TOP OF THE POPS – Evening Standard, 23 Dec 2011

Just before we gather round the television on Christmas Day to watch the Queen enunciating and this year’s Eastenders punch-up, another grey-haired British institution returns, intent this year on celebrating its birthplace.

In the year its first ever presenter, great English eccentric Jimmy Savile, died, Top of the Pops is coming back with a Christmas edition that will only featureUKmusic. It’s a fitting move after 12 months in which Pop Britannia has ruled both here and abroad.

This was meant to be Lady Gaga’s year again, as she returned with an overblown second album and her latest range of fashion madness. Instead the world ended up celebrating the complete opposite in the shapely shape of Adele, a singer who simply stands in a spotlight and sings. She has generated an explosion of sales statistics that could fill this page – most notably her album 21 and its 2008 predecessor 19 are far and away the two bestselling albums of 2011 in Britain, 21 and the song Someone Like You are the biggest-selling album and single of the year in the US, and 21 has spent more weeks at number one in America than any album since the Titanic soundtrack.

She’ll be seen on Top of the Pops in a recording made at her Albert Hall show in September, while those appearing on the show in person form a parade of the ordinary – the kind of singers who could be meeting you down the pub on Christmas Eve in another life. It’s appropriate, given the kind of musicians that currently dominate in this country, that the battle for the Christmas number one single has been between unremarkable X Factor winners Little Mix, nobodies just months ago, and that group of unsung real-life heroines, The Military Wives.

Alongside both of those acts, the rock bands that Top of the Pops is providing, The Vaccines and Noah and the Whale, are both sets of nice, well-spoken lads alongside whom you may well have attended university. While there’s a pallid punkishness to the sound of the former, no elderly relatives will be choking on a sprout in outrage on Christmas Day.

Continuing the everyman theme, there’s Example, a dance producer behind two number one hits who could surely pass unmolested down any high street inBritain, and Olly Murs, a smiley X Factor graduate who has somehow been accepted as the nation’s Robbie Williams substitute and is booked to play not one but two nights at the O2 Arena in February.

Even when we try to mimick the style of ourUScounterparts, we do it without the starriness. Our take on Eminem and Rihanna’s huge hit Love the Way You Lie is Professor Green and Emeli Sande’s Read All About It, a recent number one to be performed on TOTP on Sunday. Green may have the tattooed neck but he’s better at rapping funny than psychotic, while Sande, next year’s Brit Awards Critics’ Choice winner, couldn’t be more sensible. The Scot completed a BSc degree in Clinical Neuroscience from the University of Glasgow before she was ready to give her all to her singing career.

Throw a traffic cone into any student union bar and you’ll hit 15 Ed Sheerans – the self-made solo act whose relentless DIY gigging turned his single The A Team into one of the biggest hits of the year. Singing about hisDVDcollection and his computer game abilities, he’s got fans relating, not escaping into the fantasy world of the big-selling pop hero.

Our sole remaining star in the batty space alien mold is Jessie J. There’s certainly nothing plain about her hurricane of a voice, but even she has a line in gabbling chit-chat that could rival Adele’s in the race to see whose onstage banter most resembles that of your hairdresser.

These Ordinary Joes and Joannes still have cunning marketing strategies of course – it can take a lot of work to appear to be just like you and me. Adele’s lack of gigging and tweeting is a plan in itself, but a take-me-as-I-am approach does rely much more heavily on the quality of the songs. What many of these homegrown successes have, and Adele has in spades, is great music that appeals at face value without the hype. That’s worth waving the flag for.


Top of the Pops Christmas, BBC1, 2pm Dec 25