Category Archives: If popstars were…

If popstars were… Winged

The Garuda, Faravahar, the angels of the Bible, Icarus, Huitzilopochtli and now finally X Factor winners Little Mix. Yes, since the dawn of history people have dreamed of having wings. But how have the last thirty years of pop music treated the idea?

MR. MISTER – BROKEN WINGS (1985)

What’s the mood? Earnest. This classic power ballad was inspired by Khalil Gibran’s 1912 novel of the same name (as was The Beatles’ Blackbird, apparently) and is essentially a four and a half minute self-help manual about ‘learning to fly again’. I was expecting to write something sarcastic and dismissive about it, but on listening again I was quite taken with its straightforward lumbering. To be honest my prejudice was purely down to Mr. Mister featuring in a question on an 80s schools quiz show that I got humiliated on. Maybe it’s me who should learn to fly again.

What sort of wings are they? It’s a dashing bird of prey who visits the band in the video, so in the spirit of forgiveness let’s give them that. 

BETTE MIDLER – WIND BENEATH MY WINGS (1989)

What’s the mood? Mawkish. Bette hijacked a song that had already been around the block a few times (there’s a version by Sheena Easton of all people) to fit in with the tragic ending of her film Beaches. So we have the electric piano of regret, the synth strings of sadness, the choral vox of heaven’s door and the gentle splash drums of hindsight. Not to mention those grandstanding vocal ascents into the sky at the end. Sainthood! What can I tell you? I’m a sucker for this shit. Hilariously, on the soundtrack album this funereal behemoth is followed by a perky song called ‘I’ve Still Got My Health’.

What sort of wings are they? Bette says that (subject to an appropriate aerodynamic lift coefficient) she can fly higher than an eagle. Which would make her more like a bar-headed goose.

XTM & DJ Chucky presents Annia – Fly On The Wings Of Love (2003)

What’s the mood? Jaunty. As jaunty as you’d expect from a jaunty Eurohouse cover of a jaunty Eurovision-winning song – jaunty panpipes, cheesy drum fills, flanged crowd noises and all. I like the way that the exposed bassline snakes around under the verses and I like a song that doesn’t outstay its welcome, so neither will this paragraph.

What sort of wings are they? These are wings that can take us from the softest sand (hand in hand!) to touch the sky (fly baby fly!) and the stars above – the wings of love themselves, in fact. Well if love needs to have interstellar capability AND saltwater resistance it sounds like these are probably the wings of that underwater spaceship they found in the Baltic recently. And as this discovery was by Swedish scientists it brings us nicely back to Eurovision’s spiritual home.

MAXWELL – PRETTY WINGS (2009)

What’s the mood? Stoic. Oh it’s proper heartbreak now as Maxwell lets his love go so she can find someone better. And the music’s as delicate and lovely as the title implies; subtle and powerful at the same time.

What sort of wings are they? Of course the only downside of orbiting your lovely song around a fixed metaphor is that bloggers like me will come along and dissect it at best whimsically and at worst slightly more whimsically. Is she a beautiful brightly-coloured hummingbird? No, you see loads of those, she’s something too good be true. A flying toaster such as what were all the range in 90s screensavers then? Yes, yes why not. It’s about as likely as Maxwell ever finishing the supposed trilogy of albums that this song allegedly kicked off.

LITTLE MIX – WINGS (2012)

What’s the mood? Celebratory. It’s so rare for X Factor to throw up a winning act that actually feels at home in the charts. And yet here they are at Number One, finally uniting pop’s clap-clap-clap genre with its wob-wob-wob one, with even a quick foray into rat-tat-tat at the end. Let’s not be disheartened that this decent-sounding music comes from a band with an irredeemably bad name – we did start off with Mr. Mister after all.

What sort of wings are they? Well here’s a thing. It’s made very clear in the lyrics that the inspirational appendages keeping the girls sailing above all their haterz are butterfly’s wings. Hooray! you might say. But you’d be wrong. Because later we hear that hurtful words are like ‘water off my wings’. Did they think they were ducks for a minute? Because they’re stuck with being butterflies. And the prospects for a butterfly who gets her wings wet are grim. A wet butterfly is too heavy to fly. If she falls from her perch then she’s stuck on the ground, and assuming she avoids being trodden on then she’ll quite likely get a horrific fungal infection and die. Still. Clap-clap-clap.

If popstars were… Olympians

When pop and sport meet, it can make for a nasty mess. Chart history is littered with appalling anthems for official athletic events. But what about when our stars, in the course of their everyday pop lives, sing about the actual grunting, shoving and leaping that goes on at the Games?

Girls Aloud – Jump (2003)

What’s the discipline? Trampolining

Does it sound right? Yes. Xenomania give the dusty old Pointer Sisters song a chrome finish that turns it into something exhilarating and pneumatic. Listen on headphones and you’ll believe you can fly. Let it take you in the disco and you’ll have someone’s eye out. ‘If you want more, more, more… then jump!’ shriek the Girls, in fine competitive spirit. Gold medals all round.

 SNOW PATROL – RUN (2004)

What’s the discipline? The 200m.

