Britpop wasn't perfect, but it was ours | Elinor Davies

I’m puzzled why this wave of nostalgia for the likes of Blur and Oasis has annoyed people quite so much. They brought a bit of joy to a grey era

Nostalgia has for some time been a staple of British TV and radio; it's an easy, cheap way of filling the schedules and makes for comforting viewing and listening. The latest wave has come in the form of the BBC's Britpop 20th anniversary season, a series of programmes featuring the usual array of pontificating music journalists of a certain age.

Britpop is loosely defined in all of this as the British guitar-based music made between 1992 and 1997, beginning with Suede and finishing around the time Noel Gallagher got himself an invitation to 10 Downing Street. What was significant about this music, we're told, was that it ended the dominance of American grunge music in the British charts and brought indie into the mainstream.

Among the media responses to all of this there has been a fair amount of scepticism, much of it from those who were close enough to see the scene's dark side but also from those who were teenagers at the time. As somebody who got into Britpop at 15, I find there is something troubling about this nostalgia. Programmes have given a fairly uncritical platform to all kinds of hyperbole, such as Alan McGee's absurd claim that Noel Gallagher was "the best British songwriter since Paul McCartney". There was also an unpleasant chauvinism about the whole Britpop ethos, much of which seemed to spring from Damon Albarn's irritation that Blur were not as popular as Nirvana.

But what strikes me about a lot of these commentaries – critical or otherwise – is that there's not much about what was genuinely good from a fan's perspective. I was born in 1979 and grew up with a sense that I was always just missing out on the excitement. My older siblings had Madness and 2 Tone, then later on acid house and Madchester (all of which have been given their fair share of nostalgic media retrospectives) but I was never quite old enough for any of this. I had gone back and discovered bands such as the Smiths, but was also longing for music that was mine. For me and many others, Britpop wasn't about some kind of break with grunge, it was about having a music culture we could access.

For suburban teenagers, this was thrilling. It was our first taste of nightlife, of indie clubs and gigs, usually in local venues. The term "laddish" has cropped up in a lot in recent recollections but I remember how safe and female-friendly these spaces were. I could go out dancing on a Friday night, flirt with boys and get a cab home for a tenner. Lots of this music hasn't dated well at all, of course, but the same could be said of Merseybeat, punk, synthpop or Madchester. If pop music stands the test of time, that's a bonus. I probably had some of the most exhilarating times of my life dancing to Echobelly and Sleeper and I refuse to feel embarrassed about this.

Britpop is now associated with Tony Blair and New Labour, but it actually came at the tale-end of the Major years and brought a bit of joy into a pretty miserable era. "You and I are gonna live for ever" is exactly the kind of thing you want to be singing along to when you're a teenager and it made us feel like everything would be OK. (We weren't to know what Blair had in store for us.)

That's not to say that we should be uncritical. But I am puzzled by why this wave of nostalgia has annoyed people quite so much; we have, after all, put up with it about other eras for a long time. There's a slightly snobbish narrative in some quarters that proper youth culture somehow died in the 1990s and did not pick up again until the internet, but this just isn't true. Britpop was not perfect but it was ours.


Eli Davies

The GuardianTramp

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