- The Snow In The Summer or So-So

20 April 2020
Popular in early 2003

Not Quite as Popular covers the top five singles on the CIN chart. This episode covers the first half of 2003. We move at roughly the same speed as Tom Ewing's Popular project, though the unexpected revival took us by surprise.

From time to time, the new year generates a hype, something for the music press to kick about in the quiet week at the start of the year. Electric Six were the hype for 2003, the disco-funk band put Danger! High voltage to number 2 (number 1 in Scotland). Backed with the vocals of Jack White from the White Stripes, and a video with light-up codpieces, it's a big novelty hit. Like Gay Dad four years earlier, number 2 with a bullet and then down like an anvil.

Divine Inspiration hit number 5 with The way, a noodling chill-dance track. More noodles from Jamieson and Angel Blu, True made number 4, no relation to the Spandau Ballet number. No-one remembers either of those.

Everyone remembers Year 3000, Busted's big breakthrough track. Riffing off the film Back to the Footor, Busted tell of a world where people live under water. People only reproduce once every 200 years or so, because the interlocutor's great-great-great grand-daughter is still alive. And is "pretty fine". The whole song is irresistable pop, written with a sharp wit, and it's remembered as an absolute classic. Number 2.

What on earth kept Busted off the top? Fame Academy. The BBC's "worthy" alternative to Popstars The Rivals was absolutely hideous when it started, and we gave it a right mauling at the time. We regret that piece, the show came good in the end, it produced two genuine talents and two more ephemeral careers.

David Sneddon won the series just before Christmas. An earnest singer-songwriter from Scotland, David waited until the new year to launch himself on the market. Stop living the lie was a traditional troubador's ballad, a tale about real folk, set to music, and progressed through words.

More than that, it's an expert composition. The verses start with a ramble, then get a rhythm, and then an echoed couplet:

And who is going to save him
No one wants to know him

The chorus twists this, just a little:

And we all have a saviour
So do yourself a favour
Stop living the lie

The title comes as a moment of release, a cathartic screech - albeit one delivered in Sneddon's restrained style. And that's the song's big problem: Sneddon is always an observer, never a participant. He isn't convincing, the emotion is second-hand and inauthentic. He's Brian Krakow, this song needs Rayanne Graff. The little problem is that the song outstays its welcome: the last 30 seconds of the four-minute single could be faded out and we'd lose nothing.

Two weeks at number one, and though we'll meet Sneddon again in this half-year, he'll soon decide that he's best as a writer for other singers. Fair call, and we'll see him at Eurovision in due course.

In the 21st century, successful troubadours are rarer than rocking-horse droppings. We might make a case for Duffy, Adele, the Kaiser Chiefs, at extreme pinches Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran. Lucy Spraggan is the best comparison - from the 2012 X Factor class, Spraggan also writes lyrical ballads, and she's achieved a level of fame and success that she finds comfortable. (And, at the time of writing, we don't otherwise have an excuse to discuss Spraggan at all. Sadface.)

On three occasions, bhangra crossed over from the Indian diaspora to the mainstream market. Apache Indian (1993) and Bally Sagoo (1996-7) both had a couple of top 20 hits before returning to niche obscurity. Panjabi MC reached number 5 with Mundian to bach ke, but again failed to have a mainstream career. He'd already shifted 50,000 copies through Asian shops, and went on to hit number 2 in Germany.

Jay-Z and Beyonce Knowles became an item during 2002, and worked together on '03 Bonnie and Clyde, a number 2 hit here. It only just beat Jurgan Vries' The opera song (brave new world), featuring an unusually good female vocal. The singer, "CMC", turned out to be Charlotte Church, who we'll meet again in 2005. Kelly Rowland also had a number 2 hit, Stole was her musing on gun culture.

All the things she said spent a month at number one for Tatu. The Russian duo had a marketing gimmick: they pretended to be lovers, and would overtly flirt for the camera. (Though never so much that it caused the producers problems: the tittilation was always subservient to the need to be invited back on each show.) The video clip for All the things she said appeared to show Yulia and Lena making out in school uniforms in a prison yard while it's raining, hitting about three fetish points at once. Richard and Judy used their Channel 4 teatime show to tell the viewers, "Don't buy this record". Not that Richard and Judy viewers would buy this record: singles were for the kids, R+J were for bored housewives and desperate grannies waiting for someone to invent Pointless.

