Different decade, same class wars

Why does the British music scene oscillate wildly between posh and common? Since my birth as a music fan in the mid-1990s, the revolving door of pop has rarely been free of interchanging cagoules, bow-ties, tracksuit bottoms and brogues.

Once it was simple: Asbo-lads Oasis fought a class war with posho Blur in ’95. Yes, boho-toff Damon Albarn had resurrected hooligan chic (casual trainers, Adidas stripes) a little before the Gallaghers but, y’know, he could read music and wore a suit jacket. He was probably not a Tory, but he was definitely middle class. Oasis were working class and it was they who had captured that 90s moment of union-jacked national pride, reaching its zenith/nadir when Noel Gallagher was pictured at Number 10’s “Cool Britannia” party with the socially mobile Tony Blair.

Meanwhile it was the other gang in town, Pulp, sending up the class system with a song called Common People from an album called Different Class. As its jubilant chorus rang out across sticky nightclub floors, few stopped to note the lyrics were in fact a sneer, not a celebration of all things common.

So what of the years since? What did the end of Blairism, the rebirth of austerity and new Conservatism do to pop?

The theory goes that music improves in a time of hardship; with mass unemployment and general skintness inciting a creative rage in our musical youth. Morrissey and The Smiths dined out on anti-Thatcher sentiment in the 1980s. Before that in the early 1960s the Beatles positioned themselves as outspoken oiks prepared to shake up a post-war Britain still dominated by old Etonians like Harold MacMillan.

It follows, then, that a nation once again run by public schoolboys/millionaire politicians should be a hotbed of class warriors singing through gritted teeth from tower blocks and dole queues across the land. Right?

Not so. In the year that Cameron swept his coat-tails into Downing Street, the key Brit Award (best album) went to the privately-educated granddaughter of a Daily Telegraph deputy editor, Florence Welch of Florence and the Machine. A year later that gong went to Mumford & Sons, led by ex classics student Marcus Mumford. This year, Adele clawed it back for the masses (she’s from Tottenham and studied at the Brit school). So are we witnessing pop’s class “switch” halfway through a parliament?

Music journalist Simon Price once wrote that music, like sport, was “the traditional escape route for the poor” and so it was unfair for the well-off to hog the limelight. He cited Manic Street Preachers bassist Nicky Wire, who said “Music shouldn’t be a gap year.”

Well, it’s been a funny old summer. We’ve had so many pseudo posh street parties Pimm’s is threatening to “do a Burberry”, we’ve had the return of the original scallies the Stone Roses, with Ian Brown helpfully reminding us the royals are “dirty parasites”, but then we’ve all joined in with the beatification of Olympomayor and professional posho Boris Johnson.

Then there was an entire army of demographic analysts calculating that our top sportspeople are both posh and, err, not. And we toasted the return of (common) Posh (Spice) while we watched a hit play called, yes, Posh. Oh and full-on aristocrat Prince Harry was exposed in a Club 18-30 moment which might be the best evidence yet that Nick Clegg’s social mobility drive is working, at least in one direction.

So what next for music? Will the autumn bring us a filthy riot or a string quartet? Answers on a Molotov cocktail/cheese board please.

Anna Doble

Talk to me @othermother_dj

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