Does it sound right? Hell no. What a dreary trudge. No-one in their right minds would run in a serious competition to this. In case  you think I’ve been unfair assigning this song to a sprinting event rather than a long-distance one, bear in mind that the key lyric is ‘And we’ll run for our lives,’ delivered with none of the urgency that implies. Cut to Gary Lightbody standing around with flares on the Olympic track, singing ‘Slower! Slower!’ He DID have a choice. Disqualified.

GOLDFRAPP – RIDE A WHITE HORSE (2005)

What’s the discipline? Dressage.

Does it sound right? Yes, it really does. The beat’s prissy but determined; the perfect soundtrack to prancing around on a long-faced friend. ‘I want blisters, you’re my leader!’ breathes Alison, demonstrating the commitment to training that will take her as far as she likes in the competition. Silver.

FRANK OCEAN – SWIM GOOD (2011)

What’s the discipline? Men’s Freestyle.

Does it sound right? As soft and seductive as the sea. Frank sings about driving off into the ocean and seeking a personal transformation in the vastness of the water – perhaps death, perhaps enlightenment and rebirth. In other words no, this is hardly suitable subject matter at all. The dirty old ocean is no clean purpose-built swimming pool and the Olympics are all about certainty, endurance and strength. Away with your beauty and ambiguity Frank Ocean. Away.

USHER – DIVE (2012)

What’s the discipline? Diving.

Does it sound right? ‘These waters can get a little busy but I got experience!’ boasts Usher. It’s a promising start from this well-practiced performer. ‘I don’t need a life saver, baby going deeper ain’t gon’ kill me!’ he goes on promisingly, presumably readying his position on the board. ‘It’s raining inside your bed,
no parts are dry, loving makes you so wet, your legs, your thighs…’ he adds, as the commentators begin to exchange worried looks. ‘I’m in so deep, it’s up to my waist… I don’t mind playing in the rain!’ he concludes, at which point we must all accept that Usher is diving in a different Olympic ring to the rest of our competitors and turn sadly back towards our lives.

If popstars were… elemental

Assuming you ignore about 95% of it, there’s hardly an element in the periodic table that hasn’t been the subject of a hit song. David Guetta & Sia are the latest to plunder its grid in the name of pop, with best-number-one-of-the-year-so-far Titanium the result. But who’s been there before and what can they teach us about science?

Kraftwerk – Neon Lights (1978)

Science is fun! A bit ominous and bleak sometimes perhaps, but beautiful too. And so ran the formula for most of Kraftwerk’s best songs. By 1978 they’d already covered motorways, radiation, trains, mannequins and robotics, so it was only logical they should turn their attention to street lighting next. Who knew that exciting a colourless gas with electricity would be so… exciting? The boys from Düsseldorf turned the idea into what’s practically a hymn; its hypnotic simplicity and pretty melody transforming even the most rundown city centre on a wet Monday night into shimmering streets of orange wonder. Noble.

 Nirvana – Lithium (1991)

The world’s lightest metal! Not that you’d learn that from the song. Kurt Cobain’s more interested in its chemical salts and their powerful mood-stabilising properties. Apparently he wrote the lyrics inspired by how born-again Christianity helps some people to hold it together. But he doesn’t sound convinced. It’s a moodswing set to music: from jolly to sarcastic to desperate and back again, evoking the very manic depression that the medication’s supposed to ease. Lithium itself, meanwhile, has ‘high reactivity with nuclei that verge on instability’. AT LEAST KURT’S GOT A KITTEN.

East 17 – Gold (1992)

Here are the facts you will learn about gold from listening to this song:

  • It has been around for a long time
  • It was created by God
  • People think about it when doing bad things
  • It is worth less (much less) than life
  • We don’t need it (do we)
  • “Jesus weren’t sent to set a precious stone free”

Yes it’s easy to forget, when Brian Harvey’s career was to descend into odd rampages fuelled by ecstasy pills and/or baked potatoes, that East 17 used to sneak pious Christian messages into their songs. It’s fair enough to hope for an end to war, but they also pray in this song that rain will stop – with no thought to the hosepipe bans and general unhappiness that such an event would bring to Walthamstow. I’m not convinced that gold’s a stone either. But despite this onslaught of seriousface bombast it’s still a great track, so well done lads.

LCD Soundsystem – Sound of Silver (2007)

Or Kraftwerk: The Next Generation if you like, as this too deploys scant, well-chosen lyrics over pleasantly minimal electronica. The LCDs’ fondness for propulsive, organic percussion* has been reined in for a nostalgic, elegaic** song about lost youth. So where does silver fit in? In an interesting interview, James Murphy tells us that a) it’s about always feeling like you’re in second place and b) that he wanted to make SHINY MUSIC as opposed to the ‘beige music’ of his first album. This blog is happy to endorse the concept of shiny music.

