Saturday, June 26, 2004


Never let it be said that Panda Pops is a website without its finger (or paw, whatever) on the pulse. Except for the fact that you could quite justifiably say it recently because we haven't bothered to update for ages, and when we have it's usually been with some rather outdated guff; a tradition we're about to continue.

We've spent the past week mulling over an article in last Saturday's "The Guide" (free with the Guardian) about the "iTunes revolution" that's due to hit UK shores any day now, and the consequences for the music industry. We're going to ignore the fact that everyone we've spoken to so far has been thoroughly underwhelmed by the iTunes music store in the UK and its heavily US-centric catalogue, and assume that this is just a teething problem which no one will remember once iTunes is sufficiently anglicised to contain the latest Lemonescent and Sam and Mark MP3s. (Obviously we're being ironic here; no anglicised software will ever both with Lemonescent. They'll have to wait for the devolved Scottish version.)

The article in last week's guide suffered from a peculiarly tabloid problem; a headline or main picture caption that bears little or no resemblance to the angle of the main article. In this case, we were treated to a picture of Alicia Keys and Emma Bunton (pictured separately, we hasten to add. The long-awaited Bunton/Keys duet is still tied up in contractual wranglings) with the caption "beware the dodgy tracks record...Keys will be saved but Bunton may get erased."

The article referred to the potential effects of legal downloading on duff album tracks; the very real idea that people will no longer pay over the odds for 12 hastily-assembled and unmemorable tracks in order to get the two they really want, if they have the option of downloading the two tracks legally and paying far less money for them. So far, so good - we're not going to argue with that point.

What raised the bile to the tip of our throats was the writer's naive assumption that "filler" is a problem confined largely to the pop industry. The artists named who the writer deemed capable of "sustaining an entire album" were along the lines of Radiohead, Outkast and Keys. The idea that any of these artists are any less prone to filler than the likes of Emma Bunton is frankly laughable. I don't think I own a single album that isn't at least 15% filler, and having paid a large debt to society in listening to my housemates' CD collections, I can quite happily say that I've heard my fair share of Radiohead CDs that could have done with a bit of calculated pruning.

This is not an attempt to absolve pop music of all responsibility for the 95% filler album; far from it. It would just be nice if people realised that it's a far more widespread problem than that. Albums with more than their fair share of filler are usually the ones rush-released off the back of a sensational hit. A good example of this happening in pop: Rachel Stevens. A nation swept off its feet by the quirky guitar licks of 'Sweet Dreams My LA Ex' bought enough copies of Rachel's album to get it to number nine in its first week. But word soon spread about the lack of spark on the rest of the album that caused sales to subside quickly; a fate not entirely unpredicted. But we should also consider Beyoncé in this: a huge star from her career in Destiny's Child, a solo career successfully begun with a film tie-in and cemented by last year's big summer hit 'Crazy in Love'. You could be forgiven for throwing around words like "world domination" and "on a platter". But 'Crazy in Love' aside, Bee's album was a huge disappointment. Beyoncé had considerable cachet as a respectable artiste and big things were expected of her solo material; her failure to deliver was far more of a surprise than Rachel's.

So why should Emma Bunton be any more likely to be affected by a filler boycott than Alicia Keys? Surely it's a general assumption that people who buy an album have heard something they like and hope for more of the same; on that level, Emma's latest, Free Me delivers. Some tracks, admittedly, aren't strong enough to survive on their own terms but there are enough confident, hummable and memorable tracks on there to justify the album's existence as a whole. I suspect the same is true for Alicia Keys - if you liked her recent singles, her album will deliver more of the same. If you're expecting a journey through a thousand genres and styles, you are likely to be disappointed. So why will Alicia's fans download her entire album while Emma's fans just download 'Maybe'? The answer is they won't. It is ludicrously shortsighted to suggest that the ability to deliver a "complete" album in the way that we currently understand such a thing to exist will prevent net users just downloading the tracks they want. It just doesn't work like that. While large chunks of this article were very well-argued, it let itself down by resorting to the time old "artists who write and arrange their own material will survive, whereas mindless pop puppets will fail". This argument has been dressed up in more guises than a member of the secret service, and it's no more convincing for all that effort.

Some pop is guff, certainly. But for every act of thoroughly worthless pop music created by cynics with an eye for a quick buck, there are two acts out there recording music written by people who love pop and believe in pop as a force in its own right, and not just rock for children. Sadly, a lot of the truly brilliant pop fails on commercial levels because most fans of "credible" music won't stoop to buy pop, however it presents itself. If anything is a threat to the pay packets of pop stars, it is that. Assuming that pop does cease to exist as a profitable industry in the future, will that mean an end to filler? Like fuck it will. It just means the filler will have more guitars.

Saturday, June 12, 2004


It's not often that we at Panda Pops get to bring you what people in the business call "an exclusive" - usually everyone else gets there first, and then we sort of shred what they said, and reassemble it until it sounds vaguely original, and pretend it was all our own work. But! This time, we can reveal that we were at the filming of a genuine real life television show last night, and we have an exclusive report to bring you.

