Saturday, April 15, 2006 by

What’s the most appropriate way for the presenters of a pop show to depart? A few special guests to wave them off, followed by endless blubbing? A quick “bye” and then shuffling out of the back door? Or perhaps, being trampled to death by a pack of woolly mammoths, being eaten by Jamiroquai and then being sentenced to an eternity in hell by a God who looked suspiciously like Daniel Bedingfield?

The fact that Simon Amstell and Miquita Oliver took their leave from Popworld in the latter manner tells you a lot about the direction they managed to take music television in. It’s also a reminder of how the programme’s completely changed in the five years they’ve been in charge. Indeed, while Simon and Miquita have been regulars in style magazines and Sunday supplements in recent years, it wasn’t always the case.

As part of their send-off, we got a brief clip from the first ever edition (“We’re your all new, all-singing, all-dancing dynamic duo!”). It’s hard to credit now that when Popworld began in January 2001, it was a rather by-the-numbers music show, which originally ran every day in the early months of E4, with Simon and Miquita simply linking videos and interviews, and the comedy confined to brief segments from a pre-Bo Selecta Leigh Francis. Meanwhile Simon Fuller lurked behind the scenes, attempting to turn Popworld into an all-encompassing media “brand”. It wasn’t until it was slimmed down into a weekly show that it began to show more personality, something the pair assign to the fact the entire production team quit en masse early on so they were almost immediately the longest-serving members of staff.

Over the past few years, it’s certainly been a hugely enjoyable music show. It’s been renowned for its humour, but this is not simply faux-wackiness, like the CD:UK presenters doing a silly dance routine, or Top of the Pops getting in Justin Lee Collins in the hope he might make a gag about someone’s hair. It’s a genuine desire to entertain, regardless of how dull the acts might be. The theory seemed to be that if you couldn’t rely on A-ha to be funny in a conventional interview, you’d simply have a watermelon called Timothy asking the questions instead. Segment saved!

There hasn’t been this level of irreverence about pop since the glory days of Smash Hits in the 1980s. It means pop music is simultaneously the most exciting but also the most trivial thing ever invented. The amount of care and attention lavished onto the whole of the programme is exceptional. Take, for example, the requirement for Simon to link from a live performance to a commercial break. Originally this was simply a bland voice-over, but when this got boring, it started being replaced by ludicrous hyperbole (“How wonderful!”). When that paled, it was changed to equally enthusiastically-delivered abuse (“Won’t that be awful?!”). Finally Simon ended up delivering the link riding onto the set on a bicycle, replacing one of the band’s dancers or, as in this final show, falling to the floor from a great height. All that for about three seconds of screen time.

It was good to see they had refused to go for big stars for this special episode and instead allowed Simon and Miquita the chance to go out with their usual brand of amiable features. Simon’s last “Big Ones” were put to The Zutons, and most of the interrogation was spent discussing the guitarist’s moustache. A look behind the scenes of Feeder’s new video was simply an excuse for Simon to voiceover some dull shots of the making with some ace bon mots (“Time for make-up for the drummer. Shame there isn’t enough time for a shave. Or a haircut. Or a good night’s sleep. Or a nice shirt.”).

The final interview was with Snow Patrol, who were continually reminded that it was up to them to create some magic to allow the hosts to go out with a bang. Instead they simply roared with laughter at the questioning, especially when Simon, thinking for a suitable way to end the chat, asked, “What is your favourite … hospital?”. Once more this illustrated the value of the Popworld approach – Snow Patrol came across as instantly more likeable by simply relaxing and joining in with the jokes than they would in any number of laborious interviews about their music.

This emphasizes the democratic approach of Popworld. The show never minded who was on, as long as they were willing to join in and have fun. Hence McFly and Sugababes made regular appearances because they were always happy to chat and had a good time. The likes of Westlife and Girls Aloud, however, didn’t appear as they made for dull interviewees and didn’t want to talk about anything but their records. More fool them. If they didn’t want to join in then that was their fault.

It would be easy to suggest that Simon was always the most important part of the show, and that he could easily have continued without Miquita. Certainly he came out with the lion’s share of the funny lines, and the fact he’s so different to virtually any other youth TV presenter – ludicrous haircut, openly gay, regularly playing up his Jewish background – makes it easy to suggest it’s thanks to Simon the show is where it is today.

However, Miquita has been just as important to the mix, working as a great foil to Simon’s more idiosyncratic flights of fancy, and always happy to mine laughs from her own persona as the cool black girl, regularly making Simon laugh from her ability to drop in ridiculous made-up “street” slang – such as asking Snow Patrol, “What’s the future for SP?”. Her work presenting T4 suggests she can present any old rubbish in a perfectly professional manner, but it would be a shame if she was simply to become an interchangeable presenter-for-hire, flitting between the digital channels, as she’s capable of much more.

In any case, it’s all over, and it seems somewhat foolish for Simon and Miquita’s replacements, Alex Zane and Alexa Chung, to start just one week later – virtually inviting us to make direct comparisons, of which they can surely only be found wanting. That said, Popworld is still a sturdy format for a music show – a couple of quick interviews, some interesting new videos and a number of imaginatively-filmed live performances, covering all genres – and it’ll probably continue to be a perfectly adequate way to catch up with the latest in pop for those of us who are getting too old for Radio 1.

But there’ll never be another interview conducted by Richard the Popworld Horse, and that’s a real shame.


Comments are closed.