*banging saucepans with wooden spoons **yes, another long one

David Guetta featuring Sia – Titanium (2011)

I was hoping that the video for this would feature Sia as a giant gleaming titanium lady-robot deflecting bullets and the like, but instead, of course, the only titanium to be seen in the video appears when we see someone riding a bike. Some superpowers do show up later on but missing any opportunity for a giant robot is a cause for regret. Anyway: TITANIUM. Mightiest of metals, known for its strength and lightness, used to make SPACESHIPS and JET ENGINES and MISSILES. It needs a massive song to match it, and I bloody love this one. A bass drop that goes off like a nuclear reactor and a huge hook from Sia that somehow manages to stand out above it. It’s epic. Now we need only wait for the world’s popstars to get round to the rest of the periodic table…

If popstars were… Clockwatchers

So, Cover Drive are number 1 in the UK with the jaunty Twilight. They’re hardly the first to sing a song about a specific time of day but what are these songs trying to tell us? Let’s spend 24 hours in the company of pop…

Maria Muldaur – Midnight at the Oasis (1974)

One day ends and another begins. But it’s still dark and you probably haven’t gone to sleep yet! This is the paradox of midnight. Salman Rushdie used it as a metaphor for rebirth and independence. Russell T Davies drew it as a world that was both staggeringly beautiful and inherently lethal. For Maria Muldaur it’s a chance to do a spot of belly dancing and shag a sultan’s son. It’s a time of mystery, romance and possibility! It’s a very nice song. And it’s a terrible fantasy set in a made-up ‘exotic Orient’. Because it’s all very well being specific about the time, but we could do with better directions to the oasis. There isn’t a desert in the world where you’ll find both a camel and a cactus. Still, if she’s getting off her tits on mescaline (‘Cactus is our friend! He’ll point out the way!’) she may as well wait until 12.51 which is when Julian Casablancas is ready for sex.

3 A.M. At The Border Of The Marsh From Okefenokee (1976) / 3am Eternal (1991) / 3AM (2008) / 3 A.M. (2008) / 3 a.m. (2009) / 03.45: No Sleep (2003)

There are a LOT of songs set around 3. What’s everyone up to? In Berlin, Tangerine Dream are stoned. In London, the KLF feel like the party’s going to last forever. In Rättvik Marit Bergman waits up for Kleerup though she knows in her heart he’ll never call. In Detroit, Eminem has just got in and remembered he’s a blood-and-bathwater-drinking serial killer who’s left his victims’ bodies lying around (charming). Young Jeezy is out clubbing in Atlanta and about to have a fumble in the car park with whoever likes his jewellery the most, while in Jönköping the Cardigans are lying in bed having a very pretty existential crisis. It’s a terrible time of night to be awake, to be fair.

RUFUS WAINWRIGHT – 11:11 (2003)

And it’s all very different in the cold light of day, as Rufus Wainwright discovers on waking. He’s surrounded by crying, half-naked friends & lovers and New York’s in flames. The double elevensies of the title are carefully chosen to evoke 9/11 and the specific pinpointing of the time is a theme in itself, as Rufus reflects on mortality, loss, and the importance of living every moment. Beautiful.

Donna Summer – Sunset People (1980)

Is the whole of Donna’s Bad Girls a concept album about 24 hours in the life of the city? It starts with all that sexy big night out stuff, there’s that raft of dark-night-of-the-soul songs in the middle, then a burst of sunny, joyful tracks before the album ends up here, at sunset. Or on Sunset, as Donna sings. But it’s obviously not just a literal song about the famous Strip. People are holding on to the last breath of life, hiding their scars and pointing at stars, trying to make a moment of glamour last forever. At sunset we take stock of the shit, and look to the uncertainty of the night.

COVER DRIVE – Twilight (2011)

And if we don’t want to go gently into that good night, we sing ‘Twiiiilight!
I’m loving this twiiiilight! I’m loving this twi-lalalalaLALALALA TWIIILIGHT!’ to a perky beat.

Yet Cover Drive recognise that it’s an important time of transition, too. When it turns to night they’re gonna make it right! The liminal hours are when lives can change irrevocably, and baby they’ve been thinking about you and they’re gonna make you mine. Er, theirs. It’s a song about definition in an indefinite world. Potential in the petering light. Held in my heart for a day like today. Twilight.

If popstars were… witches

Things are looking up for witchcraft in pop now that Katy B’s thrown her hat into the hexagram. But it’s been a long hard journey to get here.

CLIFF RICHARD — DEVIL WOMAN

In 1975 Cliff denounced his own song Honky-Tonk Angel in a Christian fury after someone told him it sounded like he was singing about a prostitute. Fortunately Devil Woman has a much more positive Christian message.

Kindly, tennis-loving Cliff has a terrible run-in with a gypsy lady who leaves him on the floor after slipping him a potion. He keeps on about how evil she is, but assuming that the potion was nothing more than a Babycham on an empty stomach, her only misdeeds are trying to win him “with her feminine ways” and get him “from behind”.

It’s a pretty good capsule summary of the Church’s relationship with witches over the years: Man is scared of own sexuality and of not being in charge, man decides woman is in league with the Devil. In fact the story goes that Cliff only agreed to sing the song after making the lyrics more aggressive towards the ‘devil woman’, and has since regaled fans at concerts with the inspirational tale of how the song saved one woman from turning to the occult. Congratulations, Cliff.

What does it sound like? It sounds silly.

Which witch? I like to imagine Cliff seeing a paperback copy of How To Become A Sensuous Witch on a bookstall and torturing himself with thoughts of the startling lady on the cover. (Image found on this amazing blog.)

KATE BUSH — WAKING THE WITCH

Here’s an unsettling song. Kate’s having some sort of time-travelling out-of-body experience and endures a medieval witch trial on a ducking stool. If you’re listening in the context of her Hounds of Love album you’ll gather it’s all going on while she’s trying to stay alive in icy water in the present day.

