The 2013 Popjustice Twenty Quid Prize

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THE CHALLENGE

Get my daughters to review Popjustice’s Twenty Quid Prize shortlist for the best British single of the last 12 months (actual judging this Wednesday, 30 October).

THE PANEL

Junior (aged 8, the original Jukebox Junior from back when she was 20 weeks old in November 2005, reviewing Antipop Consortium and songs from The Sound Of Music)
Junior 2 (aged 5)
Junior 3 (aged 3)

THE SONGS

Chvrches, ‘The Mother We Share’
One Dove reform with Clare Grogan on vocals

Junior: “I like the start. The music gathers up.”
Junior 2 appears to know all the words.
Junior is now oh-ohing and says it’s “all right”.

Disclosure feat. AlunaGeorge, ‘White Noise’
Deep house meets proto-UK garage. Alex Party, basically

Junior is excited and grooving along, as we hip dads say.
Junior 2 appears to know all the words.
Junior 3: “They say ‘yesterday rup'”.
Junior likes the keyboard sound. “It’s like when you touch an iPhone.”

Duke Dumont feat. A*M*E, ‘Need U (100%)’
More like Duke Derek Saunderson, right?

Junior: “It does repeat sometimes. ‘White Noise’ is better.”
Junior 2 appears to know all the words.
Junior 3: “I want ‘The Grand Old Duke Of York’.”

Girls Aloud, ‘Something New’
Xenomaniacal J.Lo

Junior: “I like that they’re singing about girls. Who is it?”
Junior 2 appears to know all the words.

Little Mix, ‘DNA’
The Munchkins fight back

Junior: “What does “DNA” mean?” [She is told]. “Oh, I’ve seen that at the doctors’.”
Junior 2 does not know the words.
Junior 3 is reading the National Heritage handbook.

Mutya Keisha Siobhan, ‘Flatline’
Sugababes Mk I with that Dev Hynes first-side-of-True-Blue magic

Junior is distracted. “I don’t like it much.”
Junior 2 is hand-jiving. “I like it.”

Olly Murs, ‘Dear Darlin”
The hat’s off along with the bets as the Murs gets serious

All three are word-perfect.
Junior: “I liked that, Daddy.”

One Direction, ‘Kiss You’
Robot (pop-) rock with that slightly cheesy teenage boy’s bedroom whiff

Junior: “I’ve got this on my mp3 player. Is it One Direction? It’s on my DS too.” However, she is not a big fan.
Junior 3 has a dance routine for this one. It involves wiggling in her seat and pumping her arms.

Petula Clark, ‘Cut Copy Me’
Octagenarian Balearic

Petula Clark is 80. “Woah,” says Junior. Granny has got some of her records. Junior does pop-eyed surprise, then says, “It’s a bit boring.”
Junior 2: “It’s like a sleepy song to me.”
Junior 3: “I think it’s a bit boring too.”

Robbie Williams, ‘Candy’
Speedball suit-filling nursery rhyme

Junior: “Yay! ‘Candy’!”
Junior 3: “This isn’t boring!”
They all sing along to the chorus.

The Saturdays, ‘Gentleman’
So 1995

Junior: “Is it the ‘Single Ladies’ singer?”
Junior 2: “Is it Jessie J?”
Junior: “Is it the ones who do ‘Black Heart’?”

VV Brown, ‘The Apple’
Grace Jones is back, and she’s hiding the lost La Roux album up her top. Along with ‘Macarena’

Junior: “I didn’t really like it.”

THE VERDICT

Favourites:

Junior: ‘Dear Darlin” or ‘Candy’. Murs takes it because “I only like the ‘Candy’ chorus.”
Junior 2: ‘Kiss You’.
Junior 3: ‘Candy’.

‘Candy’ takes it on proportional representation.

Flops:

Junior: ‘The Apple’.
Junior 2: ‘The Apple’.
Junior 3: ‘The Mother We Share’.

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[2] Kylie Minogue, ‘All The Lovers’

Kylie Minogue

Dance. A cosy embrace melding euphoric 80s New York garage and bright-eyed synth pop, Kylie’s best single – or near as dammit – lowers her gently back onto the dancefloor, where she can get you into the groove without being tricksy or slavishly following trend. There are shimmering parallels with ‘I Believe In You’, another overlooked Minogue masterpiece that brims with generosity and unclothed feeling, and both prove how Kylie soars when she relaxes.

It hurts. I think a part of ‘All The Lovers” broad appeal is our heartfelt wish for Kylie to be happy. Yes, this was written for her, yes, pop is a fiction, but take it at face value and this is a sweeping away of disappointment, betrayal and simple not-up-to-scratchness that leaves her with a tip-top man.

Feel. Well, Junior likes it. She knows the chorus already and has some fairly muddled ideas about Kylie’s place in her narrow pop hierarchy. To the selling point that Uncle Tom reckons Kylie the finest thing since sliced shrimp, she offers this: “I think she’s the best too. But the most is Lady Gaga and Girls Aloud. My Number 3 is Kylie, second is Girls Aloud, but the best is Lady Gaga.” I think we can all get behind that.

Breathe. A sigh of relief that Kylie still has the chops to compete with those youngish pretenders – she’s an old dear, after all. Will she be able to carry off a leotard in 10 years’ time? Do we want to know? Hell yeah.

[6] The Carpenters, ‘Goodbye To Love’

The Carpenters

The Guilty Pleasures movement is a flawed model; it requires you to be ashamed to like pop music, to sneer at any artist who favours melody over image or ludicrous image over workaday melody, to disparage anything that doesn’t satisfy the consensus of stifled peers. It’s no pleasure, it’s the tiniest loosening of your credibility belt. To take only furtive enjoyment from the music of ELO, Toto, Hot Chocolate, Wham!, Dolly Parton, Chicago, New Radicals, 10cc, even Take That – purveyors of open, carefree pop or heart-on-sleeve romantic rock patronised by GP playlists and compilations – is to find no joy at all. It only belittles. Hate all that stuff by all means, turn your nose up at Girls Aloud, but for pity’s sake don’t slope off home and play it behind closed doors. Love what you love, abhor what you abhor. Send an SAE for more sermons.

The Carpenters are the perfect candidate for backhanded veneration, with their hook-laden songs, smooth arrangements, celebrations of love, that old brother-sister closeness and cutesy presentation. That’s why I mentioned it. Take them as a novelty and you’re ignoring the power of glorious tunes like ‘Goodbye To Love’ which sounds like the 70s in miniature. Well, there’s no punk here, granted, but the soaring fuzz guitar solo against massed voices certainly points rock in one direction – to Glee, probably; to the elevation of the power ballad to pop-rock’s purest art form. Who’s arguing?

Junior? No, not arguing, even though she thinks that fuzzy solo sounds like a trumpet. She adds her “ahhh” to the heavenly chorus and is intrigued by the possibility of a family band, asking two-year-old sister, “Would you like us to make records together?” “No.”

[2] Girls Aloud, ‘Biology’

Biology

Of course, ‘Biology’ ruined Girls Aloud for me. The magpie brilliance of this record, chucking away choruses like confetti, switching devilishly between top-speed blues and sleek pop, it all makes for a dense confection that drips with kaleidoscopic flavour, a new taste every time you try it. Little wonder all their sterling singles in the five years since can’t hold a candle. Only ‘The Promise’ comes close, repeating some of those epic tricks with one-use choruses, but its patina of conventionality keeps it in tighter check. ‘Biology’ has no yellow belly.

“The way that we talk/The way that we walk”. How much of this is down to the girls themselves? Is ‘Biology”s strength just a matter of production and composition, with showroom dummies fronting the package? I like to think of Girls Aloud as Xenomania’s muses, their sass, attitude and talent for inhabiting a song encouraging the machine to reach ever higher. After all, if this kind of thing can be knocked off by any production team worth its salt, The Saturdays would be turning out pop alchemy too.

Junior says: “I love Girls Aloud,” with no clues, profoundly reflecting the number of times we’ve played this little gem. She then threw herself around the room for the entire song, expressing her boundless regard for the ‘Aloud.

Best bit: So many to choose from, but let’s go with “We give it up, and then they take it away…” It feels like a chorus. It never comes back.

[16] Sunny Day Sets Fire, ‘Adrenaline EP’

Sunny Day Sets Fire are this year’s Alphabeat. Oh, come on, don’t be like that. Both bands are little nuggets of joy. This lot aren’t Scandinavian – they’re a polyglot collection brought together in London – but they play a similar jaunty pop, a spring-heeled update of swinging 60s sounds, fab, gear and frenetic. ‘Adrenaline’ sounds like it’s got a surfeit of the stuff, of course, and while you wouldn’t want a much bigger dose, an occasional slice of silly aural sunshine is just the ticket.

Junior’s not much of a morning person, so this could give her the boost she needed or irritate the hell out of her. In the end, she managed to stop pouting long enough to offer a perfunctory “lovely, brilliant, beautiful” and then asked, “Can we have Girls Aloud?”

I wanna run for the presidency:

[20] LCD Soundsystem, ‘Bye Bye Bayou’

IT STRUCK ME that 2009 wasn’t a sparkling year for singles – until I started trying to compile a Top 20. Then it was heartbreaking. So, regret and recriminations to Eels’ ‘That Look You Give That Guy’, Saint Etienne’s ‘Method Of Modern Love’ and Fuck Buttons’ ‘Surf Solar’. It hurt, but you had to go.

