Pop Playground
Dim Gash: The All New Top of the Pops



the All New Top Of The Pops is the worst music programme ever. Worse than Eye Candy. Worse than CD:UK Hotshots. Worse than Popped In Crashed Out. Worse even than CNN’s The Music Room, cos at least that wasn’t pretending to be catering for anyone other than people in Novotels in Frankfurt.

Worst of all, it’s even more poor than the old Top of The Pops that it was replacing, which certainly wasn’t particularly loved. Audience figures for that show were terrible, presenters were almost uniformly dismal, performances unspectacular, and the program was littered with unnecessary filler such as ‘The Star Bar’ (bar yes, stars no) and interview segments where the songs should have been. ITV’s Saturday morning show, CD:UK, and Channel 4’s Sunday morning Popworld programme were seen as having taken the initiative from Top Of The Pops: for instance, CD:UK had an hour long slot compared to TOTP’s half an hour, thus giving it time and space to flesh out its interview and feature segments, as well as get in performances from a greater number and wider variety of bands. It also wasn’t tied to the Official UK Top 40, which meant it could get away with inventing the ‘Saturday Chart’, essentially the midweek singles charts but re-branded just enough so it could get away with being an Exocet-accurate prediction of the following day’s Official Chart Top 10 – as opposed to the Official Chart-affiliated TOTP, which went out the Friday after the chart was announced. Furthermore, it was attached to the very popular SM:TV Live show, which at the time was reckoned to be the best children’s programme on the telly and arguably the best Saturday morning show ever.

TOTP was still ahead ratings wise, which meant that the presenters could still make the increasingly hollow and irritating boast of “It’s still number one, it’s Top Of The Pops!” every week, but the figures were their lowest ever. The BBC saw that something needed to be done. There were whispers of a move to the digital-only BBC Three, but they decided that a full revamp of the format was required instead. They brought in Andi Peters, a former presenter of the BBC’s flagship Saturday morning show Live & Kicking who had gone on to enjoy massive success at Channel 4, devising and overseeing the T4 ‘youth’ entertainment strand as well as the launch of 4’s entertainment-only digital channel E4. His reputation was that of a man who knew what television for young people was about, and hopes were high that he would be the man to revive TOTP from its comatose state.

His answer, All New Top Of The Pops, was launched in a blaze of hype last week. The talk was of hour-long episodes, greater emphasis on live performances, fresh faced presenters, a complete redesign of the studio, set and title music, and more features and interviews due to Peters belief that simply having a string of performances would become too tedious for the audience to stick with for an entire hour. World exclusives were boasted of, along with competitions and every show being put out live. And we did indeed get all of that.

We just didn’t realise how shit it was going to be.

You see, Peters and his team had BIG! SHINY! NEW! things to show just how special and great ANTOTP was going to be. However, in the rush to make them BIG! and SHINY! and NEW!, they forgot to give them any kind of substance or point. Witness first, the ‘red carpet’ segment, where tonight’s acts stand in front of a Top Of The Pops background to be photographed by approximately two photographers. On the debut episode, we were treated to Mis-Teeq and Lisa Maffia each performing a ‘medley’ of their recent singles.

Then there’s the Very Special Performance by Blazin’ Squad. This involves around forty or fifty “Blazin’ Squad look-alikes” (read – they are all wearing identical hoodies) standing around the big fountain outside Television Centre dancing rubbishly to the intro to Blazin’ Squad’s single, “Flip Reverse”. They then proceed to go inside Television Centre and continue dancing to the intro on a stage opposite the one Blazin’ Squad are on. Eventually, once all the hoodied types are inside, the Squad get round to performing their single. Bear in mind, however, that they’ve performed it on more or less every kids’ TV programme in the country over the past two months, and it’s been going down the chart for around six weeks. Also, bear in mind that it takes the hoodied types a good minute and a half to get into the studio, with the intro looping all the while, sounding shittier and shittier every time…

Many have tried to work out the point of having an acrobat dancing up and down a ribbon suspended from the ceiling during Westlife’s performance. None have succeeded.