But strip out the marketing, what of Tatu's music? Top-grade Europop, anthemic and tuneful and catchy. Might not have been quite so big without the marketing, but this would still have been a sizeable hit, and possibly snuck a week at number one in its own right.

Pride went before a fall, and the fake-lesbian-rebellious-kids show would bite Tatu where it hurt: the biggest entertainment show in the whole damned world. They were C1R's entry to the 2003 Eurovision Song Contest, but swallowed their own hype. They'd skipped rehearsals, threatened to kiss on stage. (two women! Kissing! On stage! It's not 2013 yet.) The producers had a massive problem: they didn't know where the singers would be, and couldn't direct well. They had to point the camera in the right general direction and hope. That's strike one.

Strike two: the performance. On the night, Ne ver, ne boisia was somewhere between "pitchy" and "caterwauling shit". It's the second worst vocal of the decade, and (thanks to Jemini) the second worst of the night. Viewers in the UK, and the jury in Ireland, decided to award the entry no points - had either done so, Russia's broadcaster might have won Eurovision that year. We can tell the exact moment Tatu fell down ver dumper: 10.58 on the contest night, when it became clear they could not win.

(We still reckon Ne ver, ne boisia is a fabulous work in its studio version, but experience has shown that hyper-modern songs have a ceiling of about fourth place. Ask Loïc Nottett and Blanche from RTBF.)

Justin Timberlake was already a star; he'd been screwing Britney Spears and had been one-fifth of boy band *N'Sync. Unlike the other members, he was able to make a successful solo career. Cry me a river his second single, a spiteful and nasty breakup song, turned into light opera by contempory grooves. Two weeks at number two. Did it deserve to hit the top? Wouldn't have begrudged it some time. We'll eventually see Justin as a Eurovision interval act, not as good as Riverdance.

Oasis made number 3 with Songbird, another predictable number, saved only by being a bit chirpy. Number one in Scotland, somehow. Appleton put Don't worry to number 5, a new song with a laidback groove. Turin Brakes also had a number 5 hit, Pain killer profited from a quiet week of releases. Sean Paul's Gimme the night hit number 5. A song you either loved or loathed, there was no middle ground; reggae dancehall plus fashionable remixers plus major label backing led to a major hit.

Compare and contrast: Sinead Quinn, the runner-up from Fame Academy. I can't break down was an epic torch song, except for the bits when it was pretending to be twangy country. The show gave her a number 2 hit (1 in Scotland). It was a quality song, but not too easy to pigeon-hole, and a bit too close to David Sneddon's earnest work. A shame: follow-up single was the rocktastic What you need is, the album was remaindered after about five minutes, and Sinead was dropped before 2003 was out. Since then, she's done a stage tour of Jeff Wayne's War of the Worlds, done rock as Sinead and the Dawnbreakers, and country as Billington & Quinn. And the song gave its name to a Lizzie McGuire / Fame Academy fanfic.

Christina Aguilera returned to the top spot with Beautiful, the tender song from the album. It's got a message that everyone has their own talents, and people don't need external validation to be valid. The message is delivered in a trite and obvious lyric, partly redeemed by a sumptuous backing track. It was still rare for the top spot to be a clear feminist message. Two weeks at the summit in February, and the song gained airplay in August after a standout performance on Fame Academy.

DJ Sammy remained in 1985 for his follow-up hit, a trance version of The boys of summer. It made number 2 (another Scottish topper), but didn't have much sticking power. Nor did it have the slow version for crossover airplay. Junior Senior had one of the sleeper hits of the half-year, Move your feet spent six weeks in the top five, never higher than number 3. It was a simple beat, inane and repetitive, which seemed to be a major selling point at the time.

After Sneddon, after Quinn, now Ainslie Henderson rose from the Star Academy ranks. Keep me a secret reached number 5, a piece of angst-rock that was swiftly forgotten. Worth a re-visit, and perhaps a mash-up with Iris. Dannii Minogue had a number 2 hit, I begin to wonder - also forgotten, mostly because it's formulaic dance.

