According to a story published by The Guardian today, the rise of “Cool Britannia” in the mid-1990s, when Blur and Oasis were among the world’s most talked-about bands, was deliberately engineered by the British intelligence agency MI5, according to My Bloody Valentine resident genius Kevin Shields. “Britpop was massively pushed by the government,” Shields said. “Someday it would be interesting to read all the MI5 files on Britpop. The wool was pulled right over everyone’s eyes there.”
It’s unclear whether this was intended as a partisan move—virtually all of Great Britain’s pop luminaries have supported Labour for years, after all. The Prime Minister was a Tory through the entire 1990s up until Tony Blair’s election in 1997—but Blur and Oasis had already achieved worldwide fame (and released their best albums) by that time. The support of people like Noel Gallagher and Damon Albarn for Blair is somewhat predictable—the same sort of thing happened in the United States when Barack Obama was running for president in 2008, and George Bush was running the executive branch so you can be damn sure the CIA wasn’t funding them. The thesis would run, I suppose, that the elevation of Britpop was intended to bolster Great Britain’s cultural prestige in general. On the other hand, it’s always a possibility that Shields is looking to explain the odd happenstance that the rousing, anthemic Beatles-influenced rock of Oasis widely outsold his own band’s brilliant, multi-layered, dreamy, feedback-heavy shoegazer fuzz rock.
Over the years, especially during the Cold War, governments have pushed certain artists to reinforce their own legitimacy. Prominent examples include the ballet, complete with machine guns, of the Mao era in the People’s Republic of China, the massive censorship of non-regime-approved artists in the Soviet bloc, and the U.S. government’s creation of The Paris Review (as detailed here) and the intellectual magazines Der Monat in Germany, Preuves in France, and Encounter in the U.K., all of which, despite the firm assumption of intellectual independence, received lavish funding from the CIA.
Guardian website user “alexito” wittily tried to imagine what “all the MI5 files on Britpop” would read like:
Commendation: Agent Gallagher, who successfully completed mission to stick his v’s up on TFI Friday.
Commendation: Agent Cocker, for sabotage of “MJ” performance.
Advised retiral of ‘Menswear’ unit.
Requisition order for Q dept: One (1) tit-exposing Union Jack minidress for Agent Halliwell.
Well, whatever. Shields may or may not be on to something here, but his musical work remains some of the most powerful and resonant rock music ever produced. Here’s Loveless if you haven’t listened to it lately:
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
My Bloody Valentine’s James Bond cover
Rupert Murdoch, Tony Blair and the River Jordan Baptismal Cult