The year is 1999 and the finishing touches are being added to the Millennium Dome (now The O2 Arena), as the nation braces itself for the turn of a new century. Every kid is begging their parents to buy them a technicolour expanding “Millennium Ball” to mark the occasion; every adult is planning a huge fuck-off blowout on the 31st December. On Christmas Day, you unwrap Now That’s What I Call Music! 44, stick it in your Walkman (that’s a portable CD or cassette player, to you young’uns) and lap up the biggest bangers of the year. Lou Bega’s Mambo No. 5, Eiffel 65’s Blue (Da Ba Dee), Vengaboys’ We’re Going To Ibiza!, Steps’ Tragedy – all UK Number Ones, all guaranteed to get people on the dancefloor at a village hall disco.
Now that’s what I call euphorically crap, gloriously manufactured, sublimely silly music. To be clear, the word “crap” is used here in the most affectionate way possible. Those songs are “crap” because they’re the kind that would probably make very serious music critics wince. But that doesn’t stop everyone else from singing along at the top of their lungs, does it? They’re the crème de la crap, sonic sugar rushes designed to spike endorphins and get bodies moving. There’s no deeper meaning, no convoluted lyricism, no groundbreaking production. Just pure cheesy vibes.
Once upon a time, the charts used to be full of ostensibly shit bangers. In the ‘90s, novelty songs reigned supreme and everyone from The Simpsons to Mr Blobby (less of a banger-maker, to be fair) could scoop a UK number one. It was the decade of Barbie Girl, The Macarena and onomatopoeic lyrics that went boom. (In 1995 alone, both The Outhere Brothers’ Boom Boom Boom and Shaggy’s Boombastic topped the UK charts, while Vengaboys’ Boom, Boom, Boom, Boom!! hit number one in eight countries in 1998, including the UK.)
Not much changed when the noughties arrived. The Cha Cha Slide taught us the difference between our left and right foot; Las Ketchup got everyone boogying to that wiggly beat (actual lyrics: “bugui an de güididípi”); Popstars: The Rivals contestants The Cheeky Girls invited us to touch their bums while repeatedly reminding us that they are, in fact, The Cheeky Girls; The X Factor’s Chico got us all to sack off Greenwich Mean Time for three minutes while we instead indulged in It’s Chico Time; the nation’s favourite bricklayer, Bob The Builder, replicated Lou Bega’s Mambo No. 5 success and took the track to number one once more. A few of the noughties’ greatest shit bangers even birthed some of the very first viral moments. Remember those two kids who filmed themselves absolutely losing it to Crazy Frog? Or the “numa numa” guy who lip-synced O‑Zone’s Dragostea Din Tei (AKA the numa numa song)? They walked so TikTokers could run.
But towards the end of the 2000s, something changed. Bubblegum novelty songs and high-octane Europop became a rarity as we approached the 2010s, then practically disappeared altogether once the next decade got going. Crap music obviously still existed, but suddenly it was too… good. Not, like, good good, but not bad good either. Think Sean Kingston and Justin Bieber’s Eenie Meenie and pretty much every LMFAO track. Those songs had all the same elements of their crap predecessors – a cheesy but catchy hook, ramped-up, hyper-manufactured production, BPMs that rarely deviate outside of the 120 – 130 region – but they tried too hard. They don’t embrace the cheese and instead try to convince us that, just because they sound like everything else in the charts, they’re actually something worth listening to. And without the in-on-it wit, the all-or-nothing kitsch, the crap songs of the 2010s became mind numbingly trite. There were no crap bangers, only samey dance-pop designed to climb the charts, annoy the shit out of everyone and be forgotten immediately after.
Today, the closest thing we have to Crazy Frog is probably LadBaby’s annual sausage roll reworks of classic songs (for charity, yes, but would it kill him to change it up a bit?) And while that formula has helped the YouTuber scoop four Christmas number ones, usurping the previous record held by The Beatles and the Spice Girls, no one listens to his festive odes to sausage rolls post New Years Eve, even when Ed Sheeran and Elton John get involved. They don’t sweep the nation, put wedding DJs in a chokehold, or lovingly give listeners a musical wedgie they can’t pull out for weeks. A crying shame.
The sad truth is that crap music just doesn’t hit the same anymore – and it hasn’t for years. Why? Well, if you want to get intellectual about it, the demise of crap music loosely coincides with the financial crisis of 2008, a time widely recognised as a universal marker for when life got bad. During the peak of good crap music in the ‘90s, the world was full of optimism as the millennium promised a new age and Tony Blair promised a new Labour. Perhaps people had more time for crap music because it was easier to see the joy in it. We could indulge in cheesy pop fodder because it epitomised the happy-go-lucky mood of the nation. Now, in a national atmosphere that’s been ransacked of hope by ten years of Tory rule, a global pandemic, a looming climate crisis and war, we’re simply too jaded to find beauty in the audibly ugly… maybe. Just spitballing here.
Alternatively, the fall of crap bangers could be down to the fact that, in the streaming era, we simply have access to a lot more music. And, with more music to listen to, we’re maybe less inclined to play Whigfield’s Saturday Night on repeat for the lols, instead opting for genuinely brilliant music that makes us actually feel something – ugh! Only kidding. The fact that we have more access to talented artists of all ilks is, naturally, a good thing. But at the same time, said talented artists are making it harder for good crap music to break through, unless the song is written before our very eyes on TV, à la the United Kingdolls’ UK Hun? from Drag Race UK. Move over, Billie Eilish, it’s time to pass the mic back to The Cheeky Girls! Again, kidding.
Whatever the case may be, the world could really do with a few truly brilliant shit songs right now. It would probably lift the mood a bit, even if our poor, downtrodden souls initially react with pseudo-intellectual disgust. Life’s too short to be serious all the time. Live a little, say cheese and do the macarena.