Let’s cheer up with the long-(well a couple of years at least)-awaited return of James Murphy and his so hip they’re actually hip and not just what hip people think is hip quasi-band LCD Soundsystem. Here he turns Suicide’s Alan Vega’s psychotic rockabilly screecher ‘Bye Bye Bayou’ into – let’s face it – Underworld’s ‘Mmm Skyscraper I Love You’ and the results are absorbing, bracing and head-nodding.

Junior was all primed for the year-end countdown, holding out for some Girls Aloud and sharpening her critical faculties (these are usually her shoulders; they’re the litmus test). The title amused – she and her sister changed it to “bye-bye, you” with plenty of waving – but then the bombshell: “I don’t like it”. Oh. Murphy rescued it with a zappy sound effect at the end which “makes my ears go crazy. And my legs. And my socks.” If he can crazify socks, he’ll go far.

Is that all right Bayou?

[8] Girls Aloud, ‘Love Machine’

Girls Aloud

Frankly, I think I’ve written enough about Girls Aloud. I love them, Junior loves them, we all have a mad dance-off. I look ridiculous and Junior looks as if she could oust anyone who’s not pulling their weight.

‘Love Machine’ is a fairly straightforward beat group pastiche, that batters its ho-hum roots with manic enthusiasm, barmy lyrics and those excellent “oh”s. And Cheryl doing the claws.

Let’s go, eskimo:

[11] Estelle, ‘1980’

Estelle

Estelle’s warm and joyous, splendidly old skool autobiography is heavily abridged – I met her in about 2000, and there’s not even the briefest mention of that fleeting, significant moment. She was about to make a record with Blak Twang, and was small, but you probably knew that much. I gave the rest of her sparky debut album a spin this morning too, and it’s clear her proper breakthrough second wasn’t a huge departure – it just has a few more Kanye Wests.

For Junior, ‘1980’ is just catchy enough to have her dancing and acknowledging some non-Girls Aloud records aren’t so bad after all. She takes her baby sister’s hands for a turn around the living room, making hearts leap in mouths as they career past sharp-cornered furniture.

There were a hundred and fifty of us living in t’ shoebox in t’ middle o’ road:

[6] Depeche Mode, ‘Just Can’t Get Enough’

Depeche Mode

Junior’s searing assessment of Vince Clarke’s last Depeche Mode hurrah was “Baaa” – which at least makes the sentence rhyme. I pressed further, asking if she actually liked it, and was hit with the hammer blow: “No. I like The Beatles and Girls Aloud.” So we’re closing the blog.

Before I go, I’ll make some grand claims about this irrepressible little number being the Essex root of Detroit techno, and mention how Vince left the band after penning it because he didn’t like the direction they were headed in. Presumably he’d seen Martin Gore’s leather skirt. As he wavered at the door he wondered if they’d like to record his new tune ‘Only You’, but – for better or worse – we were spared Dave Gahan attempting to emote on us. It would’ve been funny at least.

Dear me: I almost forgot The Saturdays, when the poor girls have got at least another couple of months in the public conscious. It’s a breathtakingly faithful cover, somehow tinnier than the original and all for good causes. Will that do?

Slippin’ and slidin’:

[3] Girls Aloud, ‘The Promise’

Girls Aloud

I can play this with the utmost confidence, because Junior’s now done what I would have expected far earlier – she’s fallen in love with Girls Aloud. Let’s face facts: we all have. The most surprising thing is they haven’t run out of steam; ‘The Promise’ is the curtain-up to their fifth (that’s fifth) album, and while the long-players are patchy as ever, the quality of single just isn’t dipping. ‘The Promise’ faced brickbats to begin with, sourpusses claiming it was the first step towards Westlife safe-playing or a pale Duffy/Winehouse identikit girl-group-throwback, but it soon revealed itself to be as complex as any ‘Biology’ you could mention. Only the brashness has been sacrificed, the brazen ambition is still there. Listen to it – no verse is the same (there are three, with entirely different melodies), no bridge is the same, and still they throw in a middle eight. If this is pop in the 21st century, I’m on board.

Junior knows all the words, and shimmies her shoulders just like her mum. She’s probably got an opinion about Kimberley’s hips too. I reckon Junior even knows what “walking Primrose” means and understands what the “promise” is and who it’s pledged to. It’s multi-layered, you see; once you’ve sussed out what the music’s doing, you still have to decipher the lyric. The ‘Aloud are two steps ahead of the pack.

But how much longer have we got them for? Rumours that Nadine’s on the way out won’t abate – and she continues to blow the others off stage with sheer lungpower – while Cheryl suddenly looks too big for a band. If they gotta go, go now. It’s been golden.