At this point, Radio 1 changed the chart show. Since 1991, it had featured all 40 tracks, played in order, with the minimum of chatter. Now, the format called for Wes Butters to banter, and promote the chatroom, and generally act like it was any other show. This was a big change, from a music show to a personality show, and it was introduced at one fell swoop. We switched over to Foxy on the independent chart, or Goodiebags on the other independent chart, or just found something else to do with our Sundays. As a result, we're less accustomed to the hits from 2003 than any year since 1984.

In retrospect, Comic Relief became forced, not fun, in 2003. The telethon was formulaic, the jokes lost their bite. The song had long collapsed into a soggy mess - it's a long trek from the vaudeville of Stick it out (1993) to the bland drek of Gareth Gates and the Kumars' take on Spirit in the sky. Dr and the Medics had been funnier in 1986.

Jennifer Lopez's number 2 hit is forgotten: All I have? Anyone? Anyone? 50 Cent's In da club is remembered: this hard rap had a pounding bassline, an obvious hook. It had the stardust of Dre and Eminem, and it had massive radio support in a balmy early spring. Five weeks in the top five, peaking at number 3.

Number 3 also for Born to try, Delta Goodrem's emotion-packed single. We think she's the last star of Neighbours to have a hit single, and the only one to marry a member of Westlife. Scandalous became the Mis-teeq calling card: a pumping, thumping bass. A loud, lairy, spittle-flecked call. Her man is a mess, and she wants the world to know. One week at number 2.

Being nobody was credited to Richard X and Liberty X. It's one song to the tune of another: in this case, the lyric of Rufus and Chaka Khan's Ain't nobody to the melody of the Human League's Being boiled. It hit number 3, and people liked it at the time, but the mash-up hasn't dated well. Blue reached number 4 with U make me wanna. Unrelated to the Usher song, it's midtempo and rather dull.

Make luv spent a month at the top for Room 5 featuring Oliver Cheetham. It's a twenty-year-old vocal married to a contemporary dance beat, and used to advertise crap - in this case, deodorant. This is the banal future of pop music: mediocre old tracks done in a modish way, drummed into people's brains. All in hope that folk will buy whatever crap they're advertising and the single, so that the single becomes an extra advert for the crap.

The record would be long forgotten, except that it stuck in the memory of Richard "Dogsby" Park. At the time, we had a theory that the Star Academy judge was never ever right about anything. Whoever he critiqued was brilliant, whenever he gave praise it was false. Dogsby loved this track, and still plays it on his vanity station Heart Eff Off.

Down at number three for Westlife, Tonight was completely immemorable. One week at the top in Ireland. Atomic Kitten made number 4 with Love doesn't have to hurt, which only tells us they're doing it wrong. Kym Marsh put Cry to number 2. She was from the defunct band Hear'say, and this song was an anaemic pastiche of Torn.

Big comeback for Madonna, but the 44-year-old mother of two could only reach number 2 with American life. Her new album was a (shudder) Concept Album, flittering around materialism and manifest destiny and such religious imagery. The lead single was released during Gulf War III: This Time It's Personal, and was widely seen as an attack on the false prophet Candidate X. The video was re-shot from militaristic animation to Madge cavorting in front of various flags.

The song's main problem: it's shit. Madge had worked with Mirwais, a dance producer of very variable quality. This album wasn't one of his good works. Stuttering instruments were so 2000, Madonna's singing was in a limited range, and the rap at the end was a risible mess. After the dodgy Bond theme the year before, Madonna looked to be in trouble. She'll have to do a Special Guest Appearance at Eurovision, that'll save her floundering career. Look how well it worked for Tatu.

Big comeback for Blur, Out of time continued along familiar lines from their last two albums, indie-influenced low-fi rock. Number 5. Robbie Williams got a place higher with Come undone, a modest song helped by a video too raunchy for MTV - at this early date, there were no reliable video websites. The explicit video cost him Radio 2 airplay, which was fine; and his partnership with Guy Chambers, which would torpedo Robbie's career.

At the third time of asking, Busted reached number one. You said no was quite typical of their sound, catchy and hook-laden. It was a little light on the lyric, one of the least funny songs on the album. One week at the top, and it's not really remembered like their other works.