What does it sound like? Trippy piano and half-heard voices give way to manic chopped up beats, church bells and the terrifying voice of the inquisitor. Scary.

Which witch? Before Kate came along I think this was pop culture’s best-known indictment of witch trials. “What else floats in water?” “Gravy!” Logic at its best.

NATACHA ATLAS — I PUT A SPELL ON YOU

What does it sound like? There are so many covers of this great song. I love Natacha’s best because the clattering percussion and woozy strings in her “hello I’m Arabic you know” version properly capture the mad intensity of falling hard and helplessly for someone. It’s as dizzy and intoxicating as you hope being actually bewitched would be.

Which witch? There’s precious little to learn about the nature and practice of witchcraft here. It’s presented as a means to an end to get people into bed with you. (I really wouldn’t want to have to admit that Cliff was right.) But Natacha is as camp and commanding as Faye Dunaway playing Selena  in the 80s Supergirl film.

LADYTRON — SOFT POWER

The idea of Soft Power dates back to Lao Tzu, who said that what is fluid and yielding will always overcome what’s rigid and inflexible. “Water always wins,” as Doctor Who put it. Ladytron’s lyrics are as impenetrable as you like, but they conflate Soft Power with the Witching Hour of their album title so let’s read it as a celebration of witchery’s subtletly and cleverness.  Call it a set of typically feminine qualities, if you must — I’m aware that I’ve ended up writing exclusively about female witches, after all. My one attempt to include a male witch got no further than the line “Do what u like shall be the whole of the law” (Take That featuring Aleister Crowley).

What does it sound like? Hypnotic and beautiful, with menacing synths turning in an endless chord sequence underneath a gorgeous vocal that hovers delicately between emotion and self-control.

Which witch? So very mysterious, so very reliant on what isn’t said or seen, Ladytron in this song (as interpreted through the medium of dance here) are the Blair Witch.

KATY B — WITCHES’ BREW

Finally here’s Katy. If the black goo coming out of the drain behind her head and her psychokinetic frenzy in the video make you think it’s all gone a bit Silent Hill, don’t be alarmed. For all the talk of dusty spellbooks and rosemary potions in the lyrics, Katy’s a very modern witch with a nice Nokia touchscreen and, clearly, some terrific haircare products.

What does it sound like? Like the sweetest amusement arcade you ever visited. I love the alarming drop-down into the middle 8 and its dangerous, random-sounding chord sequence — sorcerous.

Which witch? Never mind that the songs I’ve looked at so far have treated witchcraft as evil, perilous, intense or mysterious. Katy doesn’t care about any of that! She generally sings about having a bit of fun and meeting some boys, and that’s not about to change just because of a sudden onset of occult powers. So I’ve cast her as Sabrina The Teenage Witch and let’s hear no more about it. What we really need to be worrying about is the conjuring that led to this song acquiring an apostrophe between the album release earlier this year and the single this month. Now that’s magic.

If popstars… ate themselves

“I love you like a love song, baby!” sings Selena Gomez on her new single. Can she DO that? What happens when pop songs turn their similes and metaphors upon themselves? Recursive occlusion! Pop, as they say, will eat itself. Let’s have a look at some prominent examples.

NEIL SEDAKA – I’M A SONG (SING ME)

Or I’m Needy (Need Me) which is the impression you’ll get listening to this. “I got a rhyme that I’ve had for some time – nobody wants to sing me!” whimpers Neil. “Could I make you smile if I came back in style?” And then, in an unusally explicit turn of phrase for the early 70s easy-listening scene: “Sing me! Sing me! Roll me around on your tongue!”

It’s all a not-very-well-disguised plea regarding his own career, which at the time wasn’t doing so well. In fact his planned comeback went so badly that he left New York City altogether and ended up in Stockport. My nan used to live in Stockport. I know it well. I can’t help but feel that Neil was travelling in the wrong direction.

By turning music upon itself does he magically capture the ineffable? No. There’s a very earnest massed choral section at the end “I! GOT! MUSIC! I! WILL! SHARE!” which’ll finish you off if you make it that far.

COMMON – I USED TO LOVE H.E.R.

“I met this girl when I was ten years old,” begins Common. No wait, it’s OK! Because this song has a twist in the very last line. If you’ve been watching the BBC’s reruns of 1976 Top of the Pops episodes you’ll have seen the Brotherhood of Man using this gimmick not just once, but making a habit out of it, with songs divulging in the final moments that they’ve actually been about a dog or a baby or a cowbell or whatever. And a similar anvil crashes down at the end of I Used To Love H.E.R., as it turns out that the fun-loving soulful girl Common fell for, who turned her back on Afrocentricity and got into guns and crack, is hip hop itself. Imagine!

By turning music upon itself does he magically capture the ineffable? It’s not bad. The sincere appeals for hip hop to be more serious are amusing in retrospect, bearing in mind that Common’s most recent album was a frenzy of commercial-sounding dance-sex jams.

LITTLE BOOTS – STUCK ON REPEAT

Queen of the extended metaphor, Little Boots casts her attraction as a track on endless loop. “My heart’s skipping and I don’t know why – I know every part,” she sighs, perfectly capturing the essence of one way in which love is like music: the immersion, the sense of losing yourself. And the stuck record she’s become has a beefy Moroder bassline bolstered by dramatic choral swoops, sounding so beautiful and exciting that it doesn’t seem like a hardship at all.

