Tag Archives: take that

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.

Advertisements

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.

The Bert Awards 2011

Hello and welcome to the inaugural Bert Awards, during which I will be making a fist of this year’s Brit Awards highlights.

Best Grooming

Where else on primetime TV do you get to see a man in his thirties leaning into the face of an uncomfortable-looking 16-year old boy to say “You smell amazing! How old are you? No really, how old are you??” But the pheromonal appeal of Justin Bieber reduced James Corden to just such a state. Amazing.

Best Rioting

A difficult one to judge. And unexpected. It seemed that every other act had been down that shop they advertise near my work [pictured] to kit themselves out before the show.

Plan B put a good effort in, with the prison-yard violence and the setting people on fire and everything, but the award has to go to Take That, whose choreographed kettling was particularly joyful.

Best Slurring

I’m not sure what had gotten into Cheryl Cole before she lurched on to present the Best International Female award. Half a box of Nytol, by the sounds of it. Dull, limp and lifeless.

Best Sulking

Has anyone ever turned up to present an award with as thunderous-faced a glare as Will “I’m making a documentary about Coriolanus you know” Young did? Was it because he’d been paired with Avril Lavigne? Was it all beneath him? Bad show.

Best Duetting

All night we were shouting at the telly: ‘When’s the big duet? Who will it be?’ Because even though these unlikely popstar pairings are the best part of the event, one big collaboration per year is the best you can hope for these days.

And what a disappointment. I love Cee Lo, but hate watered-down versions of overplayed songs. Especially one he’s already done with a ‘surprise guest’ a few days ago (at the Grammys, with Gwyneth Paltrow). And who was it who came on to play Mika to his Beth Ditto? Just Paloma “Plan B’s mum” Faith.

If it had been left up to me, the big finish would have been Corinne Bailey Rae collaborating with Rastamouse. She would have sung with all the sadness of every orphan in the Mouseland orphanage, and he would have made a bad ting good. But this is why I am not, yet, in charge of the Brits.