The kind and generous Nelly Aloud gave us a spare ticket so that we could accompany him to the filming of ITV1's Disco Mania. For the uninitiated, Disco Mania is the latest in a series of similarly titled programmes where a bunch of popstars get together and agree to cover some old songs on a particular theme in the exchange for at least 80% of their dignity. You may have seen previous instalments in this series, such as Abbamania, 70s Mania, Greasemania, Pyromania and Kleptomania.

The early signs were good before we even got there; the ticket invited us to "Discomania, hosted by Donna Summer". Donna Summer! We'd sit in the audience for Paint Drying Live if it was hosted by Donna Summer. Hell, we'd sit in the audience for Kelly Osbourne Sings The Motown Classics if it was hosted by Donna Summer. We were also promised performances from Rachel Stevens, V, and Girls Aloud, as if we needed extra persuasion (we hoped for Jamelia, but it appears she had already pre-recorded her song). Things got even better when the audience steward decided for no apparent reason to put us in the front row. Our initial excitement at being sat in the front row was marred just slightly when we realised that we would probably be in full view of the cameras at all times, and can probably expect to see ourselves dancing like tits when the show airs.

Our first performance of the evening was from Rachel Stevens, with a cover of 'Knock On Wood'. We are tentatively awarding Rachel the award for Nicest Female In Pop, since whenever we've seen her performing in person (twice, in other words) she's always been very smiley and appreciative of her audience in a modest sort of way. Unfortunately, she still suffers from the problem where, nice as she might be, there isn't an awful lot you can write about her. Her interpretation of the song was fine, her performance was energetic and professional, but we don't really have anything else to say.

Certainly Rachel is somewhat easy to forget when the act following her is the iconic Donna Summer. We don't mind admitting that when she walked onto the stage we squealed and had to momentarily lean on Nelly Aloud for support. She sang a medley of her hits, and we had our suspicions that she was singing live (the shock!) confirmed when she missed her cue on one of the recordings due to a headphone malfunction. We were promised she'd return later to sing for us again. "That's odd," we thought, "isn't she meant to be hosting the thing?"

Apparently not, for we were then greeted by the wonderful sight of Neil "Dr" Fox arriving to record some links. We stared at the "hosted by Donna Summer" line on our tickets in a mixture of dismay and fury, but no amount of creative visualisation could get rid of the charisma vortex who'd just appeared in front of us to rapturous applause (well, total indifference, and then rapturous applause once the cameras started rolling) and bring back the departed disco diva. "Never has the phrase from the sublime to the ridiculous been more appropriate", we thought.

Except we were wrong, because the only thing more surreal than switching from Donna Summer appreciation to Dr Fox "appreciation" is following that switch by finding out that the next act is Sarah-Louise, Candice and Kay-Ee from Coronation Street singing 'Lady Marmalade'. We shit you not. The most worrying thing is that we actually quite enjoyed it, although we couldn't restrain ourselves from watching Tina O'Brien singing "Voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir?" and thinking "Hasn't that got you into enough trouble already, young lady?" Apparently Ryan Thomas and Helen Worth (Helen Worth!) were in the audience behind us to give their support, but we couldn't see them. Possibly this is just as well, as we may have got a little overexcited at being confronted with Helen Worth in person. (We were disappointed to discover that Liberty X's performance had already been recorded, as we were hoping that Michelle would get a chance to repeat her comments about the Coronation Street storyline to Tina O'Brien's face backstage, since she's obviously so passionate about this issue.)

Our spirits lifted greatly after this point when Donna Summer returned to the stage, both to sing "MacArthur Park" and to record some links with Dr Fox. Despite repeatedly stumbling over her words and looking utterly terrified, Donna still did a far better job than Dr Fox, who really should write a book entitled How To Lose An Audience And Alienate People. The first chapter should be entitled "Make Snotty Comments To Donna Summer That You Claim Are Jokes Even Though They Are Clearly Not Because You Are Bitter About Getting Second Billing Yet Again". But we digress.

Following that was our personal highlight of the night - boyband du jour (not DuJour from Josie and the Pussycats, just to clarify) V were on hand to perform 'Can You Feel It'. The opening was a little iffy and we started to think it might be really bad, but then we remembered it was V and they are buff and hot and then the song got better, so we stopped worrying. V, for some reason, needed approximately 46 dancers more than everyone else had, and the stage looked a little crowded. When the show airs, watch for the lovely little homoerotic fake-slapping, Dirty Dancing moment that occurs between Ant and Leon. We think. We're still not entirely confident in our ability to tell one member of V from another.

