Top of the Pops is crap

It’s not a very clever or subtle post title, but it does get the point across: Top of the Pops is crap.

It’s hard to think that just a few years the Top of the Pops brand seemed unstoppable. It was so well-known that it used to often be referred to simply as ‘TOTP’. Ask people what TOTP is these days and they’ll probably think it’s some kind of sexually transmitted disease. There were numerous spin-off shows — but Top of the Pops 2, TOTP+ and Top of the Pops Saturday have all now disappeared from our screens.

Even the original Top of the Pops itself has the Sword of Damocles hanging over it. It’s finally been shoved off BBC One after what must have been years of trying. I remember in the mid-1990s it was shoved off into the killer slot of Friday at 7:30pm, a slot which every channel apart from ITV1 seems to struggle badly in. That’s a stupid place for a programme based around the chart to be, because it ends up referring to a pop chart that’s a week old. Compare that to the closest relation to TOTP, CD:uk, which tries to second-guess Sunday’s chart on a Saturday.

Top of the Pops under Andi Peters has been really weird aswell. It seems stuck in the 1990s — the theme tune, the graphics, the whole style and the cheesy voice-overs all seem painfully outdated for a programme that’s presumably supposed to be on the pulse of the nation’s youth. To solidify that feeling, Bananarama were performing on today’s edition.

The charts are increasingly irrelevant to the nation’s youth anyway. Do many people actually care about the charts any more? I don’t think many kids are interested in the slightest. They’re probably more interested in ringtones (case in point: Crazy Frog is still at number 8 months after it was released, with another Crazy Frog single due to be released in a couple of weeks).

What role does a pop show play these days anyway? What audience is it after? I mean, ignore the fact that it’s a pop show and you’ll see that Top of the Pops usually contains quite an eclectic mix. A bit of rock here, some hip-hop there, and a bit of bubblegum thrown in for good measure. There isn’t much of a crossover, and any rock fans watching TOTP will switch off when the bubblegum comes on; any bubblegum pop fans won’t be watching for the rock (well, unless the rock band in question is Green Day!).

Rock fans will instead probably be watching Kerrang or one of the other music channels. There are dozens of music channels, often distinguished by genre, but almost all with a definite pop slant. It’s not as if anybody would tune in to Top of the Pops just to get a feel of a cross-section of the chart. Probably about 95% of the radio stations in the country offer this. If you’re addicted to your television, there are countless television channels churning out any old video anywhere near the top 20.

The problem with Top of the Pops is that it’s falling into the trap of trying to cater for as many people as possible. The result is a watered-down mish-mash with no value whatsoever. Top of the Pops moved to BBC Two today. It should have taken this opportunity to truly distinguish itself from other music programming; to offer something different. Instead, it’s done the complete opposite.

I can almost imagine the frantic meetings, of channel controllers playing pass the parcel, trying frantically not to end up with this albatross-shaped hot potato. BBC One wants the flagging TOTP gone from its elite channel. BBC Three — the youth channel, remember — is not remotely interested in TOTP. BBC Two already has TOTP2.

Then somebody hits on the idea. Why not merge Top of the Pops with TOTP2?

GENIUS.

Er, no. Complete and utter rubbish more like. What we have now ended up with is a pop music show which has just moved to a Sunday at 7pm slot to try and make it somehow ‘fresher’ with a hot-off-the-press pop chart to talk about. But with crusty old twenty-year-old footage bunged in the middle. So the mish-mash predicament is now even worse. How many people interested in contemporary pop music are going to be happy with today’s programme, which shoved in old footage of Take That and Madness? Not only that, but obviously these vintage performances were shot in the old ‘square’ 4:3 ratio, and had to be cropped to the modern widescreen 16:9 ratio for broadcast. In today’s broadcast of his performance from the 1980s, Suggs twice stood up only to be decapitated.

After the Madness performance, we are told that next week’s guest presenter alongside Fearne Cotton — whose hair is a different colour on the outside to the inside — will be Jeremy Clarkson, and that Jeremy Clarkson will be presenting Top Gear after Malcolm in the Middle, which is on after Top of the Pops. “And talking of madness…”

“Ah!”, I think, they know that the programme is complete rubbish aswell. But then it occurs to me, they are trying to do a clever link from the Madness track that ended about thirty seconds ago, before they started prattling on about tonight’s schedule on BBC Two.

It gets worse. The mish-mash mix gets another ingredient tossed in. Presumably they’re trying to grab a wider audience by having a chat in the studio with the film stars in the latest identikit Holywood film. But what has this got to do with pop music? Absolutely nothing, but to try and get away with it, presenter Fearne Cotton asks the bloke at the end if he’s been to any festivals since he arrived in Britain? “I’ve only been here about three hours.” What a great interview!!! Who is going to be impressed with this?

In the middle of the show, Fearne Cotton proclaims in her boyish half-posh half-mockney yelpy-growl, “We’re fitting in very nicely at our new home on BBC Two.” No you’re not. You’re fitting about as nicely as Kate Moss’ hot pants on Rik Waller.

Even the audience, usually famous for their unfeasibly enthusiastic applauding, arms aloft and wooping, looked comatose when this week’s guest presenter, Phill Jupitus, badly told a not-very-amusing joke.

Top of the Pops needs to serious boot up the rear. It needs to take a look at itself and see how it can fit in today’s age where single sales are falling, and besideswhich you can probably hear any chart song you want just by flicking through the music channels.

There is a role for pop music programmes today. Popworld is a prime example. Better still, Popworld is a hilarious programme. It is not at all deferential or sycophantic; it’s unafraid to take the absolute piss out of its guests. It is anarchic without being chaotic. Top of the Pops, on the other hand, is just far too twee for its own good.

4 comments

  1. Some good points; TOTP is a completely different animal to when I last watched it (in 70s/80s incarnation), when it used to air on a Thursday evening and was presented by DJs who were actually great to listen to and not the plonkers they are now. As you can imagine, TOTP2 is a lifesaver for this old fuddy duddy…

  2. I noticed the decline in TOTP the other day, agree that its pash! Popworld is really great, always end up watching it at random times in the morning. Kind of sad…

  3. I don’t think TOTP is that bad, but yes it has lost its way and I’m disappointed that it wasn’t moved to a different BBC ONE slot first or even tried as a longer show. I see TOTP Saturday is back but with a new name, hopefully that will be live wity a studio audience to add a bit of atmosphere.

  4. […] In my view there is still a place for a television programme such as Top of the Pops. The problem with TOTP in recent years was that its latest revamp, spearheaded by 1980s icon Andi Peters, did look like something striaght out of the 1980s, right down to Fearne Cotton’s clothes. (Here is a post I wrote when TOTP moved to BBC Two a year ago.) TOTP wasn’t axed because people don’t want to watch music on television. It was axed because it became bad. […]