Smash Hits Tour 2002 - M.E.N. Arena - 27.10.02

Pop - A world where all your dreams can come true and happiness is just a step away. A world where you stay eternally young and the very idea of sitting down and listening to the new Radiohead record is a crime against humanity. And throughout the years whether the King or Queen of Pop happens to be Pete Waterman, Simon Cowell, Ray Hedges or Cathy Dennis there's always been Smash Hits to fill our weekly thirst for the latest pop sensation. Culminating each year in the annual celebration of the Smash Hits Tour which runs up the Awards show in the capital.

On paper tonight's stop off in Manchester looks a little lacklustre in comparison to the Feel the Noise tour just months earlier, but pop is what you make of it and it's the sort of world where a sours ear can be turned into a silk purse with the right atmosphere. Kicking things off bling bling style is So Solid Crew member Romeo who everyone "wants to get deep with" including ourselves. Sadly it's not to be, but don't worry cos if we didn't already know from the Oxo T-shirt "It's All Gravy". With one So Solid member down it's the turn of Harvey who encourages us to "Get Up And Move" before taking off his shirt which is the final clincher. With that in mind we make a mental note to burn all our Misteeq CD's in fits of jealousy.

After a trio of europop dance outfits including Milk Inc., Lasgo and Ian Van Dahl....the latter who is actually female but in reality looks like a male to female transsexual at the right angle and the former who despite having the most fantastic name in pop make the worst music in pop. Next up are Natural, a band who make some of the best pop rock music in 2002 but will never reach the dizzy heights of Hanson in our heads. Playing (or at least tonight miming) real instruments they run through an abridged version of "Put Your Arms Around Me" before launching into the inferior new single "Paradise". Their biggest crime is not playing the unabashed pop of "Let Me Count The Ways".

Each years there's always on novelty track that brings out the kid in us and despite the fact we've already had Las Ketchup's "The Ketchup Song" and are awaiting the release of "The Cheeky Girls" next month the real novelty smash of the year has got to be Ricky And Daz's cover of "Rhinestone Cowboy". Take one half of the Cuban Boys, take that cheesy Manc rapper that we all love and hate with an equal passion and then throw in an all time classic tune. Still it's no problem for Blazin'' Squad to follow as they live by the motto of destroy everything that went before them. It's a motto to live by and despite the their ages with 10 of them in the crew there's little that going to get in their way. Gareth Gates, pah, no problem we've got Kenzie who looks like his younger brother and doesn't stutter. S Club Juniors, you must be joking. And with an army of obsessive fans ready to hold hands and bring on the magical powers of their complete Care Bear collections they run through near perfect pop with "Crossroads" and future number 1 single "Love On The Line".

Each year on the tour it's chance for us the public to vote for the Best New Tour Act. You could call it a mini Pop Idol if you like where we vote for our stars of the choice but whether it's hold as much ground as the TV Programs is up for debate. Last years choices were 3SL and Bless'ed. The former who were signed and then promptly dropped six months later. The latter have let to release a single proper and are still lingering round like a bad smell. On the other hand a few years back Mero won the contest and despite the fact they were possibly the Best Pop Act of the past 20 years failed to make any impression on the charts and were dropped in favour of Girl Thing by Simon Cowell. This years two choices are between Irish Popstars winners Six and the boy band D-Side who until they flashed the name up on the screens we were convinced they were called the defeatist moniker of B-Side. It may already be a foregone conclusion that Six are the inevitable winners with their blend of Steps friendly pop, but we prefer D-Side with their old fashioned R&B vocals mixed with the modern beats which all the greatest bands rely on.

The sole representative of the Pop Idol and Pop Stars phenomena in the house is cheese master Darius. In typical Darius fashion he's chosen to serenade a young lady whose parents digged deep for the Manchester Kids Charity in an auction to join an artists on stage. Naturally Darius takes to it like a duck to water and before longs he's burst into full song with "Colourblind". Shuffling shyly offstage she leaves thankfully before he launches into the tuneless dirge that is new single "Rushes". Another person which you could perhaps call one of pop's losers is Danni Minogue. Forever in the shadow of her older sister Kylie, except for that fleeting moment which Danni will never forget when she was the star of Children's TV Talent show, and despite the fact that her new single "Put The Needle On It" is an electro pop gem she will never take the crown for our Kylie. With all the grace an style of a bottoxed to the eyeballs lady of the manor she has none of the natural grace and charm of her sister and every smile has the sincerity of an exclusive Michael Barrymore interview.

On our Pop Least Wanted list is Samantha Mumba who mimes who way through 3 of her biggest hits. Not that we take any notice because after she sampled David Bowie's "Ashes For Ashes" we realized that she is possibly the most arrogant conceited person in Planet Pop. One can only hope that with Spielberg singing her praises she leaves these shores for the good old USA where her diva attitude will be lapped up by the masses who brought us J Lo. Cheeky teenage rockers Busted cheer is up no end though with "What I Go To School For?", a song about lusting after your teacher on a daily basis and made even funnier by the fact that at this writers school, one lad actually got his wicked way with one of the teachers and then sold his story for the highest price to a tabloid rag a few years later. After a couple of lame singles H & Claire return to the classic Steps tuneage of old with a classic double A-side single. The first track a ballad taken from the Beauty and The Beast track of which H announces "This one is about us two. I'm the beauty and Claire is the beast" - another classically camp moment from the campest man in pop. And the flipside one of those classic hi-energy Steps classics questioning why exactly did the split up in the first place.

Ending the show are 3 girls celebrating a fantastic year, yet in true Sugababes style they posses the type of sullen cool which the likes of the Vines and The Strokes could only hope to achieve. All understated dance routines, minimalistic facial expressions and the minimum of effort (which the exception of Heidi who is a Scouser and talks for England). From the bootleg cool of "Freak Like Me" to the Guru soundtrack of "Round Round" through to the most depressing pop record ever in "Stronger". They may go against everything that we hold dear in pop, but still these girls are pops most wanted and hold close to the true ethics of girl power. For that we have to cherish the moment and hope that they inspire a nation of free thinking pop acts.

So with that we end yet another year in pop. If 2002 was the year that Urban pop ruled the airwaves it leaves us with questions of what to expect in pop 12 months from now. Will pop return to the old fashioned cheese of yesteryear after becoming bored of the Urban flow? Will pop groups get younger and younger following the success of S Club Juniors? Will the Popstar: The Rivals winners flop after one single because they simply can't compete with the one man success story of Gareth Gates? Will pop be inhabited by real artists who play real instruments such as Darius and Natural? They are all questions that need answering but the most exciting thing about pop is that not even the self confessed kings of pop know what will happen in 12 months time and that's why pop music will always be more exciting than what any rock band has to offer.

Alex McCann

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