People's History of Pop review – 'We’re on the cusp of something terrifying!'

Sam Wollaston
I was there! … Thom Yorke of Radiohead at Glastonbury in 2003. Photograph: Yui Mok/PA

I was there. Standing, weeping, with everyone else, in a boggy field in Somerset, because Radiohead were on stage expressing our millennial anxiety so perfectly and so beautifully. Can it really have been 20 years ago? And did the Guardian really give OK Computer only four stars?

The People’s History of Pop (BBC4), the occasional series about music fandom, has reached its final chapter, 1997-2010. And it’s presented by Sara Cox, because this was her time.

It’s the best yet – and not just because of Coxy, who’s brilliant as ever, or because of the music, though some of that is very special (from Thom Yorke and co at Glastonbury to east London grime via Amy Winehouse, RIP, the Libertines and UK garage). It’s because this was the era that the internet brought music fans closer to their idols, broke down barriers, put fans on stage – or else in Pete Doherty’s living room.

“We’re on the cusp of something exhilarating and terrifying,” said David Bowie, in a 1999 interview with Jeremy Paxman. It’s amazingly prescient: the man was a wizard as well as a genius.

Out of this breakdown – of them and us into just us – come lovely stories. Like the fan called Moray, whose letter of support to a magazine persuaded his favourite band, Travis, not to jack it all in after some harsh reviews. He was repaid, many years later, when lead singer Fran Healy made a surprise appearance at his wedding.

And we meet recently widowed retired bank clerk Jane, whose life was given a new purpose by Pop Idol, because it was something to look forward to; and Sally whose deaf dad had a dance with Amy Winehouse in a Camden pub; and Omar, who was at the very centre of the Arctic Monkeys buzz. And Ronan and Glenn, who were dragged up on stage by Adele.

It’s a refreshing change from the usual Friday-night BBC4 music doc. No music journos, showing off their vast vinyl collections and encyclopaedic knowledge. No musicians even, picking out chords or dropping names. Or producers filmed at their massive mixing desks.

Here, it’s just regular fans, with their memorabilia and their memories. It’s human, touching, personal and meaningful, the way pop music should be.

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