It’s easy to feel overwhelmed given the current situation. But even out of lockdown it’s clear that modern pop music has taken on a more serious, even dour tone, often trying to reflect or contend with the many issues that face a modern society, with individual artists seemingly feeling responsible to engage with social and political matters.
So this week we’re going to ignore all that, and in an attempt to blast away those lockdown blues we’re going to indulge in a bit of a nostalgia trip back to only the most upbeat, nostalgic, cheesy songs that we could find. It’s a look back on the hits of your school discos and the headbangers from 2000s car-journeys. Optimistic songs, from a more cheerful, naïve time. Some of them are good, some of them are genuinely terrible (but we kinda love them anyway in a so-bad-it’s-good kinda way), all are guaranteed to lift your spirits.
Reach - S Club 7 - 2000
Reaching number two on the UK singles chart during the first week of sales, this uptempo, feel-good track is a great go-to piece to lift spirits and add colour to the otherwise often mundane atmosphere of lockdown. Get dancing in your living room!
The Fast Food Song - Fast Food Rockers - 2003
Earning the prestigious title of NME’s Worst Single for 2004, this song made an appearance in every school’s hall during every disco in the 2000s, and probably made it to more adult discos than our parents might like to admit!
‘Mickey’ - Toni Basil (‘Word of Mouth’) - 1981
With its distinctive drum introduction and repeated vocal line chant this song is an absolute classic to chill and dance to. When released, it became an international hit, receiving double platinum certification. The song was actually released in 1979 by UK music group ‘Racey’ as ‘Kitty’. Toni Basil then adapted the song changing the name from Kitty to Mickey to make the song about a man.
‘The Ketchup Song (Aserejé)’ - Las Ketchup (‘Hijas del Tomate’) - 2002
This song comes in various formats, with versions in Spanish, ‘Spanglish’ (English and Spanish mixture) and one version with verses in Portuguese. What all of these versions have in common however, is the nonsensical chorus is identical in all three versions! That’s right, the lyrics that you may have assumed were in a ‘different language’ are actually non- comprehensible and cannot be translated fully!
‘Dragostea Din Tei’ - O-zone (‘DiscO-Zone’) - 2003
Active from 1998-2005, this Eurodance trio quickly received something of a cult following here and especially in mainland Europe. Whilst legendary in its own time, like many cult hits of the era it has been rendered in immortality in memes, after the 2006 Youtube video “Numa Numa” showed a guy enthusiastically lip-syncing to the song and became an internet legend more-or-less overnight, becoming the Number 1 Internet Icon by 40 Greatest Internet Superstars on VH1.
‘My name is’ - Eminem - 1999
Eminem needs no introduction, and this song helped cement his cred as a rapper to rival the greats. This song earnt Slim his first Grammy Award for Best Rap Solo Performance, and words and music video clearly show Eminem trying to place himself as a student of Dr Dre, potentially highlighting his efforts to get the rap world at large to take him seriously by placing himself as part of a succession of great rappers, an idea he would employ in many of his future raps including the infamous Rap God.
‘All Star’ Smash Mouth - 1999
Another song that has been rendered in immortality thanks to memes and the genius of artwork that is Shrek. Although ska often gets the sharp side of music critics’ tongues, this particular song was actually very widely hailed as a great hit, and a lot of praise went into the band’s improvement since their previous work.
‘As long as you love me’ - Backstreet Boys - 1997
One of the signature hits of the Backstreet Boys, this song stresses the importance of love being the most important thing about a relationship, with background, race and past relationship being less relevant. This upbeat yet somewhat lilting song has a catchy chorus and angelically sung verses by Nick Carter.
‘Livin’ la Vida Loca’ - Ricky Martin - 1999
Probably most commonly known as the tune from Shrek 2 sung by Antonio Banderas (Puss in Boots) and Eddie Murphy (Donkey) this tune is raunchy and fast-paced, Ricky Martin accompanied by a full horn and rhythm section. During this time of lockdown, we are certainly living in a ‘crazy life’, so embrace this song and let its infectious bassline make you smile.
‘What’s up?’ - 4 non-blondes - 1993
This iconic song was recently used in the Netflix original series ‘Sense8’ to great effect. It’s simultaneously iconic and difficult to pin down: an anthemic neo-hippie-rock alt-pop hit, and something of a one-hit-wonder for 4 non-blondes who never quite replicated the success of this hit. Like many items on this list, this initially saw its immortality in a bizarre electro remix set to clips of Masters of the Universe, and perhaps were it not for Sense 8 that may have been the way a new generation experienced the song. It would be interesting to see if What’s Up becomes something of a new LGBTQ anthem due to the show’s ties (especially in the episode this is featured) with queer issues.
‘Macarena’ - los del rio - 1995
The song has featured in pretty much every disco since it was released in 1995. The song was produced by Spanish Latin pop group Los del Rio at a time when there was an international dance craze throughout the second half of the 1990s. The band ‘Bayside Boys’ produced a cover of the song in 1996, producing a remix that added in English lyrics to the original Spanish piece.
‘Hey Ya!’ - Outkast - 2003
Outkast is a difficult band to nail down stylistically, changing their inspirations and style over the years as they have done (yes Outkast is still active! Which was a surprise to me at least but maybe I’m just out of the loop). Hey Ya! was definitely part of the group’s heavily funk-influenced phase. To get all musicological for a second, this piece is something of a key moment in the history of hip-hop; a popular hit for hip-hop that embraced the cross-genre nature of the format. A catchy, but also musically important, part of the hip-hop canon.
‘Karma Chameleon’ - Culture Club - 1983
In an interview, Culture Club frontman Boy George explained: “The song is about the terrible fear of alienation that people have, the fear of standing up for one thing. It’s about trying to suck up to everybody. Basically, if you aren’t true, if you don’t act like you feel, then you get karma-justice, that’s nature’s way of paying you back.” Culture Club were a pretty fascinating band, with multicultural members and LGBT members. Their songs present an image of a world which they wanted to become a reality at a time when many of their members faced homophobia and racism. Aside from the group and song background, this song is so relaxed and one which cannot be recommended enough at this time of struggle.