By turning music upon itself does she magically capture the ineffable? The success of any song about repetition rests on whether you actually want to repeat it or not. Which makes this one a big yes.

KELIS – ACAPELLA

Kelis’s imagery is all over the place, on the other hand. Her melody was acapella, with no beat, yes, yes, but also it apparently had no tune. How does that work? “Before you, my whole life was acapella,” she warbles in the chorus. “Now our symphony’s the only song to sing!” No, Kelis. Symphonies aren’t songs. They’re long and complicated with lots of different sections and competing themes going off everywhere. And there isn’t usually a vocal bit. Unless you’re thinking of specific exceptions, but the lyrics aren’t, say, “Before you, my whole life was acapella. Now the soprano part from the fourth movement of Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony‘s the only song’s to sing” are they? Maybe instead of ‘symphony’ she should have gone for ‘cantata’ or ‘oratorio’ or something. Or not confused things by going on about drums, bass and guitar in the middle eight.

By turning music upon itself does she magically capture the ineffable? Yes of course she does. I’m not a fool. I’m only making fun of the lyrics in an attempt to look clever on the internet. Acapella brilliantly gets across how transcendent and symphonic love can be.

SELENA GOMEZ & THE SCENE – LOVE YoU LIKE A LOVE SONG

And here we are in the present day, with one of the best songs of the year. This season’s unmistakable wob-wob bass hypnotises us on the off beats while we’re sprinkled with a careful seasoning of strings. Owing not a little to Little Boots — the feel and theme of Stuck on Repeat, the middle eight of Remedy — Selena sings of love that’s like every record she owns, of hitting repeat, of symphonies and destiny, of lyrical miracles. Her love’s like a song, so she sings a song to her love about the song of her love, and the love and the songs all multiply and fold in on themselves.

If you’re in any doubt how recursive this all is, check the video. Selena sings along to her own song on a karaoke stage, but she’s also all the girls in the cheesy on-screen backing videos. One of the backing video Selenas looks into a screen to see Selena in the club looking back at her. There’s a whole hall-of-mirrors infinite series of Selenas on screen at one point. It’s the sort of imagery metafictional literature’s been playing with for years, but as it’s a teen pop song by Justin Bieber’s girlfriend I don’t expect anyone’s really paying attention.

By turning music upon itself does she magically capture the ineffable? “There’s no way to describe what you do to me. You just do to me what you do,” Selena points out. And if that’s not ineffable then I don’t know what is.

If popstars… ran the world

Beyoncé’s the latest star to sing about global rule. And it’s been a popular topic down the years. How does her plan match up to the greats of the genre?

Wee Papa Girl Rappers – Wee Rule

WHAT’S THEIR MANIFESTOIn a brand new fashion, in a dance hall style, we rule! Wee Papa rule the world…

WHAT FORM OF GOVERNMENT IS IT The twin sisters rule the world as despots (“Don’t bother even moving, stay right in your seat“), cruelly disposing of anyone who challenges their rule (“Why do you try to run that?… We’re gonna take you from here to hell“) while enjoying the life of luxury that world domination affords (“Drive around in a taxi, every place that I go“). Although by their own admission they still use ball point pens. Personally I’d have at least a gel ink rollerball on the go if I were in charge.

BUT DO THE TRAINS RUN ON TIME I don’t think so. The girls are interested in the volume of the bass drum, not the global transportation network. At one point they refer to someone sleeping on a bench at the station — a poor indication of the state of their administration.

Nas (featuring Lauryn Hill) – If I Ruled The World (Imagine That)

WHAT’S HIS MANIFESTO It’s a good one. Nas is going to end black victimisation and do away with jealousy, and we’ll all be able to smoke weed in the streets. Sounds great!

WHAT FORM OF GOVERNMENT IS IT This came out just before Nas started depicting himself as a Pharaoh or as Christ , so I’m going to have to call theocracy, with Nas ruling as god-king and Lauryn as his lovely if somewhat snappish handmaiden.

BUT DO THE TRAINS RUN ON TIME Yes I think they probably do.

Missy Elliott – We Run This

WHAT’S HER MANIFESTOIf you a pimp let me see you party hard, hell yeah! Strippers take your clothes off, hell yeah! Y’all superstars, you don’t need no bodyguards!” Missy enforces a hedonistic rule based on drinking, fucking and partying. It is, in short, a utopia.

WHAT FORM OF GOVERNMENT IS IT Very much a benevolent dictator, Missy encourages individuality (“My style can’t be duplicated or recycled”), equality (“It don’t matter where you from it’s where you at”) and personal pride (“Represent your coast and act like you know”). All she demands in return is that each and every member of the population take the time to service her sexually (“We can do it all night – take a flashlight, you’ll see up my windpipe”).

BUT DO THE TRAINS RUN ON TIME You know how it would be, waiting on the platform with Missy. The train would pull in slowly, and there’d be freaky dancers grinding and jerking around all over the roof. Missy would swing around on a girder before turning into a sex robot or something, then the world would turn upside down or whatever to make it more fun for the dancers. You’d have a lovely morning and the music would be fantastic, but you’d never make it to that meeting in Letchworth.

