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Britpop is a subgenre of alternative rock that originated in the United Kingdom. Britpop emerged from the British independent music scene of the early 1990s and was characterised by bands influenced by British guitar pop music of the 1960s and 1970s. The movement developed as a reaction against various musical and cultural trends in the late 1980s and early 1990s, particularly the grunge phenomenon from the United States. In the wake of the musical invasion into the United Kingdom of American grunge bands such as Nirvana, many bands positioned themselves as opposing musical forces, referencing British guitar music of the past and writing about uniquely British topics and concerns. Oasis, Blur and Pulp are often considered the scene’s most prominent acts.
While it may have been a reaction against inward-looking Grunge and shoegaze, Britpop followed on from other existing “good time” British scenes such as baggy and grebo. Both of these (like Shoegaze) were evolutions of British Indie and Punk with some “retro” elements, but which combined them with electronic styles including Dance (and Hip-Hop and Industrial Rock to lesser extents), yet retaining a countercultural edge.
However Britpop was generally a much more regressive style than any of these other genres, choosing mainstream appeal over oppositional counterculture and focusing more on 60’s revivalism, pop-punk and songcraft than attempting to create new sounds, it possibly seeming at the time like most new things had been tried within an indie rock context. Both Blur and Oasis originally started off as bands in the Indie-Dance style (as did Radiohead, along with a flirtation with Grunge), but soon jettisoned these aspects for popular “classic” songwriting. However, electronic elements were present in many acts, and artists like Super Furry Animals and Mansun were notably experimental.
As Britain moved out of difficult 80s into the more affluent 90s, popular taste moved towards more easy-going guitar music and the mainstream embraced Britpop, causing an explosion in new guitar acts finding an audience eager and flush with the cash to buy their records.
Some bands under the Britpop label did soon emerge that pushed the sound in different directions, most notably Radiohead and Mansun, who embraced strong progressive rock and experimental elements within a “pop” context.
Britpop groups brought British alternative rock into the mainstream and formed the backbone of a larger British cultural movement called “Cool Britannia”. Although its more popular bands were able to spread their commercial success overseas, especially to America (and in the case of Mansun, Japan), the movement largely fell apart by the end of the decade, and press attention turned to rawer Garage Rock revivals and more experimental acts once again.
Britpop bands were influenced by British guitar music of the past, particularly British groups The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Kinks, and The Small Faces; glam rock artists such as David Bowie and T. Rex; and punk rock bands like the The Jam, the Buzzcocks and Wire. Specific influences varied: Blur and Oasis drew from the Kinks and the Beatles, respectively, while Elastica had a fondness for arty punk rock. Regardless, all Britpop artists projected a sense of reverence for the sounds of the past.