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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The Saturdays, ‘Notorious’

The Saturdays

In the leading pack of life’s crushing disappointments is the discovery that the default hottest girl group in the land’s new single is not a cover of Duran Duran’s brilliantly lumpenly funky quasi-career-killer. Mollie could’ve done a “No-“, then Rochelle could’ve done a “No-“, then Frankie, Una and the other one could’ve joined reedy forces on “NOTORIOUS”, and it could’ve all descended into Chic meets the Sex Pistols meets Red Hot Chili Peppers chaos. Just look at what you could’ve won.

Instead, “My résumé says I’m a bad girl”. It’s no “Who really gives a damn for a flaky bandit?”, is it? Where it pulls it out of the fire though is with the fruity electro pulse and vocals put through the ringer – it’s mechanised. The Saturdays are only bad girls, notorious, because they’ve been programmed to be so. It’s svengali’d by computer, a Space Odyssey Malcolm McLaren. Not a terribly wholesome, erm, whole but a functional thrill.

It’s brought here by mistake, the lucky conjunction of the girls appearing on So You Think You Can Dance? and Junior and I happening to be watching it. While I continued my ongoing study of career trajectories of girl groups, Junior copied every single dance move they made. One beat behind, but accurately. Recent clips from Rihanna and Lady Gaga have got me in a panic about just how knowing young girls can get. They sponge it up. Normally – to the odd sulky “awww” – I’d switch over, but there’s little overtly sexualised about The Saturdays’ robotic choreography. Thin end of the wedge though.

[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.

Lady GaGa, ‘Paparazzi’

Lady GaGa

In some cold sense, Lady GaGa is a fantastic pop star – all glitz and Vegas glamour, ever-changing, seemingly personality-free – yet it’s those very things that make her one big nothing. In my shady day job as editor of a horrifyingly mainstream music site, GaGa is a godsend. She’s full of juicy quotes, decked out in a new flesh-flashing doily every day, selling phenomenal amounts of records and it’s all so… so… boring.

On the other hand, she put on a sterling if robotic show at Glastonbury and ‘Just Dance’, ‘Poker Face’ and ‘Paparazzi’ are the sort of ear-worms that The Saturdays, say, would kill for. I’ve gone with the third single here because – hey! – it’s recent and we’re nothing if not bleeding-edge. ‘Paparazzi’ is a huge great clunking metaphor for slavish empty adoration; just the kind GaGa needs for these 15 minutes.

Is Junior her biggest fan? She shuffles in her seat as she takes the standard eon to eat her cornflakes, but in the end the song merits a shrug. I try to fire some debate: “Do you know what ‘Paparazzi’ means?” “Morris has got one.” Her friend Morris calls his dad “Papa”, you see. Maybe he’s seen him sneak off into the night with his Canon, in hot pursuit of a mini-Madonna in a bubble dress. It’s a living.

Snap snap to that shit on the radio:

[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’: