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Say it quietly, whisper it among yourselves, but British pop music really does seem to be making significant inroads into American culture again, does it not? What with One Direction doing their boyband thing and of course Adele’s colossal reign of enormous magnificence, it feels a little early to be talking about invasions, but maybe, just maybe, the British Extended Visitation of 2012 is about to get underway.
So, in tribute to to the next few years of watching whatever it is that One Direction will do next, here are five acts from the last 20 years who not only had their time in the sun, but came in to cool down for a bit, and now want to get back out there again.
Before we start, you can spell the second word in our headline any way you like. These five are examples of a very particular sort of British pop music, and of course it is up to you whether it is great, or it simply grates. The simple fact of the matter is, they were big, they went away, and then they came back.
The Spice Girls
A British pop group so enormous in their success they even cracked America! It would possibly be overstating the case to say that the Spice Girls were the female Beatles, and certainly you use the phrase “girl power” at your peril if you do not wish to be sneered at by intellectuals and non-intellectuals alike. But for all that, their run of singles was magnificent (until Geri Halliwell left), and their comeback tour set the standard for all other returning pop acts to match. The fact that they split up again as soon as it finished should not be taken as evidence of anything. They probably just don’t get on.
Ah, the grand old men of pop, they had ten thousand fans, they marched them up to the top of a hill and they had them all again. And when they were up they were up, and when they were down they were down, and when they were only halfway up, Robbie Williams rejoined and they built a giant robot to take with them on tour.
The early naughties were awash with this lot in their primary colored outfits, curtain hair and surprisingly listeneable pop music. They had ABBA-type pop songs (“One For Sorrow” being a disco answer to “The Winner Takes It All”) and they had Bee Gees-type pop songs (OK, they covered “Tragedy” and added boyband dance moves), and they were different from the girlbands and the boybands because they had girls (at the front, microphones on) AND boys (at the back, microphones off). And they were HUGE! Last year, Sky put on a TV special in which all five members of the band spoke honestly about the friction that lead to them breaking up, and they decided to put their differences behind them and get back together, and they announced a tour and they were huge AGAIN. Pop music is a rum old game and no mistake.
Where Take That went, Boyzone were always sure to follow. And so it was only natural when Gary Barlow reassembled the four, no, five, no four members of his band again, that Ronan Keating would do likewise. Sadly the Boyzone reunion is remembered more for the untimely death of Stephen Gately, and some of the nasty press stories that ran as a consequence, than for the quality of the music they made once they got back together, which was arguably the best they ever made.
Westlife have only just got to the splitting up bit, of course. They’ll be along in a while.
S Club 7
The ‘Sclub (as they were known among pop writers at the time) were the last big pop act to use TV as a promotional tool without revealing anything of their real lives. They came out of a TV show, made by Simon Fuller (the man behind the Spice Girls), which was a kind of modern (ish) update of the Monkees. Their songs were perky, there were seven of them, rocksnobs hated them, and of course they were, in their own way, rather marvellous. And they all left one by one, just like the Monkees. Last I heard they were down to S Club 3 (Hannah Spearritt you know from Primeval of course) but there are strong rumors that all seven will ride again, following the success of the Steps reunion TV show and tour.
See more posts by Fraser McAlpine
Fraser has been writing and broadcasting about music and popular culture for over 15 years, first at the Top of the Pops website, and most recently for the NME, Guardian and MSN. He also wrote BBC Radio 1's Chart Blog and reviews albums for BBC Radio 2.
He is Anglophenia's current resident Brit, blogging about British slang and running around the Mall taking snaps of the crowd at the Royal Wedding, as well as reigniting a childhood passion for classic Doctor Who and cramming as much music in as he can manage.
Fraser invites you to join him on Twitter: @csi_popmusic