In at number 2 came All over, the debut for Lisa Maffia from the So Solid Crew. A kernel of quality, puffed up by the butter of hype. David Sneddon's second single reached number 3 (but number 1 in Scotland), Don't let go was janglepop that could have come from Aztec Camera.

A remarkably crap top three for the first week of May. Tomcraft spent a week at number 1 with Loneliness, a deep house groove and little else. No invention, no ideas, nothing. Craig David and Sting combined on Rise and fall at number 2, based on Sting's Shape of my heart. As if this combination of fun sponges wasn't bad enough, they stole the thunder from the Sugababes' straight cover. And at number 3 it's Ronan Keating with The long goodbye.

Didn't get much better the following week, as R Kelly topped with Ignition (remix). The subtitle comes from a demo version that came out a year before. It's a slow jam, sexist as anything, a lot of Yankees love it, and we cannot remember it from wallpaper paste. Four weeks at number one; at this date, nebulous allegations that R Kelly was a serial pervert were still nebulous.

Big Brovaz reached number 2 with My favourite things, loosely based on the song from The Sound of Music. While Julie Andrews prefers nature's bounty, the Brovaz are acquisitive little bastards. From last year's Popstars The Rivals, the Cheeky Girls came back with Take your shoes off and made number 3. But number 1 in Scotland. This is what you get for returning a Labour administration! One True Voice came back with Shakespeare's way with words, made number 10, got compared unfavourably to Big Fun, and split.

Girls Aloud came back with No good advice, and hit number 2. They're getting some very good songwriters on board, this record grooves and has hooks. The group still feel like they're singing someone else's song, they don't have the comfortable feel of Busted, but there's something to build on.

Sean Paul continued his reign of drivel, as Get busy entered at number 4. Justin Timberlake took his Eurovision interval act Rock your body to number 2, we're still waiting for his mash-up cover of Ne ver ne boisia and Rhythm inside. That's far more entertaining than the number 4 Madam Helga from The Stereophonics, a boring song.

Last time around for S Club: Say goodbye was the sextet's final single, ending their four years of pop domination. Music had moved on, and the pop sounds from the turn of the century felt dated, the stars felt worn out. Number 2 nationally, a chart-topper in Scotland.

Two weeks at number three for Busta Rhymes and Mariah Carey, I know what you want could be summed up in one word: earplugs. Radiohead put There there to number 4, proving that they'd become an art rock band impenetrable to the casual fan. Emma Bunton hit number 5 with Free me, disposable pop. Somewhere between lies great success.

Enter, stage left, Evanescence. Bring me to life spent eight weeks in the top five, four of them at number 1. A goth-metal band with Christian roots, the public view was mostly of singer Amy Lee. And of her physical attributes, not her vocal abilities: on this single, Amy belts out the lyric, shifting from soprano to alto in a single phrase. There's a rap break in the middle, though a mix was released without the rap. And there's a concept video, featuring Amy in her nightie.

All of this meant the single would get a reception. The reason it stayed four weeks at number one? It's a bit different, and it's a massive lot of good. There's a tune, there's something in the lyric, it's danceable, it's not the chugging dance beat of every other record of this moment. This song's success wasn't an act of God. And thereby hangs a tale...

Evanescence got their start on the Christian Music scene. They were big beasts, playing songs of faith to the faithful. And then: bang! they slammed that door shut. And it's all the fault of the bigots in the Christian music scene.

You might think the British indie scene is harsh, that the NME would build up its heroes then knock them down, then kick them. Christian Music is like that, but harsher, because the critics pretend to know what The God Organisation is thinking. In reality, the critics fall into the trap of idolatory: they expect human beings to be infallible and perfect. Worse, they'll call flaws in other people before accepting the mote in their own eye.

The Christian Music scene is narrow and often bigoted. It's a place where divorce ends careers, where anything that might stop white women from producing white babies is terrible. It's a place where the haters revel in their hatred, where the performers cannot sin. It's cloying and confining. Frankly, Evanescence were best out of it.