Finally Girls Aloud came on. We'd spent most of the evening staring at the blocking plan on the camera in front of us and assuming it must have been upside down because Nicola was at the front, but lo and behold, there she was. We feel sorry for Girls Aloud, because where other acts got big stomping floorfilling tracks like 'Can You Feel It', 'Knock On Wood' and 'If I Can't Have You', they were given 'I'm Every Woman', a complete damp squib of a track in comparison, and the performance was at best lacklustre. But Nicola was at the front, so we'll take some comfort in that. Incidentally, if, when you watch this on TV, you can hear someone screaming "I love you Nicola!", well, that would be Panda Pops. We make no apologies for that.

A few more links, a few more snots from Dr Fox, and the big finale. It's great and we won't spoil it for you. But fans of homoeroticism will do very well to watch Girls Aloud and V closely throughout this number.

Discomania airs Saturday 19th June on ITV1, and we'll be looking forward to seeing the follow-up, Nymphomania, some time in the autumn.

Monday, June 07, 2004


We've been gone for some time, and so much has happened we don't even know where to begin. Suffice to say, we went, Girls Aloud came back, then so did we. Girls Aloud's new single 'The Show' is quite possibly the best pop single we've heard all year, although we are remaining on the fence as to whether it's better than 'No Good Advice'. We had a little reminisce over the weekend whilst watching our Popstars: The Rivals DVD, feeling a bit sorry for One True Voice and Clea, spouting out further conspiracy theories as to why Javine didn't make the band, being very surprised to hear that Nicola actually has a really good singing voice, and wondering just how long Phixx have left before The Dumper calls.

Having witnessed the new videos from Girls Aloud and Phixx this weekend, we thought maybe we'd resurrect the concept of The Rivals, but in the absence of OTV, we thought we'd pit Girls Aloud against Phixx and see who wins this time (hint: it's Girls Aloud).


Song? Extremely infectious, screaming for your attention. Appears to be almost entirely chorus and no verse, which is no bad thing in our eyes. Has in the opening/closing refrain "should've known, should've cared, should've hung around the kitchen in my underwear acting like a lady, you should've made me" possibly the best Girls Aloud song lyric since "I don't need no special fix to anaesthetise me". The lyrics make next to no sense and we still can't figure out if this song is about telling a bloke you won't have sex with him, or trying to tell a bloke you won't have sex with him unless he wants you to, but in all honesty, we really don't care. We managed to listen to this track repeatedly for about three hours one day last week, and even then we still weren't sick of it.
Video? Girls Aloud run a salon called - wait for it - "Curls Allowed". They have a lot of fun waxing boys' chests and making suggestive Carry On looks at them - Cheryl is particularly good at this. Kimberley is The Boss, which excites us.
Good Things:
- Nicola's character is called Chelsea Tanner, which was brilliant even in the 36 hours before we got the pun.
- Cheryl and Kimberley look hot.
- Girls Aloud dance. With brooms.
- The aforementioned suggestive Carry On looks.
- Nadine covers a boy's face with fruit salad.
- There is sparkly writing across the screen.
Good Thing, Where Have You Gone?
- Like many Girls Aloud videos, it looks really cheap. Unlike some Girls Aloud videos, you don't forget that it looks cheap halfway through.
- Some of the camerawork and editing is appalling.
- Fun as the video is, it doesn't really suit the song.
- It seems quite derivative, though we can't think what of.
Verdict: The video lets the side down a little, but it's still a very entertaining way to spend three and a half minutes.


Song? Well, it's Phixx's cover of Duran Duran's 'Wild Boys', isn't it? We're not sure quite how a cover of a Duran Duran song by Phixx could miss the mark, but for some reason it happened. The boys don't quite manage to capture the anger and raw sexuality of the original, despite their best efforts. As a cover it's passable, but since 'Love Revolution' tanked they needed this to be better. Much better, in fact.
Video? It goes for the usual Phixx effect where none of them are on the screen at the same time, thus creating the illusion of five solo artists rather than one band. It's tamer than their previous videos, apparently because they didn't want to look like they'd just copied the Duran Duran original. We think it might have been better if they had. Phixx cavorting with girls (and boys, probably) on a giant waterwheel? That would have been ace.
Good Things:
- It's Phixx. They are pretty.
- They do that breaking-through-the-picture-of-the-bandmember-before-you thing that All Saints did in the 'I Know Where It's At' video.
- There are some girls in animal skins dancing in a way that reminds us of Ruslana from this year's Eurovision Song Contest.
- We really like Andrew's trousers.
Good Thing, Where Have You Gone?
- They are fully clothed.
- There is no baby oil.
- They are fully clothed.
- The fact that they almost never appear in the same shot really annoys us.
- They are fully clothed.
Verdict: A valiant effort, but it's dwarfed both by the original and by Girls Aloud. And indeed by both of Phixx's previous singles and videos.

Well, there we have it. Sniff. We don't want Phixx to get dumped, because we love them dearly for their endearing desperation and their rampant homoeroticism. V are trying to steal the homoerotic crown, but Phixx do it dirtier (hmm, that would make a really good bumper sticker). This victory is entirely Girls Aloud's though - poor Popstars boys, none of their incarnations could trounce the mighty Aloud.