks to Girls - The Snow In The Summer or So-So

18 January 2020
Popular in late 2002

Not Quite as Popular covers the top five singles on the CIN chart. This episode covers the second half of 2002. We move at roughly the same speed as Tom Ewing's Popular project, which explains why it's taken almost four years to cover 2002.

July 2002 dawned with Elvis Presley still at number one. Red Hot Chili Peppers had been going almost as long, 19 years compared to Elvis's 22 year career. Formed in 1983, the Peppers broke through in California with Mother's Milk (1989) and here with Blood Sugar Sex Magik (1991). Even then, it took until 1994 for the album to become a serious success here.

Three albums later, By the way enters at number 2. It's the group's biggest UK hit single, and one of their best-known (second only to Under the bridge, we reckon). More melodic and instant than many RHCP tracks, it has some depths. Some, but not many.

Red Hot Chili Peppers have one musical problem. To be precise, five problems, the band's five songs. The ballad, the funky sex, the wig-out, the blues stomper, and the mainstream rock track. By the way fell into the last of these categories. Thrilling on first hearing, and still refreshing on occasion, the song is good enough, OK, it'll do.

The social problem is that the Red Hot Chili Peppers are woman-hating dickheads. The band is a clearing-house for maladjusted bastards, both those in the band and those who hang around it. It serves as a giant, worldwide ego stroke and cash machine. In any other job, these guys would have been soundly critiqued for their antics.

Jennifer Lopez put I'm gonna be alright to number 3. Remember it? Us neither. The Prodigy landed at 5 with Baby's got a temper, a particularly vicious single encouraging date rape. It had been almost five years since the last Prodigy single, and their career pretty much ended with this. Except it doesn't: we meet them again in 2009.

Second single for Gareth Gates was Anyone of us (stupid mistake), and it spent three weeks at number 1. Light and fluffy, and tailored to Gates' innocent (and immature?) voice. It's a Swedish pop song, it's bright and breezy, Gates sells it well, and it shows the possibilities. What would have happened if Gareth had been managed well?

Here I am said Bryan Adams at number 5. "Go away," said the public, bored of Bryan's twee middle-of-the-road stylings. Foolish hit number 4 for Ashanti, her debut single release here. A sweet soul song with gentle hip-hop stylings, a style already falling out of fashion. Ashanti herself moved from the music industry to theatre.

Anthemic house music from Flip 'n' Fill, Shooting star reached number 3. Cloying from Elton John and Alessandro Safina, the duet version of Your song made number 4. Ja Rule hit 5 with Livin' it up. S Club Juniors marked the summer holidays with Automatic high, number 2 in a quiet week.

Shakira spent four weeks at number one in Ireland, displacing their Popstars band Six (Let me be the one again did nothing here). Shakira asked us to consider what's Underneath your clothes; the Latin-fused ballad peaked at number 3 and proved she had more talent than most of 2002's stars.

Does that include Darius Danesh? Maybe. The bête noire of Popstars polished up his act and made a return on Pop Idol in autumn 2001. Though he placed third in his heat, Darius was reprived when Rik Waller withdrew for medical reasons. (Remember that week's other qualifier Aaron Bayley? Us neither.) Darius consistently ranked third, finished third, and wasn't signed up by Cowell. Forced to wait until the summer, he released the single Colourblind, a witty take on the traditional love song; it's technically poor, but it never gets dull. By some way the best of the 2002 Pop Idol singles, and the one from the Popstar to Operastar champion, it's been forgotten by mainstream radio. Two weeks at number one.

The second Men in Black movie was soundtracked with Black suits comin' (nod ya head), which somehow made number 3. Remember it? Thought not. P Diddy made number 4 with I need a girl (part one), notable for the backing vocals of Loon and for promising a part two that never arrived.

Coldplay launched their second album with In my place, similar to their previous work. A number 2 hit. We didn't realise it could be read as a feminist anthem until it got played at a cousin's wedding. Madhouse hit number 3 with Like a prayer, a house rendition of the Madonna classic. Slightly unnecessary; a week at the top in Ireland.

