Imagine if Britpop hadn’t been made up of just men. How free we’d have been, says guest editor Caitlin Moran.
I’ve not had many major moments of revelation in my life.
Realising that people with big hair hadn’t been born with naturally big hair – but had merely learned to backcomb or, in some cases, bought hair-pieces the size of a rat – was one.
Learning that there’s no such place as ‘Canadia’ was another: it’s pronounced ‘Canada’, absolutely no exceptions. And the day I discovered that, contrary to what I’d always felt, a slice of bread and butter does, in fact, have more than 10 calories – and a baked potato way more than 50ish? – was the day I finally started to understand the true history of my bum.
However, in recent years, the biggest cerebral newsflash I’ve received was back in autumn 2017, when a gender-flipped picture of The Beatles started to do the rounds on Twitter.
The Lady Beatles
Oh, that picture blew my mind, for, in one photo, there was suddenly an entire alternate history of pop. Imagine if we lived in a world where all male-fronted pop music had been not men. Where Johanna Lennon, Paula McCartney, Georgia Harrison and Ringo Starr (It’s a gender-fluid name! RESULT!) – four lovable working-class women – had turned culture on its head and become the most famous, and revered, people in the world.
Everything would, I think, be different, in Lady Beatle Parallel World.
Millions of baby boomer men would fondly recall going to see the Lady Beatles and screaming so hard that they wet themselves. Women would define themselves not as ‘a Charlotte’ (sweet, neurotic) or ‘a Samantha’ (shagger) – but as a ‘Johanna’ (acidic, childlike, rebellious) or ‘Paula’ (culturally progressive, optimistic, workhorse). Although still no one – male, female or non-binary – would describe themselves as a Ringo, which is unfair, because the drumming on every Beatles record is amazing. That introductory fill on Lovely Peter is just perfect.
And then, of course, we come to consider the biggest Lady Beatles Consequence of all, if you’re a 44-year-old woman such as I: BRITPOP WOULD HAVE BEEN FEMALE! All those Nineties bands, homaging the Beatles in different ways? THEY WOULD ALL HAVE BEEN WOMEN!
THE DEFINING MUSICAL MOVEMENT OF MY YOUTH WOULD HAVE BEEN WALL-TO- WALL, EUPHORIC GENIUS FANNY! Titpop, if you will. Or, after 11pm on Channel 4, Clitpop.
Lina and Noelle
I am instantly, immediately, 1,000% emotionally invested in the notion of the battling Gallagher sisters – Lina and Noelle – straight off the estates, binning each other off in endlessly amusing interviews (“Lina’s perpetually angry and confused – she’s like a woman with a fork in a world of soup.”)
Lina – ferocious, but lushly lashed – standing on the edge of the stage, blowing out her vocal cords as she hollers Acquiesce’s chorus of “Because we NEEEEED each other”, while Noelle, under her helmet of hair, stares at her with complex sibling love-hatred.
Imagine a woman being as much of an entertaining dick as Britpop Liam – basically Daisy May Cooper’s Kerry Mucklowe from This Country, with a maraca, off her tits on coke for four years. Staggering out of helicopters in front of news crews, no fucks given, an anorak suitable attire whether it be a gig, a fight or a black-tie Brit Awards.
On tour, the Gallagher sisters’ menstrual cycles sync, and their tour manager has their PMT days circled on his calendar. He refuses to let them play on those days, and puts them up in separate hotels. In separate cities.
Then there’s Blur – Damona, Alex, Grace and Davina – four close-knit, puppyish boozers, leaning against a wall in their tight jeans, DMs, T-shirts and jackets. Lairy, likely, witty women – the gang you’d most want to join. Shy, brown-eyed Grace playing the heartbreaking solo on This Is A Low as Damona – blonde barnet plastered to her head – bawls out the lyrics from on top of a speaker-stack, before jumping, drunk and euphoric, into the crowd. And beautiful, nerdy Alex sipping champagne during interviews, before going off onto a tangent about astronomy or cheese-making.
When Damona’s boyfriend – Justin – forms the band Elastica, many accuse Damona of secretly writing his songs, but Damona points out how sexist that is: “Men can write songs too, you know. Look at Arthur Franklin– or Steve Nicks.”
