NOW 72: Lily Allen – The Fear

There are seven bits of catalogue on NOW 72, which came out in Spring 2009. This time the Comic Relief entertainment moves to Wales, as Gavin & Stacey writer Ruth Jones as Nessa teams teams up with fellow star Uncle Bryn, played by Rob Brydon, Sir Tom Jones and Robin Gibb on the Bee Gees song Islands in the Stream, which became a country number one for Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton. It was produced by Hugh Padgham, who as well as producing Phil Collins (In The Air Tonight was enhanced by his production decision on the drums) also crafted the McFly sound. More people should know of Hugh. The official Comic Relief single was Just Can’t Get Enough, another push for The Saturdays to have hits; Fraser McAlpine will be delighted to see the old Depeche Mode hit, written by Vince Clarke, on a NOW.

Kanye West, meanwhile, mourns his late mum on an autotune-and-drum-machine album 808s and Heartbreak, from which Heartless comes. Duffy uses some violins as she belts out Rain on your Parade, and Leona Lewis offers the funky Forgive Me. The Saturdays, also two-timing, had Issues, on a song written by old pop fiends Rogers & Sturken (they wrote Shut Up and Drive) and Pink was Sober.

More people should know of Fraser T Smith, namechecked by Stormzy on Blinded by your Grace (Part II) and co-writer of Broken Strings, the latest hit for James Morrison, in a duet with Nelly Furtado, who has stopped hanging out with Timbaland. He also co-wrote Strong Again with a group called N-Dubz, a sort of British Black Eyed Peas featuring a berk in a hat (Dappy, real name Dino) and a lovely lady (Tulisa, real name Tula and cousin of Dappy), with a third member called Fazer (real name Richard). He also also wrote Take Me Back, a song by teeny tiny rapper Tinchy Stryder whose hook is sung by Taio Cruz.

More than ever, hits in the States were quickly becoming UK hits, with no need to test them in one market then print more CDs for Europe. Broadband connections were better – in 2006 I had to rely on something called Resnet in my dorm room – and the world had imploded. Pop needed hits to unite the world, and it was a kid from Hawaii and his mates who helped.

I forgot to mention Bruno Mars in the list of folk currently in their Imperial Phase; Bruno, a former Elvis impersonator, was part of a team of writers calling themselves The Smeezingtons, and their first hit was Right Round for Flo Rida, featuring vocals by Ke$ha, production by Dr Luke and a sample of You Spin Me Round by Dead Or Alive. The song is filthy and awful, but it meant that Bruno and his friends were listening to what was on the radio and copying it. T.I. is a two-timer with Live Your Life and Dead & Gone, a track whose hook is sung by Justin Timberlake.

Can’t Get Over by September (with a key change) proves that Sweden is now the best at dance-pop, not just pop. This is supported by a remix of classic dance tune Show Me Love by Robin S by Steve Angello, who along with Axwell and Sebastian Ingrosso made up Swedish House Mafia.

Stargate and Ne-Yo’s contribution to NOW 72 is Mad, featuring lots of piano and contemporary computerised percussion. Swedish chap Dr Luke popped up again with his friend Max Martin on My Life Would Suck Without You, which saw Kelly Clarkson come cap in hand to Sony and beg for a hit, which she was duly given (though I never liked it. Sorry Max!). His old poppet Britney Spears was now a Womanizer, on a song that I also never liked despite yelling the title nine times in the chorus (has she been studying the career of Scouting for Girls?!); Rihanna, with whom Max has never worked, is present with her number one US hit and terrific two in the UK Live Your Life, which samples Dragostea Din Tei. Proving that if it works once it’ll work again, Rihanna’s fellow Barbadian Shontelle was pushed to market with the silky ballad T-Shirt.

Live Your Life was kept off the top in the UK by If I Were a Boy by Beyonce (not on a NOW) and the Mariah Carey ballad Hero, performed by the finalists of the 2008 edition of The X Factor in aid of Help For Heroes (which closes Disc 1). In the category ‘People who went to number one in the UK Singles Charts in 2008’, pointless answers include (said in a Peter Dickson voice): Austin Drage, Eoghan Quigg, Scott Bruton, Daniel Evans (formerly of One True Voice!), Rachel Hylton, Ruth Lorenzo, Bad Lashes, Girlband and Laura White. JLS, Alexandra Burke and Diana Vickers are all acts who had other hits who also feature on the song, and thus may not be pointless answers. Alexandra is a two-timer with her winner’s song, a version of the Leonard Cohen song Hallelujah which has suffered death by X Factor in recent years.

As the world imploded and big banks were bailed out by governments – failure doesn’t mean failure, kids – Lily Allen released a prescient song about life. ‘It’s all about fast cars and cussing each other,’ Lily suggests, in a verse about being ‘programmed to function’ to splash the cash via a credit card. In an era just getting to grips with social media, the chorus is remarkable: ‘I don’t know what’s right and what’s real any more/ I don’t know how I’m meant to feel…Cos I’ve been taken over by the fear.’