Take That – Rule the World

WHAT’S THEIR MANIFESTO There’s nothing. Nothing! The skies are lit up with “stars so bright“, and souls are saved if lovers stay together. That’s it.

WHAT FORM OF GOVERNMENT IS IT I wouldn’t call it government at all. The Take That boys form their little oligarchy and then spend their time faffing around on starbeams with girls, leaving the rest of us mortals to just get on with it. They’re more like the idle, sex-crazed Gods of Olympus than anything else.

BUT DO THE TRAINS RUN ON TIME Do they fuck.

Beyoncé – Run The World (Girls)

WHAT’S HER MANIFESTOSome of them men think they freak this like we do – but no they don’t! Make your cheques come at they neck, disrespect us they won’t!” Beyoncé’s claiming the world for the girls who make their own money. Again!

WHAT FORM OF GOVERNMENT IS ITMy persuasion can build a nation!” But Beyoncé’s too much of a self-empowerment fan to be a tyrant. We’re left with a sort of glossy meritocratic matriarchy — “I’m repping for the girls who taking over the world, have me raise a glass for the college grads.”  NB: from the video teasers released so far, a college degree’s not quite enough on its own, you’re also going to need to be able to hold your own in skimpy shorts on a typical America’s Next Top Model shoot.

BUT DO THE TRAINS RUN ON TIMEAnyone rolling I’ll let you know what time it is“. I suspect the trains are as fiercely controlled, with as much attention to detail, as everything else in Beyoncé’s domain.

If popstars were… the apocalypse

So many ways for the world to end. It’s almost impossible to choose the best one. But some of our most interesting popstars have had a stab, and Britney’s only the most recent…

Jonathan King – Everyone’s Gone To The Moon

I’m scared, hold me! Where better to start our end times tour than with Jonathan King? Sure, this song’s been covered by everyone from Nina Simone to the Flaming Lips, but the desolate lyrics have a special resonance coming out of the wonky mouth of their author, the future convicted sex offender and satirically self-proclaimed ‘Vile Pervert’.

What sort of apocalypse is this? It’s a very 60s sort of Armageddon, with overtones of an ecological crisis but a sense that the worst thing that could happen would be everyone not loving each other any more and just going away. Jonathan wanders the streets of an abandoned earth, rambling oddly about mouths full of chocolate covered cream and arms that can only lift a spoon. No I’m not sure what it means either. Perhaps there are clues in his later work.

Does it sound like the end of all things? Yes it sounds terrible.

Black Box Recorder – It’s Only The End of the World

I’m scared, hold me! Well yes I have skipped straight to the late 90s without including Pet Shop Boys’ End of the World. It’s beautiful and devastating but it’s about the world NOT ending. Think of Black Box Recorder’s song as a bleaker response along similar lines if you like.

What sort of apocalypse is this? I’d say it’s the natural destruction of the earth as a consequence of the sun’s expansion – seen in an especially soporific, bored way, of course. The earth’s rotation slows, satellites break up in the atmosphere and our ashes are scattered in space. Meanwhile the narrator’s thoughts turn to the tatty fairground rides at a departed circus, and the dissipation of love.

Does it sound like the end of all things? Yes, if the end of all things is like going to sleep under anaesthetic in a 50s hospital while a posh, disinterested nurse talks you down. It’s exquisite.

Muse – Apocalypse Please

I’m scared, hold me! It’s no surprise to find these fellas on the list. They’re Britain’s favourite doomsday combo, after all. “It’s time for something biblical!” declares Matt Bellamy with glee as thunderous piano chords and DRUMS OF DEATH smash all around him.

What sort of apocalypse is this? You only need to look at the album cover: it’s the Christian Rapture, and some poor fella’s got stuck on earth. Speaking of which, I discovered today that there’s — oh yes — a video game version of Left Behind, that histrionic series of post-Rapture potboilers that’s popular in Christian bookshops. “If you can’t convert them, you might have to kill them!” players will tell themselves as they struggle to bring God’s love to a world awaiting Tribulation. Amusingly for uptight evangelicals everywhere, you can also play as the Antichrist’s forces.

Does it sound like the end of all things? Yes it bloody does.

U2 – Last Night On Earth

I’m scared, hold me! You can’t blame U2, with their roots in a charismatic Dublin fellowship, for being a bit obsessed with the end times. They’d even already had a dry run with Until the End of the World, a few years before this one.

So, apparently they had to put this song together in a terrible rush on their last studio day before going on tour. Poor Bono had to stay up all night to finish the lyrics! It doesn’t show, Bono. My favourite bit is “She’s not waiting on a saviour to come, she’s at a bus-stop with the News of the World and the Sun.” Given a choice of how to spend the last few hours of existence, I wouldn’t bother with the tabloids I don’t think. Especially not when, as logic tells us, one of them is at least a day out of date, whichever day of the week it is.

What sort of apocalypse is this? Hands on the clock are sticking and slipping (temporal distortion?), the ground’s giving way, and the girl in the song has got to ‘give it away’. It’s all a bit vague (THAT’S NOT LIKE YOU BONO), and Dublin was a long time ago, so let’s plump for something nice and Buddhist involving an advanced perception of time and the cycle of destruction and recreation.