Rejoice in a female Supergrass – so young they’re still almost children, wildly hairy, pedalling away on their Chopper bikes in the video to Alright. Stoner lady- monkeys with one of the greatest drummers, Dani, Keith Moon-ing (sorry, Kate Moon-ing) so hard and wild behind her kit, she ends most gigs just in her bra, beaming, exhilarated, at the crowd.
The odd, appealing innocence of Caught By The Fuzz – which is essentially the origin story of Ilana and Abbi from Broad City, in which some young women try to buy some marijuana, but it all goes wrong in the most amusing way possible.
If a band as hairy as Lady Supergrass had existed when I was a teenage girl, there’s every chance the female moustache would have become a fashionable look. I could have saved myself 20 years of waxing. We would all have lady moustaches now.
As for Jarvine Cocker – that gangly, sexy nerd of Pulp, kung fu kicking in their charity shop suit – well, overnight, it became OK for everyone to wear glasses. I would never have bought contact lenses if I had seen Jarvine Cocker sing Common People at Glastonbury in 1995 – glasses steaming up and howling, “I wanna live with common people like yoooooou!” jumping in the air like a praying-mantis. And I wasn’t the only one.
A week later, the cities of Britain were filled with elegantly shabby types in suits and glasses, talking about class war, carrying bottles of cherry brandy around in their battered satchels, and busting their demented dance moves at parties, while boys swooned at their geeky insouciance.
Now look, I don’t wish you to get me wrong. I loved the Britpop we actually had. Man, you could live the life of a Number One pop star by simply getting up, going out, having a fag, putting it out, seeing your friends, seeing the sights and feeling aaaaaalright.
A parallel world
But we can admit, now: when Damien Hirst is eventually commissioned to make a Britpop sculpture, it will be a 60ft high pile of cocks and balls, with, like, four tits stapled to the side.
As someone who was there at the time, it often felt like that bit in Game Of Thrones’ Battle of the Bastards, where Jon Snow is slowly being crushed under a pile of hundreds of hairy men-soldiers. But, in this case, all the men are in vintage Adidas tops, shouting, “Oi oi, mate! Nice one!” at each other.
That’s why it’s fascinating – something new and diverting for the eye! – to see, just for a second, what it would have been like in a parallel world. A world of women.
To imagine – as the great Johanna Lennon might have put it – there’s no Stephen. It’s easy if you try.
Just imagine what Titpop’s finest might have looked like…
CHANGING THE RECORD
So, what could Britpop have looked like? We asked those at the vanguard of today’s music industry to recreate some of the era’s defining moments…
Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker in the video for Common People, recreated by Engelsia
In Pulp’s 1995 video for Common People, frontman Jarvis Cocker sways around on a rainbow dance floor while Sadie Frost plays his uptown girl. Stylist cast Englesia, an artist, DJ and founder of the inclusive party platform UNITI, to step into his shoes.
Englesia founded UNITI in 2017 as a way to promote and host inclusive, safe nightlife. “I was going out to electronic, experimental club nights and raves, but seeing that harassment was a problem. I got sick of being in these spaces which were supposed to be inclusive and pioneering, but still being touched up,” they explain. “So I decided to start my own party where you wouldn’t have to worry about that.” They said the idea of dressing up as Jarvis Cocker was “freeing”.
“As a non-binary person, messing with gender is really enjoyable to me,” they say. “I think if Britpop were to happen now, it would be so much more interesting because of the diversity in the narratives we could share. It’s only a true revolution when everyone is included.”
Jacket, £90, Topman (topman.com); shirt, £15, and trousers, £15, both Marks & Spencer (marksandspencer. com); sunglasses, £164, Tory Burch (sunglasshut.com); tie, £7.50, Marks & Spencer (marksandspencer.com); belt, £124.50, Elliot Rhodes (elliotrhodes.com); watch, £229, Thomas Sabo (thomassabo.com)
Oasis in the video for Wonderwall, recreated by Born N Bread
Born N Bread are a creative collective who head up a bi-weekly show on radio station NTS where they spotlight up-and-coming artists.
“We started this as a way to raise the voices of those who’ve been drowned out by gentrification,” says Olivia Jackson. What do they think of Britpop?
“If there was more diversity in that movement can you imagine how further along we’d be in terms of collaborating as women? In terms of experimentation with sound?” says Stephanie Sesay. “As a group, we face sexism, racism, colourism, classism,” says Adelaide Lawson. “That’s why it’s important for us to show up in spaces where people would least expect us. It’s activism through representation. We get DMs from girls saying ‘I didn’t think a black girl like me could be a DJ,’ and we’veshown them you can.”