Round round confirmed that the Sugababes were more than a flash in the pan. A very simple song found its moment of genius in the middle eight. Everything is going forward, chugging round on its planned tracks, like a train - until it stops. The chugging beat is gone, replaced by a Latin dance step. And then, when Heidi's finished singing, it's as if nothing ever changed. The eye of the hurricane has passed, and we're winding down to the finish.

Some claim that this (along with another song we'll reach at the end) re-invented pop for the new decade. Producers may say this, but we don't agree. Round round tries to apply the cut-and-paste techniques of Freak like me to generic pop, and only gets about halfway there. The lyric is quality, the backing track shows that it was created in a hurry. We'll meet the Sugababes on seven more occasions before the end of the decade; the majority of these songs are very similar to Round round. If it did re-invent pop, then pop went up a blind alley of conformity, and the Sugababes were always better than that. (Well, at least up to Sugababes 3.11; Sugababes Vista was an error.)

Daniel Bedingfield released James Dean (I wanna know), and put it to number 4. Choppy hip-hop, almost deliberately not commercial. Romeo went solo from the So Solid Crew, brought grime to the commercial sector, single Romeo dunn featured a painfully fast rap and made number 3.

A year later, Romeo would appear on Channel 4's The Games. Two years after that, the series included MC Plat'num B from Blazin' Squad. So Solid felt like the real deal, kids who had grown up on the real streets of south London. Blazin' Squad were manufactured, plastic, fake. Eight-minute commercials on The Box television channel told us they were a major label project, in it for the money and not because this was their life. The smell was commerce, not art.

Crossroads was a bastard version of Bone Thugs 'n' Harmony's six-year-old track, with all the life and all the rebellion taken out of it. BS tried to be SSC with a revolving cast of members - over the next few years, the line-up included Strider, Flava, Kenzie, Ghostface Davis, Freek, Shawna Paul, MC Fingerlicken, Kroton the Cyberman, Danny Pink, Jamsey, Ally G8 Or, MC Government of the 11th Dáil, Yvonne Hartman, Emmanuel Frimpong, and Handlezz. But all they got was ridicule, they were compared to the fakers on the Offspring tune. Didn't have Ice Cube? (ctd Feb 2010).

Abs from Five had a solo hit, What you got made number 4, and was about the end of his solo career. Truth Hurts put Addictive to number 3, bolstered by a rap from Rakim; it's based on an Indian music sample that wasn't properly licensed, which partly explains why it's absent from radio airplay.

Also absent from radio airplay: Atomic Kitten's The tide is high / Got the feeling. The John Holt / Blondie track was augmented with a new bridge in the middle, but Scouse girls singing cod-reggae hits is never going to end well. The single's highlight was the B-side, an artful mix of tracks from their album, but that doesn't explain how the single spent three weeks at number one.

Ms Dynamite landed at 5 with Dy-na-mi-tee, a lost gem from pop's forgotten age. A storyful rap unwinds over a lazy beat, with a hook to rip your ear off. See also: Fantasy, the debut single for the Appleton sisters. They'd left All Saints, came out with this uptempo pop song, bright and witty and inventive in a way the Atomic Kitten weren't. Couldn't advance past number 2. There's no justice in the world.

Liberty X followed up their number one with Got to have your love, a hit in 1990 for Mantronix. The Flopstars went two places better, reaching number 2 with this single. It showed how far pop had come: what was futuristic in 1990 was comfortably retro in 2002.

Kelly Osbourne was never comfortable. She'd risen to fame as the bratty daughter on The Osbournes, a fly-on-the-wall documentary featuring Ozzy and Sharon and their children Kelly and George. A very limited vocalist, Papa don't preach sold on the strength of Kelly's wild hair, and her image as the girl we'd like to know and get filthy with. Epic Records knew that they were going to be blasted out of the water by a better punk girl, one who could actually sing. More of that in (checks watch) four paragraphs.

