Cosmic Slop #62: Was Robbie Williams the last great British pop star?
Announcing a new album deal with Sony, Getintothis’ Shaun Ponsonby wonders if Robbie Williams was actually the last un-boring pop megastar Britain has produced.
Originally posted on Getintothis.
This week Robbie Williams announced that his new album will be forthcoming on Sony. He’s not quite the popular force he once was, is he? Remember when he played to nearly half a million people over three days at Knebworth about 15 years ago?
But, then, I’m not sure he was ever considered particularly “cool”. A friend of mine (who is a fan, incidentally) went to see him and reported that the audience amounted to the hen night from hell. 85% of the audience were like a mad aunt at a wedding, 10% were bemused other halves and the remaining 5% wandered into the wrong show by mistake.
Despite this, I do wonder if Robbie Williams is, in fact, Britain’s last great “pop star”.
Obviously, I’m not talking musically. Not that his music is terrible per se, but isn’t particularly great either. His biggest albums sounded like hand-me-down Oasis, and regular readers of this column (if any) will be aware of my thoughts on those tossers.
But I will admit that there are a handful of Williams’ songs that I have taken to for reasons I wish I understood. There are a couple of obscure songs in particular, like Me and My Monkey or Hot Fudge that put a smile on my face to my occasional chagrin. He is definitely preferable to sometime bandmate Gary Barlow, who I genuinely want to beat to a pulp with my own severed arm just to see if it would make anything about him remotely interesting (I’m allowed to say all this, because he’s a Tory). Unlike Barlow, Williams actually has some charisma.
But at the same time, he’s the kind who would be a surprise guest on Ant & Dec’s Shiturday Night Takeaway, turning their audience of brain dead heathens into an audience of squealing brain dead heathens who have just pissed themselves because they’ve just seen Robbie Williams, who is about on par with the Virgin Mary in their eyes.
There are also those pretty awful swing albums he made, which are closer to big band week on The X Factor than The Rat Pack. I have no idea who would want to hear Robbie Williams attempt to croon Mr Bojangles over Sammy Davis Jr, or duet with Nicole fucking Kidman on Somethin’ Stupid yet enough of the British public obviously did.
But it’s not his actual material that makes him the last great British pop star anyway. It’s just about everything else.
I noted at the BRIT Awards and the Grammys that almost every young whippersnapper who walked up to the stage was lame. Each and every one of them sticking to a script pre-determined by the record company and managers. Just about everyone provided slick, heavily choreographed performances that only a chronic liar could say they enjoyed.
Williams, on the other hand, was often a semi-intriguing shambles on stage. Dropping lines of the song to add some kind of weird aside; “I just wanna feel real love in the home that I live in” – looks directly into the camera lens – “Hello Ken!” I remember him performing with Tom Jones on the BRIT Awards, being completely off his cake and hyperbolically mimicking Jones to the point of parody and all but screaming in his face. What I wouldn’t give to see Ed Sheeran do that (so would you too, admit it).
I think I can’t bring myself to dislike Williams entirely because he has a sense of his own ridiculousness. He walks this bizarre line between egomaniac and self-deprecating mess, which is almost certainly his major appeal. I seem to recall a time on Saturday morning kids show SM:TV Live where he mooned the camera (though I think a member of the crew blocked him from view), in a moment that probably encapsulates this perfectly.
He is over the top and unashamedly ridiculous. Remember that time around ten years ago when he temporarily quit music to go UFO hunting? Sure, it’s absurd, but that’s what I want pop stars to be. All this Harry Styles/boy next door schtick is getting too much (my word, are One Direction a boring lot). Since The X Factor started churning out so much mediated bollocks, there’s barely a personality in the charts. And it’s not like he was a brat in the Justin Bieber sense either. On the contrary, some of hi-jinx could easily be viewed as pretty funny at the right time of day.
Most importantly, and again unlike a lot of today’s pop stars, he was never pretentious. He never seemed determined to be seen as an “artiste”, and was acutely aware that he was an entertainer more than anything, and he embraced that larger than life side of it all – which was probably why he was so popular with audiences. Compare this to the amount of people who claim to be true “artistes”, despite communicating nothing through their work other than clichéd love songs. I’d take “Yeah, I’m an entertainer. So what?” over that, for sure.
So, Robbie Williams. Great artist – hell, no. Great pop star – absolutely.
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