(Left to right) Olivia/Scott: trousers, £40, Topshop (topshop.com); trainers, £70, Adidas (schuh.co.uk) Adelaide/Alan: jacket, £425, MHL (margarethowell.co. uk); T-shirt, £90, Fred Perry for Margaret Howell (margaret howell.co.uk); jeans, £35, Marks & Spencer (marksand spencer.com); trainers, £70, Adidas (adidas.co.uk) Abigail/Liam: shirt, £35, Rokit (rokit.co.uk); jeans, £170, APC (apc.fr); trainers, £70, Adidas (schuh.co.uk) sunglasses, £45, Polaroid (shadestation.co.uk) Chika/Noel: jacket, Topshop, £46, (topshop.com); T-shirt, £18, Rokit, (rokit.co.uk); jeans, £25, Simply Be (simplybe.co.uk); boots, £149, Dr Martens (drmartens. com) Stephanie/‘Bonehead’: shirt, £60, Wrangler (wrangler.co.uk); jeans, £70, Levi’s (levi.com); shoes, £120, Clark’s Originals (clarks.co.uk)
Blur promoting album Modern Life is Rubbish, recreated by Behind It All
Behind It All are a 10-woman strong collective of presenters, DJs and producers, who host a bi-weekly radio show on Foundation.fm. Stylist recruited four of the group to recreate Blur’s iconic image for their second album Modern Life Is Rubbish (1993).
“I grew up loving Blur, so this is amazing,” says member Lauren Arch. “Being a woman in music means that your knowledge is questioned way more. Guys will say to me, ‘What’s your favourite project?’, questioning how much I know. It’s as if you have to justify your interest.”
Scarlet O’Malley agrees. “You still get the pervy promoter who’ll try it on. And I’ll often get men coming up to the mixer and giving me advice. I know how to sound engineer my whole set up. I know what I’m doing, thank you. It would just never happen to a guy.”
(Left to right) Scarlet/Damon: blazer, £99, Marks & Spencer (marksandspencer.com); shirt, £34.95, Gap (gap.co.uk); jeans, £85, Levi’s (levi.com) Rosie/Alex: blazer, £99, and jumper, £19.50, both Marks & Spencer (marksandspencer.com); jeans, £49.95, Gap (gap.co.uk); boots, £179, Dr Martens (drmartens.com) Ree/Graham: blazer, £59.99, Zara (zara.com); shirt, £90, Gant (gant.co.uk); jeans, £32, Asos (asos.com); belt, £115, Elliot Rhodes (elliotrhodes.com); boots, £249, Red Wing Shoes (redwingshoes.com) Lauren/Dave: blazer, Topshop, £49, (topshop.com); jumper, £19.50, Marks & Spencer (marksandspencer. com; shirt, £39.95 Gap (gap.co.uk); jeans, £170, APC (apc.fr); boots, £149, Dr Martens (drmartens.com)
Supergrass in the video for Alright, recreated by Foundation.fm
Foundation.fm is a female-founded grassroots station run by radio producers Frankie Wells and Ami Bennett, and radio plugger Becky Richardson.
“There is such a need for a women-run station championing underrepresented voices that we used to talk about how mad it was that it hadn’t already been done,” says Bennett. “These days, we get messages from artists and DJs asking to be involved; people want to attend our events and wear our merch.” Wells agrees: “It feels like Foundation is her own little storm and we’re just caught up in it.”
When they think of Britpop, and the image of Supergrass on Choppers in the video for their 1995 hit single Alright, they think of rebellion. “It’s nice that we’re recreating this moment,” says Wells, “because, as women, we’re rebelling against the idea of being put in a box. Growing up, I remember all the guys would learn to play guitar and the girls would just go to thegigs. That’s the way it was. Maybe if there were more women it would have been different.”
T-shirts, customised by Kallkwick (kallkwick.co.uk); dungarees, Ami’s own
Additional words: Hannah Keegan
Photography: Mathew Shave, Mark Harrison
Fashion: Polly Knight
Hair and make-up: Bethany Lewis using GHD, Giorgio Armani, Parlux, Urban Decay, Mac and Tom Ford make-up
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