None of this changed the parent album: Fallen explored faith and its absence. However much the band denied it, this was a religious album, drawing from Amy Lee and Ben Moody's upbringing. The band turned their back on Christan Music, but didn't repudiate their upbringing. The lyrics draw from Christian imagery, and a particular view of the world. Questions about the afterlife, a search for salvation, fretting that everything is meaningless. They may not be a Christian Music band, but their music is Christian.

What they did do: close the door on faltering attempts to market Christian Music to the mainstream. Though we meet plenty of practicing Christians in the story (U2 will turn up most years, and Katy Perry would leave Christian Music a year or two later), the next Christian Music song appears in 2010, and it's the trope-namer for Tossy Chart Campaigns (© Masterton 2010).

Three further singles came from Fallen, two of them made the top ten. Ben Lee left Evanescence during promotion for this album, and the band lost its creative brilliance when he left. Amy Lee's work is of high quality, but can be a bit indulgent: Ben's contribution was quality control, polish up the rough diamonds.

We'll discuss the hit single from The Open Door (2006) later on. By Evanescence (2011) the songs were becoming catharsis for Amy Lee's messed-up life. And they were upstaged by their support act The Pretty Reckless, who don't otherwise feature in this series. Amy's gone to be quite the heart-throb amongst lesbians of a certain age; Lindsey Stirling the violinist invited them to tour together in 2018.

After Westlife, Ireland had gone its own way with number one singles. Talent show You're a star spawned three top hits. Simon Casey's A better plan for three weeks - he was runner-up on the show, went on to Grease, and now does weddings. Finalists Ronan Tynan and Rita Connolly did May we never have to say goodbye for a fortnight. And the winner, Mickey Harte, took We've got the world to Ireland's number one for a month, and to a decent place at the Eurovision Song Contest. This year, the BBC sent Jemini, who were lucky to score no points at all.

Over here, Electric Six returned with Gay Bar, a number 5 hit. Amazing how people will buy the same song twice. Dannii Minogue followed at 5 with Don't wanna lose this feeling. Delta Goodrem hit number 4 with the soft-rock Lost without you, Wayne Wonder put No letting go to number 5 for a fortnight, and Blazin' Squad reached number 3 with We just be dreamin'. None of these positions were reached through record company manipulation, natch.

Reaching number 3 was Christina Aguilera's Fighter. A tremendous song, capturing rage and turning it into something uplifting. It's a single to demonstrate that she's capable of many great styles, not just ballads. The gothic video, based on moths, won the Juno award for the year. Christina as an actual artist, making actual art? We got the idea here, and we've almost certainly re-scored the album's earlier singles as a result.

No such re-assessment for the number 2 hit (and number 1 in Scotland). Fast food song by the Fast Food Rockers was everything you could want from a hit song. They had a credible origin story, having met at a hamburger 'n' hot dog convention in Folkestone. They had a striking visual image, day-glo uniforms with just a hint of latex.

And they had a catchy single. Based on a campfire song (we heard it through Scouts in the 1980s), it was familiar to millions. The band performed with a better sense of tune and timing than Jemini, and the lyric was the greatest since The Cheeky Girls.

A pizza hut
A pizza hut
Ken tuck in fried chicken and
A pizza hut

Mac donald!
Mac donald!
Ken tuck in fried chicken and
A pizza hut

Two weeks at number 2, and a follow-up graced the top ten. And then the Great British Public said "this joke's gone quite far enough". The album stayed resolutely on the shelves, and the group were dropped in early 2004.

Troubling the scoreboard in a way Jemini didn't:

David Sneddon - 7
Tatu - 8
Christina Aguilera - 8
Gareth Gates And The Kumars - 2
Room 5 Featuring Oliver Cheatham - 3
Busted - 6
Tomcraft - 3
R Kelly - 2
Evanescence - 9

TEN POINTS! to Year 3000, and for the top tenners I'm with you -- and that's all. Indeed, we have difficulty giving more than ten Ten Pointers for the half-year as a whole.

On the bottom, many records were poor, but the only two-pointers are those played beyond their worth (Move your feet) or from incompetents (The Stereophonics). Even the combo of Busta and Mariah, and the reliable Ronan, aren't obvious two-pointers.

As we noted, our exile from the chart show began in March 2003, and didn't end until autumn 2006.

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