Practicing as she preached, Lily is one of the most famous users of Twitter, taking the blows ‘on her own little mission’ to stop the trolls. When she released The Fear, incredibly, she was only 23 years old. Her new album No Shame made the top ten of the UK albums charts, and features contributions from Tim from Keane, Sam Duckworth aka Get Cape, Wear Cape, Fly (who popped up as part of the London indie scene in the 2000s) and the pair of Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend and Mark Ronson.

Into the post-crash environment, two new names appear for the first time on NOW 72. Both are girls from America who, in different ways, utterly ‘owned’ the second decade of the third millennium when it comes to popular music (along with Adele, more of whom when she returns shortly). Taylor Swift’s ascent to top of the pops began in 2009 after her country song Love Story reached a pop audience; the likes of Our Song and You Belong With Me had been big American hits having jumped out of the country charts into pop radio, but Love Story was a modern take on love which namechecked Romeo and Juliet (by my main man William Shakespeare).

Stefani Germanotta, a struggling cabaret artist in New York, put the piano to one side and went disco-pop. Swallowing all of Madonna’s catalogue and cultivating a following of ‘Little Monsters’, she launched her Lady Gaga persona onto the world with Just Dance. I thought she was fine when she supported Take That in 2009, with songs like Poker Face and Paparazzi, but lots of lonely souls gravitated towards her LGBT-friendly sound which was well marketed.

Also proving durable in 2018 are Take That, down to three members but still out on the road. They are on NOW 72 with Greatest Day, from their ace album The Circus. Katy Perry continues her run of hits with Thinking Of You, which she wrote all by herself and sounds a lot like a contemporary country song (or Christian pop song if you is ‘You’).

Returning to NOW compilations are The Killers, with the Hunter S Thompson-indebted Human, and The Prodigy, with the enormous Omen, recapturing the sound they made in 1991 on the album Experience. Returning after a long gap are Pet Shop Boys, with Love Etc. You will never guess which poptastic production team beginning with an ‘X’ helped them out.

Xenomania were sticking to the formula of synth-soaked pop with attitude, as on the pair of tracks on NOW 72: The Loving Kind by Girls Aloud and The Boy Does Nothing by Alesha Dixon. Alesha had left Mis-Teeq and had won Strictly Come Dancing, which is a little-known pro-am dance contest on BBC One, in 2007 and subsequently launched her solo career as a popstar. In 2009 she became a judge on the show, having to put up with Bruno Tonioli, Head Judge Len Goodman and the nasty one, Craig Revel Horwood. Strictly is still on air, preparing for its 16th series, though Alesha went to ITV because Simon Cowell made her a better offer. Alesha is in fact a two-timer on NOW 72, with Breathe Slow on Disc 2.

Other big dance-pop songs came with the mighty Day N Nite by Kid Cudi, an Ohio-born rapper, assisted by UK remix team Crookers. It was a ‘terrific two’ in early 2009. Akon returns with a song I don’t remember called Right Now (Na Na Na) and Kevin Rudolf and Lil Wayne bring more pop-rap to Disc 2 with Let It Rock. Rap and hiphop were becoming the new rock music, certainly in America where more eyeballs were on the likes of Lil Wayne and Kanye than on, say, Kings of Leon or U2.

Approaching their fourth decade of activity, U2 were still putting out new tunes in 2009, this time from the album No Line on the Horizon which (thanks inlay booklet) contained their 38th UK hit single Get On Your Boots, where ‘the future is a big kiss’. Still building their career are Irish band The Script whose song Breakeven seems cynically designed for commercial radio, but I do not begrudge the band another massive hit, one on which Danny sings ‘I fall into pieces’ in a way that makes housewives coo.

Also on commercial radio over spring 2009 is Jason Mraz, a songwriter who popped up in about 2002 with John Mayer (never on a NOW) and Jack Johnson. My friend Laura called them ‘The Js’. I’m Yours was a four-chord marvel that sounded sweet and smooth and finally became Jason’s global breakthrough. After the financial crash, perhaps people needed something sweet to soundtrack the new austerity. Alternatively they could boogie to Shake It by Metro Station, one of whom was Trace Cyrus, brother of Miley, or Kids by MGMT. I like to call some songs ‘Bomb Them’ when the music is so good (as on Kids) that the lyrics could be messages to go to war and still people would dance. I still have no idea what Kids is about, nine years on, but that riff is searingly brilliant. MGMT would torch their career with a second album with no hits. Their 2017 ‘return to form’ returned to melodic rock. I think they had some mortgages to pay, and difficult psych-pop with no tunes does not pay the mortgage.

At university I knew a girl who briefly went out with one of The Noisettes. On learning this, I was one step removed from someone who had helped make Don’t Upset the Rhythm (Go Baby Go), which was on a car advert but was an addictive shuffle sung and co-written by Shingai Shoniwa, daughter of Zimbabwean migrants who went to the BRIT School in Croydon and was later stalked for a long time by her former partner.

Trying to go it alone after his success with Mark Ronson, Daniel Merriweather released his debut single Change with rapper Wale, famous for writing a mixtape which sampled the TV show Seinfeld (one track, The Kramer, samples Michael Richards’ real-life rant about African-Americans). In an alternative universe, hiphop acts like Wale would be on NOW compilations to educate listeners in an unconventional manner about life and the universe. As it was, it was Girls Aloud all the way.

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