Does it sound like the end of all things? No, it sounds like milky tea.

Britney Spears – Till The World Ends

I’m scared, hold me! Well it was only a matter of time before Britney turned her attention from self-destruction to the destruction of all things. Her sugar-coated catastrophe takes the form of a doom-laden dance-off. It’s that unique feeling when you find a partner on the dancefloor who’s so good you want to grind to the beat until the flesh melts off your bones.

What sort of apocalypse is this? Britney’s assertion that the world’s end will be within her lifetime rules out the dispensational premillennialism you might expect from her Southern Baptist upbringing. I’d tag her as a progressive amillennialist, or even a partial preterist, although with her determined adherence to hedonism in this song, it’s possible she doesn’t see herself as one of the saved.

Does it sound like the end of all things? No-one expected a disco! But there’s that thrilling moment when the end of the world is depicted sonically by a decaying 8-bit crunch. And then it comes back! Of course, if you watch the video, Britney does appear to have actually averted the apocalypse by dancing. The sun shines out of her arse at 3:10 and all! And as it’s set on “December 21, 2012”, she seems to have lumped herself in with the Mayan calendar view of things, so I might just have to rethink my interpretation of her eschatological leanings. But I’ll let Wikipedia have the last word. They’ve got a very important, and amazing, distinction to make.

If popstars were… runaways

Salsoul Orchestra & Loleatta Holloway – Runaway

Where are we? There’s a funky bass, some parping brass, swooning strings, bongos, and the vibes solo by which all other vibes solos must be judged. We have arrived in the golden age of disco.

What are we running away from? You better not hesitate! Loleatta warns us to get running because she’s going to mess around (that’s the way she wants to be), she doesn’t want our love (it’d just slow her down), and she can always find another clown if she changes her mind. What a cow.

Where shall we run to? To be honest, after hearing that big gospel & honey voice we’re going to be running straight back into her arms to be mistreated. :(

Bronski Beat – Smalltown Boy

Where are we? A classic wandering bassline pumping up and down the octaves, the best keyboards that the early 80s had to offer, and Jimmy Somerville’s unearthly wailing over the top of it all – it is the golden age of synthpop.

What are we running away from? Disowned… disowned… You leave in the morning with everything you own in a little black case. We are fleeing small towns full of small minds and their prejudices, especially — according to the video — swimming pool-related homophobia.

Where shall we run to? We will be running to a bedsit in London and hanging around in Soho, on this occasion.

Soul Asylum – Runaway Train

Where are we? We are anywhere in the world, but definitely in the golden age of earnest, angsty rock.

What are we running away from? How on earth did I get so jaded? Life’s mystery seems so faded. The lyrics are as vague as anything, but I guess the band would say ‘universal’. For the video showed a montage of actual missing person appeals, and was released in a variety of locally-relevant versions around the world.

Where shall we run to? Well some of the real life runaways came home after seeing the video. It didn’t always work out for the best and there are some awful horror stories, but there you go. It’s only music.

Devlin (featuring Yasmin) – Runaway

Where are we? We are in the golden age of have-a-go rap. I’m not a big fan of Devlin’s, but there are some nice timpani rolls in this one and getting Yasmin on the track immediately adds a certain class.

What are we running away from? Pain on all the faces of multi-cultural races! According to the lyrics, Devlin’s got a theory that urban violence will end if he leaves the slum behind, and Yasmin’s a bit bored with her job. So it’s a fair swap.

Where shall we run to? There’s talk of of being free and just being yourself, of a path of rediscovery, of the fruits from the lost garden of Eden. They also mention a train from Victoria and the English Channel so I guess it’s a ferry to Calais then.

Kanye West – Runaway

"Your girlfriend is really beautiful." "Ha, thank you." "Do you know she's a bird?" "No I never noticed that."

Where are we? We’re in the depths (or the heart) of Kanye’s twisted fantasy now. The plinky-plonk piano of doom, those gorgeous big rich synthesiser lines, jagged pain coming out as a robot voice, all that territory. And in the video we’re at a surrealist feast with ballerinas, where there’s a terrible misunderstanding involving Kanye’s avian new girlfriend and a roast turkey on the dinner table.

What are we running from? FROM KANYE HIMSELF. Because lyrically we’re back where we started with Loleatta; we should save ourselves because the singer’s full of shit and scared of intimacy. But while Loleatta had an imperious surety about her, Kanye’s just in the mood to squat in his own self-pity and toast his own douchery.

Where shall we run to? As Kanye keeps finding out on his recent albums, there’s nowhere to go when it’s yourself that you’re trying to outrun. We can only run, as always, to music.

This post was never meant to be a tribute to anyone. But Loleatta Holloway died, in-between my writing the text on Monday and sorting out the pictures on Tuesday. So GOODBYE NICE VOICE LADY, I’m sorry I called you a cow, and you’d better have the last word:

If popstars were… Lebanese

Lebanon! Ancient seat of the proud Phoenicians! Rich cultural melting pot of the modern world! The Switzerland of the East! With Lady Gaga’s unexpected shout-out to the Lebanese people in Born This Way recently, it’s time to take a look at this noble country’s treatment at the hands of Western pop through the years. Let’s hope they didn’t all just focus on the war stuff…

The Human League – The Lebanon

How is the proud cultural heritage of Lebanon expressed through the lyrics? It’s not. It’s just about the war stuff. And it’s not terribly probing, either. But nevertheless it’s become a gold standard for ‘political songs about a country we don’t really know much about’. Phil Oakey has sheepishly admitted that he’s proud to have won a ‘Worst Lyrics’ accolade for lines like ‘Where there used to be some shops, Is where the snipers sometimes hide.’ And why not. It’s its well-meaning innocence that makes this a classic.

