Pop music in 2005 was a foreign country and I’d lost my passport just like Nadine Coyle from Girls Aloud. The borders in pop were vast, the tribes completely separate. To love alternative music, it was really quite acknowledged that you had to hate pop music, and vice versa. Music wasn’t just for fun, it had to mean something. It was Us Vs Them, Them Vs Us. For fans of alternative rock, pop music was the enemy. Any attempt at trying to convince your indie friends of the merits of a good pop song, they’d simply shoot you down by mentioning S Club or Steps. To them, S Club and Steps meant shit and shite.
It was in this environment that Annie, all the way from Norway, found herself in with her debut album. Starting off in a punk band, Annie realised that the most subversive move she could make as a punk was to become a popstar. She recorded some singles, releasing them on an indie label. The best of these early singles was Greatest Hit, a song that still sounds like the future; it sampled a vintage Madonna tune, but arguably managed to do that rare thing of improving on the original. Annie was nearly ready to make her move into the mainstream. It was a painstaking experience for Annie as she obsessed over the beats and bass lines. The album was also recorded in the aftermath of a tragic death: Annie’s partner DJ Erot died unexpectedly, leaving Annie to forge a musical identity with other producers such as Royksopp, Timo Kaukolampi, and Richard X. Unlike traditional pop records, Anniemal is an introverted album, a journey in songs. It still has the power to make the listener feel like they know Annie; a testament to the album’s more personal moments.
The album doesn’t hesitate when it comes to big pop choruses. Though thematically disparate, Anniemal is perfectly consistent thanks to Annie, who remains the best part of every song on the album. Melancholic disco anthems such as Come Together and Heartbeat (or My Heartbeat) sit comfortably alongside oddities like the title track and Me Plus One. Heartbeat, a tear-stained song helped seduce the serious music press and bridge the gap between pop and alternative music for the likes of Pitchfork, who now give space to Charli XCX and Rihanna. Robyn may have seized all the plaudits, but Annie was there too. One standout song on Anniemal is Me Plus One, a bitchy bop presumably aimed at Geri. The story behind the song is too ridiculous to retell, but one listen will explain everything. Chewing Gum, a fun fizzy pop song that seemed like a conspicuous smash hit, didn’t quite make it. It was a late addition to her burgeoning debut album and one of the few that was written by someone other than Annie. Richard X and Hannah Robinson understood Annie and played to her strengths. Chewing Gum, as with Me Plus One, would set up a future Annie trope of having her coquettish voice sing playfully spiteful words backed up with a fun backing beat. Future single I Know UR Girlfriend Hates Me took this idea to the extreme, with cracking results.
Signed by 679 Records, things must have seemed optimistic to Annie. But 679 was primarily a label for art rock bands. Annie was almost an experiment for them, because they’d later shift their aesthetic and sign the likes of Little Boots and Marina And The Diamonds. They would make the same mistakes with them that they made with Annie.
Unsure of how to proceed with an album like Anniemal, 679 instead allowed it to fade away. Heartbeat was released as the second single from the album and promoted with an uninspiring video that mixed super-8 footage with Annie writing and performing. A song about finding love on the dancefloor didn’t find much love from music television and languished in commercial limbo, though lived on in end of year Best Music polls.
Over the years Annie has released songs on indie labels, her return always a cause for celebration, though never quite with the same fanfare that Robyn continues to enjoy, but it’s enough for Annie’s inhibited cult. Nonetheless, Anniemal helped shift the boundaries a little bit, enough for bloggers and critics of very serious music to enjoy pop without feeling like they betrayed their tribe. It took a while, and a lot of ironic pop music covers from serious bands, but pop has absorbed the alternative and the alternative has absorbed pop. Annie played her part, for better or worse.