Scooter followed up their big hit with Nessaja, pounding hardcore house without the cheeky sample from The logical song. Number 4, but no higher. We expected Ronan Keating's Love it when we do to do better than 5, but a difficult week was his undoing. It didn't help that it was another Gregg Alexander / Rick Nowells formula song (see also: Life is a rollercoaster, Lovin' each day).

Pink surprised herself, as Just like a pill reached number 1 for a week. Very much Don't let me get me redux, it took advantage of a quiet week to slip ahead of Atomic Kitten. Eminem's Cleaning out your closet reached number 4, and Bon Jovi's Everyday hit number 5, both entirely predictable for their fans.

Between them was Busted, a rock-influenced trio who promised a good time, nudge, wink. Their lead single was What I go to school for, a song about Matt's crush on his teacher. The song is played for laughs, an adolescent dream and it knows it. Number 3 belied the hard work the group put in, and continued to put in during the autumn term.

The established pop idols combined for The long and winding road, a duet between Will Young and Gareth Gates. Neither suited this slow and ponderous track, and it only spent a fortnight at number 1 because it's the pop establishment. Oasis made number 2 with Little by little, the towering ballad from their album.

Number 3 in the UK - and two weeks at the top in Ireland - for Avril Lavigne. Complicated proved that Avril had bags of talent: the performance, the song (which she'd co-written), the video. In three minutes, Avril established an image, and dispelled any notion that Kelly Osbourne would amount to much. Kelly was here because of dad; Avril had made it through her own merits, and a long career looked possible.

Holly Valance was in Follow That! territory for Down boy, a completely forgettable dance-pop record. Number 2 in the week of release, but who remembers it now? Down 4 u was an anodyne R&B number, it reached number 4 for Irv Gotti Presents The INC Featuring Ja Rule, Ashanti, Charli Baltimore, and Vita. And the Foo Fighters put All my life to number 5, a crashingly tedious slab of cock-rock.

Can someone hurry up and invent a stupid summer dance? Have it popularised by three pretty Spanish women, and make it as suggestive as crushing their humble mountains? Never mind, Aserejé (The ketchup song) will have to do. Lucia, Lola, and Pinar told of a hippie-guy with a massive cock who walked into the club and wowed all the women (and quite a few of the men).

It was the European hit of the year. Number one for 11 weeks in France, where there was a rumour that the song was about devil-worship. "It's nonsense," said the group, and we believe them. Four months on top in Sweden, two months in Germany, three weeks in Ireland. And one week at number one in the UK, but three months in the top ten. For all that, we've never really warmed to the song, it's a bit too clinical to be fun. Almost inevitably, Las Ketchup were heading to the Eurovision Song Contest, Un Blodymary was Victoria Coren's favourite entry of 2006 but was absolutely rubbish, even finishing behind the BBC.

S Club Juniors followed at number 2 with New direction. With the parent group on the rocks, it fell to Frankie and Calvin and the others to keep the S Club banner flying. This felt like an S Club 7 track, Frankie sang it like she was auditioning to be the new Talented One, and we wouldn't have begrudged it a number one slot. The song stands up, in a way Aserejé doesn't.

While Ja Rule was being laughed at, Nelly was the real deal for crossover rap. Dilemma was gentle perfection. An unthreatening groove. Kelly Rowland chirruping a singalong chorus. Nelly telling a tale of a man who wants his current girl, and this new girl on the block. In these days of polyamoury and gender fluidity, the conflict seems quaint and outdated. But the song is timeless, aided by a video shot to look like fashionable telly series Desperate Housewives. Two weeks at number one, and it proved enough to push Kelly Rowlands' album out in autumn 2002, bumping Beyonce to summer 2003.