What does it sound like then? The Human League express their anger at the bleakness of war by breaking their ‘no guitars’ rule and going a bit rock. It was a big deal at the time, honest. And it still sounds great.

Chris de Burgh – Lebanese Nights (featuring Elissa)

How is the proud cultural heritage of Lebanon expressed through the lyrics? It’s not. It’s just about the war stuff. Chris meets a woman who sets his heart a-flutter. But it’s not long before he’s probing into ‘the young girl in her eyes’ in spectacularly patronising fashion. ‘Did you dance in the fields? Did you run for your life? From the HELL THAT RAINED DOWN FROM THE SKY?!’

Still, he gets an award for saying ‘Lebanese’ as many times as possible. ‘It was late in a Lebanese restaurant!’ ‘In the heat of a Lebanese night!’ ‘By the light of a Lebanese dawn!’ And in the closing seconds — if you can make it to the end of this awful song — there’s an unexpected Human League-style flourish as Chris abruptly declares ‘In the Lebanon!’

What does it sound like then? It starts off quite nicely with some authentic-sounding Lebanese percussion and instrumentation. And Lebanese singer Elissa pops up for a pretty interlude. But otherwise, rest assured, the chorus crushes everything into a life-sapping soft-rock Middle England drone.

U2 – Cedars of Lebanon

How is the proud cultural heritage of Lebanon expressed through the lyrics? It’s not. It’s just about the war stuff. ‘I’ve got a head like a lit cigarette, unholy clouds reflecting in a minaret!’ declares Bono at one point, as portentous and meaningless as ever.

No Line On The Horizon, the album this track closes, might be, partially, a sort of concept album about the Middle East. Recording sessions took place in Morocco — where Adam Clayton excitedly says he felt a ‘connection with the Arabic scale’ — and there’s a track on it called Fez – Being Born. Mind you they were going to call that one Tripoli at one point. Not that I’m suggesting that U2 think Middle Eastern locations are interchangeable! Not for a minute! Anyway, the last verse of Cedars of Lebanon is apparently a rant against the Iraq war.

Like Chris de Burgh’s, Bono’s description of Lebanon involves sitting around in a restaurant. Maybe that’s the key to the Western experience of the country: ‘All those wars! Awful! We must help them! Mind you the service is TERRIBLE.’ In the end I’m not convinced U2 have got anything to say about the Cedars of Lebanon other than it’s a nice phrase which they remember from Bible Group.

What does it sound like then? It’s rather nice, I’m sorry to say, understated with an electronic pulse and a weary post-rock feel to it. But I can’t say I hear any of Adam Clayton’s ‘Arabic scale’ coming through.

Gorillaz – White Flag (featuring The Lebanese National Orchestra for Oriental Arabic Music)

How is the proud cultural heritage of Lebanon expressed through the lyrics? Are you having a laugh? It’s about being shipwrecked on Gorillaz’ fictional no-man’s land/musical utopia Plastic Beach (‘If Heaven had a VIP, this is it‘).

What does it sound like then? Well of all the tracks on the list, this is the one that actually brings in a whole Arabic orchestra. And on the same track as exposure-deserving UK rappers Kano and Bashy as well! I was so excited when I saw the track list. And the opening of the song is a brilliant concoction of Middle Eastern excitement. You wait for the moment when the beat and the raps will come in. SMASH IT ALL TOGETHER DAMON! SMASH IT! But no, instead it segues into a completely different track — quite a nice one, with fruit machine bleeps and so on — while the Oriental orchestra wait patiently to come in again for a coda after the rapping’s over. It’s a decent track, but integrated, it could have been a brilliant one.

Lady Gaga – Born This Way

How is the proud cultural heritage of Lebanon expressed through the lyrics? In passing. This, they say, is a unification anthem for all races and sexualities, a massive cross-media event, a ‘Manifesto from Mother Monster’. And once all the hype has died down, we’re left to enjoy the oddities of the lyrics, which leads me to the reason I started writing this post in the first place.

You can’t fault Gaga for wanting to eliminate all forms of prejudice across the globe. You can, however, have a good laugh at her quick tour of the world’s key ethnicities. “You’re black, white, beige, chola descent! You’re Lebanese, you’re Orient!”

Without even pausing to wonder who’s been left out, it’s odd and amazing to see the people of a single, smallish country lionised like this. (Also amusing that she says Orient rather than Oriental, for the sake of the rhyming scheme.) Is it the Human League’s influence? Is it, as a more sensible commenter than me points out, because she’s best buddies with (Lebanese-born) Mika and it’s a roundabout way of addressing anti-Arab prejudice in the US? Either way, Lebanon is BACK as a pop force. And that’s great.

What does it sound like then? I think by now we’ve pretty well established that it sounds like Madonna’s Express Yourself.