But enough about pointless exercises. We at least have a greater emphasis on the actual chart, right? What this means is that we get a ‘rundown’ of the top 10 albums, as illustrated by pictures of their sleeves. The woman who does the voiceover reads the names of the artist and albums off the sleeves. Mmm, thorough.

Presumably the ‘greater emphasis on the album chart’ also explains why they showed a recording of Elton John performing “Your Song” LIVE in Atlanta. In the introduction, he congratulates Top Of The Pops, though it’s not explained what for. We then get five minutes of him warbling at the piano while backed by some bloke on slap bass or something. It is shit.

Oh, and then there’s a song from Robbie Williams’ LIVE DVD, because this is a UK television programme about pop and as such must feature something involving Robbeeee. This is to launch a phone-in competition to win tickets to see Robbie perform in Australia. The question viewers had to answer:

WHAT WAS ROBBIE WILLIAMS’ FIRST SOLO NUMBER ONE?

a) Freedom
b) Angels
c) Old Before I Die

The answer – Millennium. When they get the viewer on the phone, the question is altered to “What was Robbie Williams’ first solo single?” Viewer answers correctly (Freedom), wins trip to Australia. Everyone is very thrilled. Presenter Tim Kash asks Sabrina from Mis-Teeq how thrilled she is. We can’t hear her because they haven’t turned her microphone on.

Other competitions – VIDEO VOTE! Whereby viewers vote which video they want to see played at the end of the programme. The winner by a distance is “Shut Up” by The Black Eyed Peas. So, at the end of the programme, they play the video. They cut it off after a minute in order to make time to show Nelly’s performance from last week’s Top Of The Pops.

But enough of the performances, because Peters has said he wants less of them and more INTERVIEWS and FEATURES to INTEREST the AUDIENCE. So we get a ‘Special Report’ on the Darkness’ American tour. We learn that:

a) The Darkness make ‘American sounding operatic rock’
b) The Darkness have ‘an English sense of humour’
c) The Darkness are in America
d) The Darkness are playing some ‘gigs’ there

Fantastic.

However, the big thing comes at the end of the Special Report, as we get the first of the promised World Exclusives, the WORLD EXCLUSIVE FIRST PLAY of the video for the Darkness’ Christmas single. Or at least the WORLD EXCLUSIVE FIRST PLAY of thirty seconds of it, enough of which is talked over by Voiceover Woman that you can’t tell what it sounds like.

There are also some ‘studio interviews’, done in a raised oval seating area which is fenced off by some dodgy looking lighting tubes. Here we find Tim Kash doing the interview-do with Gareth Gates and Kelly Osbourne, just in case we hadn’t worked out the immense star-power that ANTOTP obviously has. Tim Kash says he wanted to play both their videos, but only had time for one. He plays Gawiff’s one, or the chorus of it anyway.

Better still is the interview with Victoria Beckham, where Top Of The Pops reveals the gigantic extent of its new commitment to audience participation. Victoria Beckham has recorded two new singles, and done videos for them both. Next week’s Top Of The Pops will play both the videos, and then the viewers get to decide which of the songs she performs live on the week after’s show. PERESTROIKA!

Most of all, though, there’s Tim Kash. The man without… anything. He appears to have been selected to present the programme because he sounds like he’s trying to interest you in purchasing insurance for your laptop from PC World. His idea of enthusiasm is smiling whilst saying something. This is his introduction for Westlife on the red carpet:

“Five boys… it can only be Westlife.”

It’s tempting to call Kash a patsy, such is his unswerving reliance on his script, but the fact is he just comes across as a twat. Everything he says sounds exactly the same, read off the autocue in a faux-enthusiastic monotone which gives no evidence that he has any idea who or what he is talking about. The few glints of humour in the script are steamrollered by his non-existent wit, charm and comic timing. When called upon to improvise, he’s lost. At one point, when Kash is sitting in the interview area, the audience moves from behind him to the stage on the left hand side to see the next act. He turns round to get their reaction to the news that TOTP has a competition to see Justin Timberlake perform live, only to find that they aren’t there anymore. He freezes, then repeats his previous sentence.