Big Brovaz reached number 2 with Nu Flow. The hip-hop group were heavily promoted by Sony, pretending that they were the So Solid Crew but without the street roots. The So Hollow Crewe, if you wish. We will see them again, sadly. They only had one album, but released it three times, each time with slightly different tracks and ordering. Had absolutely no appeal to us, but that could be because we're from The North, and Big Brovaz were very much a London thing.

Whatever happened to Samantha Mumba? The singer looked to have a long career ahead of her, and I'm right here scooted in at number 5. The lush soul ballad was meant to be from her second album, but Mumba's subsequently denied that a second album existed at that time. Dropped by her record company, she's concentrated on acting, though did record an album's worth of material in 2009 - it was never released. Mumba did pop up on Irish talent show The Hit in 2013, where she finished second to the Republic of Loose. And she did well on TV3's Celebrity Masterchef in 2017.

Justin Timberlake left the safe bosom of *N'Sync, and the even safer bosom of Britney Spears, to branch out on his own. Like I love you was a familiar sound from his boy band days, a sparse rhythm with added bleeps, and it showed off his vocal hiccups to their advantage. Catchy enough to sell to the fans at number 2, little crossover.

One love by Blue was a new song, not a Stone Roses cover. The R&B-tinged tune cut little new ground, a familiar start to their second album campaign, which might explain why it stalled at 3. U2 promoted their new hits collection with the new song Electrical storm, which sounded like a foggy day at the rusting seaport. Number 5.

DJ Sammy and Yanou took Heaven to number one. It was a cover of Bryan Adams' 1985 single (38 in the UK, 1 in North America), done in two very different versions. One was a Eurodance belter, somewhere between 138 and 146 bpm. The other was Do's singing against a plaintive keyboard line, at about 62½ bpm. Something for all the listeners, whether it's clubbers or their parents. The song had taken a year to become a hit in the UK, and crashed in at number 1. Just one week on top, but three weeks in the top three showed it was a crossover hit.

We couldn't say the same about Madonna's Die another day at number 3; drums and bleeps don't make an interesting Bond theme. Nor could we say that Shania Twain had a crossover hit, I'm gonna getcha good came in at 4 but then dropped right down. Westlife timed their single releases for quiet weeks, and Unbreakable hit the top in mid-November. We've got nothing to say about it.

We do have plenty to say about Dirrty, two weeks on top for Christina Aguilera. The lead single from her "grown-up" album, Aguilera had us going "good grief!" at the video. What happens in the Industrial Zone after Richard O'Brien goes home? It's grubby, it's girls boxing, it's dancing on tables, it's got mud wrestling, a shower scene with urinals on the wall. All human life is here, even furries.

All of this was more full-on, more extreme than we expected. In retrospect, likely more extreme than Aguilera intended. But the nice-girl image was destroyed, never coming back, and we were always going to see her as the girl in the leather chaps and not much more. And the video was an influence for many years down the line. The song? An OK slab of funk, inferior to Britney's "grown-up" moment a year before. Aguilera barely sings, the song has a very narrow range, and we all know she's doing it to change her image. Better singles will follow.

Single four from Will Young was the first to miss the top, Don't let me down / You and I peaked at 2. In retrospect, it's the release that foreshadowed his future career, ballads with a bit of steel in them. Jennifer Lopez reached number 3 with Jenny from the block, once more pretending that she was somehow "street" or "down wiv da kidz". 'Fer, you're so "street" you should be in the Big Brovaz.

S Club 7 had split, after Jon left they dropped the number and became S Club. Alive was their only release under the new moniker, it made number 5. After four years, the group was fading into the background and we barely missed them. Atomic Kitten threatened to leave with The last goodbye, a number 2 hit. We should be so lucky. Darius put Rushes to 5, a staccato song that tried (and failed) to capture the ruling R&B style.

Slushy ballads seem to be the flavour of December: Daniel Bedingfield put If you're not the one to the top for a week, a delicate and slightly calculated song wondering why there are suddenly hearts in his eyes. He was followed by Eminem's Lose yourself, a song that (gasp!) isn't about Mathers' ego.

Where Bedingfield saw hearts, Ronan Keating saw pound signs: his take on We've got tonight featured Lulu, and was rubbish. Bob Seger's original is another fragile flower, beseeching his lover to make the most of their last night together. Ronan just didn't get it, approaching the song from "we're here, let's do it". And he tries this with Lulu - old enough to be Adrian Mole's mother, old enough to be Ronan's granny. No. Just no. The song most likely to leave listeners retching, and number one for a week in Scotland.

Something far better replaced Ronan as Scotland's number one. Cheeky song (touch my bum) by the Cheeky Girls, a number 2 hit nationally. Irma and Gabriella had risen to prominence on that year's talent show Popstars The Rivals. Not from being any good, but from being so rubbish they were laughed out of the audition. They weren't kept to a contract, and pushed out this daft novelty. It contained the best lyric since Ant and Dec:

We are the cheeky girls.
We are the cheeky girls.
You are the cheeky boys.
You are the cheeky boys.

Marvellous songwriting. Robbie Williams stood no chance, Feel spoke in sentences and used chords and all that rockish stuff, so no higher than number 4. Liberty X put Holding on for you to number 5, another Christmas ballad but far more listenable than their summer hits. The only actual Christmas song this year was S Club Juniors' take on Sleigh ride, it peaked at 6.

Blue worked with Elton John on a cover of Elt's Sorry seems to be the hardest word. The song was faithful to the original, adding some harmonies to Elton's interpretation. Unlike his work with George Michael eleven years earlier, Elton didn't overpower his co-singers. Something of an under-rated classic. We can't say the same about Gareth Gates' What my heart meant to say, which only made number 5 because it was The Annoying One. Besides, he's so last year.

The idea behind Popstars The Rivals was to cast two groups who would fight it out for the Christmas number one single. The battle was between One True Voice, Sacred trust was a cover from the most recent Bee Gees album, picked by Pete Waterman for his boy band. The favourites when casting completed, but we hadn't heard the song. It was a sleigh-ride through wet slush, behind a plodding reindeer. Far less fun than it should have been. Did well to reach number 2.

The winner was Sound of the underground, credited to Girls Aloud. Louis Walsh had had the song kicking around for a couple of years. Reports at the time said it had been turned down by Samantha Mumba just weeks before, for the album that was retconned out of history. A dance song with sampled guitars, a catchy chorus, a winners' song that actually reflected life as the voting audience lived it. Waterman went for the granny phone vote; Walsh went for a long-lasting group. He won, of course, putting the song to the top for a full month.

History has been kind to Sound of the underground. It wasn't pioneering, the beats-and-guitars thing had been going around all year. But it did bring a very new sound to the most mainstream part of the mainstream, and that sound would shape pop music for the next few years. Number one for four weeks, and while greater talents have had Christmas chart-toppers since, there wouldn't be a better festive leader for many years.

This blog's scores (on a Normal scale, mean 5½, sd 2, so there are half-a-dozen records scoring 1 or 10 in the whole aughts)

Gareth Gates - 6
Darius - 8
Sugababes - 7
Blazin' Squad - 3
Atomic Kitten - 2
Pink - 7
Will Young And Gareth Gates - 3
Las Ketchup - 4
Nelly Featuring Kelly Rowland - 8
DJ Sammy And Yanou - 9
Westlife - 3
Christina Aguilera - 7
Daniel Bedingfield - 6
Eminem - 3
Blue Featuring Elton John - 7
Girls Aloud - 7

A half-year that tended to the agreeable or the very naff. No TEN POINTS! in this top five, but we're also giving 9s to Ashanti and Shakira; Ronan's take on We've got tonight gets a One. Hindsight allows us to mark on a curve: Busted, Avril, and Christina's video all had claims to 9s when they first came out, but there were better examples later on the album. In Avril's case, we don't meet I'm with you, which is a damn cold night.

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