What’s most depressing, upsetting and downright annoying about Tim Kash is that one suspects he was exactly the man that Andi Peters was looking for. Part of the deal under which he signed has him presenting a ‘behind-the-scenes’ show on MTV, for whom he was already working. Brand synergy, you see. The fact that Kash never does anything but read the script means he never questions or challenges anything, never has an opinion, never does anything that he has not been told to do, never deviates from the line that good music is music that sells lots of copies. There’s not anything new about this, of course, but it’s the fact that this isn’t bloody Holiday or Changing Rooms or whatever, this is Top Of The Pops. This is meant to be the spearhead of pop music in this country, this is meant to be something worth caring about, something that moves you – something that, at the very least, should fucking well entertain you. He might as well be reading the cricket scores.

He fits in perfectly. All New Top Of The Pops is an utterly hollow construction, clearly designed by people who believe that ‘pop’ is cheap crap to be foisted upon the young people and is only of any use for selling stuff. Hence the repeated cries of ‘live’, the attempt to imply that because they are singing live that means they are somehow ‘proper music’. Peters evidently hadn’t noticed that TOTP’s previous incarnation always had people in the studio ‘performing’, and only ever showed videos when the number one record that week could not perform in the studio and they didn’t have an archive performance.

The one distinguishing factor ANTOTP had on its side was its chart affiliation. So obviously it’s decided to piss that away too, since apparently no-one cares about the chart anymore. Hence, from eleven or twelve new entries in that week’s chart, seven of which were in the top twenty, ANTOTP decides to play two – Westlife, who they had to feature as they were number one, and Mis-Teeq, presumably because they were available. Though the element of surprise in announcing the number one was never really a big thing for TOTP nowadays since it went out so long after the chart had been announced, it did sometimes mean they could get bands on who wouldn’t normally get on TV but did feature in the chart. No more. From now on TOTP is concentrating solely on future and upcoming releases – everything that gets on is going to be something that everyone else has said will be really big and popular with the kids, or is guaranteed to chart on name value alone. No more rogue elements, just predictability.

Oh, and it was only the first episode that was an hour long. As of this week, it’s back to the usual 7:30-8:00 slot on Friday night, in direct competition with the most popular soap in Britain, Coronation Street. This is the line up of guests:

Big Brovaz
Sting
Victoria Beckham (two videos)
Ozzy and Kelly Osbourne
Will Young

And that’s it. The rest of the time will presumably be taken up with Special Reports and Features on how 50 Cent has been shot a few times or The Thrills are from Ireland or Busted are fed up of people calling them a boyband.

Perhaps this shouldn’t be so annoying. After all, as Popjustice.com points out, CD:UK is better than this, and we can just watch that instead. But I can’t help but be angry. The previous incarnation of Top Of The Pops was crap, and this should have been a golden opportunity to rectify matters, to try and introduce new ideas. Instead we have a facsimile of other people’s ideas, thrown together with a few glace cherries on top in the hope that ratings are boosted by virtue of it being in a superior timeslot to the programme it’s ripping off. It failed to bring across CD:UK’s most important idea, though – the idea that pop matters. ANTOTP is put together by people for whom pop matters only insofar as they can write articles on it and commission television programmes about it, make money and further their careers off it, for whom pop is solely a vehicle for selling shit, and who simply do not give a fuck.

And that’s why at the end of ANTOTP, I was paralytic with anger. Because something has to be done. This is a programme about pop music, something that is meant to bring joy to people, to move them, to unite them, to inspire them, to entertain them. The fact that no-one involved with this, the only prime-time television programme about music in this country, cares about any of that, or even pretends to, is unacceptable. I can write all the snarky columns I want, but it wouldn’t make any difference – ‘Pencil-necked geek in “Angry Article On Website” shocker!” Boycotting it seems the only option, but since no-one at all cares about it then it changes nothing. My parents told me I should be less intense, less personal, but since the start of this year pop music has been the thing in my life that has kept me together, brought me enjoyment, even revived my love of music once more (editing a student paper’s music section is very good at hammering it to bits). And it should have the same effect on others. To these eyes, All New Top Of The Pops is treachery. I can’t just let it go.


By: William B. Swygart
Published on: 2003-12-03
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